#1: Behind the Scenes: Ryan Cochran-Siegle’s Decision to Switch to Head was More Interesting Than We Could’ve Imagined:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the September 10, 2021 edition! This week we come to you with a mixed bag of news as we start to feel the pre-season jitters set in. Part of that experience is the annual uptick of articles profiling ski racers as we approach the start of the FIS calendar. This week, we were treated to an excellent article from SkiRacing.com that sheds some light on Ryan Cochran-Siegle’s (RCS) recent decision to switch to HEAD skis. In case you missed that headline over the summer, the ultra-quick version is that after spending his entire career with Rossignol, promising US Ski Team Athlete RCS made the somewhat surprising announcement that he’d switched to HEAD just about a month ago. In making that transition, RCS is also teaming up with legendary ski tech Heinz Hämmerle. As it turns out, the opportunity to partner with Lindsey Vonn’s former ski tuner played a massive role in RCS’s decision making.
In the article from SkiRacing.com, we’re given some excellent insights into how the change came about, and what made RCS decide to take the leap of faith. Fascinatingly, the entire process started early on in last season’s event calendar, when the USST (and thereby RCS’s) head coach, Forest Carey, had a chance conversation with HEAD Race director Rainer Salzgeber about the looming expiration of RCS’s contract with Rossignol. Then, former HEAD CEO and current FIS President Johan Eliasch followed up by reaching out to Carey requesting RCS cell phone number. From there, discussions escalated and it’s believed that Eliasch was personally heavily involved with making the pitch for RCS to switch teams. Ultimately, Eliasch offered to line RCS up with Heinz Hämmerle as his personal ski technician. That, as it turned out, was too good of an offer to turn down. While these anecdotes are already worthy of a full story, the fact that one of the current FIS President’s final acts as HEAD CEO was to make a push for a rising American athlete cannot be understated. From there, the second half of this story focuses on Hämmerle’s equally impressive, little known story.
While ski racers competing at the highest levels of the sport likely know his name, most fans of ski racing aren’t familiar enough with each athlete’s technicians to know them by name. If there was ever a name to know though, it would be Hämmerle’s. After a long history of working with numerous star athletes at HEAD, Hämmerle eventually landed a role as Bode Miller’s personal ski tech during a stretch in which Miller won 12 World Cup races. From there, he became Lindsey Vonn’s ski tech, tuning her skis for 63 of her 82 World Cup wins. In the words of Vonn herself, “Heinzy is the greatest technician of all time in my opinion… He cares more about ski racing more than any athlete and he’s looking for a champion that works just as hard as he does, and I think he’s found that in RCS. I’m excited to see him working with another American that I have so much respect for.” Ultimately, what this all adds up to for us as spectators of the sport, are some incredibly high hopes for RCS in the season ahead. Now, we realize that that inevitably puts pressure on him to perform, and to be fair we’re already incredibly proud of the athlete he’s become as he’s a local talent for us here in Vermont. That being said, the combination of a promising season cut short due to injury, combined with being hand selected by the former CEO of HEAD, as well as his partnership with one of the best ski technicians of all times sets RCS up for what could potentially be a breakthrough year. Regardless of what happens though, we’ll be pulling for the promising young athlete and cheering him on all season long. To learn more about this incredibly interesting story, check out the report from SkiRacing.com.
#2: Good News: Sierra-At-Tahoe Expected to Open on Time Despite Wildfires:
Next up this week is a brief, yet crucial update for those of you wondering about the fallout from the Caldor fires that recently tore through the Lake Tahoe region. If you’ve been following that story, you know that in recent weeks, the fire threatened both Heavenly and Kirkwood resorts, and actually hit Sierra-at-Tahoe. Obviously when a wildfire runs through a ski resort, the damage could be catastrophic, taking years to repair or even forcing the ski resort out of business depending on the extent of the damage. This week however, the good news continued for Sierra-at-Tahoe as an initial assessment of the damage suggests that the fire missed all significant lodges, structures, chairlifts, and other integral forms of infrastructure. While some patches of trees were burned, resort officials remain optimistic that the ski area will be able to open without delay for the season ahead. While there still needs to be a final, more thorough inspection of the damage to ensure that that’s the case, the initial outlook is positive and considering how this story could’ve gone, that alone is incredible news. For more on this check out the report from NBC.
#3: Colorado Supreme Court Declines to Hear Lawsuit Aimed at Limiting Reach of Lift Ticket and Rental Waivers:
In other news this week, we caught an interesting story coming out of Colorado regarding ski resort liability in the event of injuries to guests. Well it’s interesting if you’re into the legal or business sides of the ski industry anyways. If you’re not, you might want to skip ahead because this highlight’s a bit nerdy. Anyways, for those of you who are interested, this week the Colorado Supreme Court declined to hear a lawsuit attempting to hold ski resorts responsible for injuries to a guest caused by a chairlift. In this case, the plaintiff claimed that negligent lift operators allowed a chair to hit her when she slowed down in an effort to avoid running into a skier who had fallen getting off the lift in front of her. In doing that, she was hit by a chair which ultimately broke her pelvis. In her lawsuit, the plaintiff claimed that lift operators violated rules in the 1979 Ski Safety Act and the 1964 Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Act. As such, she was attempting to hold the resort liable for her injuries.
On the other side of the argument, the resort claimed that the guest accepted the dangers of skiing and waived them from responsibility when she signed the waivers at the rental shop, as well as agreeing to the waiver on her lift ticket. As such, the resort argued that key phrases in these agreements, such as the fact that the guest would “assume all risks,” and would, “agree to hold harmless, please, defend, and indemnify,” the resort, “for any and all liability,” ultimately cleared them of any responsibility from what incidents may occur on the hill between resort operations and their guests. Notably, this agreement does not cover any incidents that could cause injury between two or more guests.
In deciding not to hear the case, the Colorado Supreme Court essentially suggested that there’s no legal grounds to currently hold ski resorts liable for on-hill injuries. While those backing the plaintiff’s case had hoped that regulations in the 1979 Ski Safety Act and 1964 Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Act would prove effective in covering this type of incident, this decision creates precedent that they in fact do not. As a result, those on the plaintiff’s side fear that ski resorts in Colorado are currently unable to be held liable for any injuries they cause to guests using their resort. In the words of attorney Jim Chalat, “resorts now are insisting on total immunity. No other industry in the state has that privilege.” While we don’t know the specific wording of these two pieces of legislation, at face value, Chalat makes a good point. Interestingly enough, it’s worth noting that other states such as Utah, Montana, and Alaska all have legislation that specifically limits the protections provided by lift ticket waivers. In other words, in these states, the guest may have had a stronger case as it’s already been determined that these waivers don’t grant resorts blanket immunity from all incidents. While this particular case is dead in the water, it would seem to us as outside observers that the next course of action would be the creation of a similar bill in Colorado that would return some of the responsibility for safety back to the ski resorts. But, we’re simply observers, not experts here. To read more from those who are experts, check out this story from the Colorado Sun.
#4: Bluebird Backcountry Announces 12 New Trails Ahead of Upcoming Season:
Finally, we round out the week with an update from one of our favorite ski areas in America: Bluebird Backcountry. For those unaware, Bluebird Backcountry is North America’s only 100% human powered ski area. In other words, this ski resort is all about the backcountry and offers no lifts. If you’re not the type of skier who’s been introduced to touring yet, this might sound like a nightmare. For those of us who have toured and have fallen love with that approach to the sport, it sounds like an absolute dream come true. Now in just it’s second season, and first season without Covid restrictions, Bluebird Backcountry is continuing to grow in both recognition and infrastructure. Earlier this year, the resort was in the headlines when Arapahoe Basin announced a partnership to provide pass holders with two days of free skiing at the uphill only resort. This week, we were treated to a second round of headlines as the ski area announced some new trails and updates for the season ahead.
In a post made on their website, Bluebird Backcountry announced the addition of 12 new trails ahead of the season. In their words, after taking the first season to ski as much of their terrain as possible, the team at Bluebird dreamed up the ideal trail map for the area and got to work over the summer making it a reality. The result is a mixture of new trails for all abilities and interest types, ranging from steep open gullies, to perfectly pruned glade runs for all ski levels. Additionally, the team also put in place four new skin tracks making it even easier to access every zone on the mountain. While we have yet to make the trip out to Bluebird, we’ve gotta say, the allure only gets stronger with every new announcement they make. To learn more about the offseason improvements to the resort, check out the official announcement on their website.