#1: Squaw Valley Announces New Name: Introducing, "Palisades Tahoe":
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the September 17, 2021 edition! This week, we’ve got a full slate of ski news, as well as a few excellent ski edits to get everyone excited about the season ahead. We’ll dive into those shortly, but before we do, we have to start with the biggest news of the week: Squaw Valley Resort has officially announced its new name. From now on, the ski area and village will be known as “Palisades Tahoe,” named after the mountain’s famous Palisades Chutes. While this announcement may seem sudden, particularly if you haven’t kept up to date with this story, the name change is actually a long time coming. As an excellent writeup from Outside Online points out, discussions surrounding a name change for the ski area date back to the mid-90’s when members of the American Indian Movement first pushed resort owners to drop the word “squaw,” pointing out its offensive nature. At that time, resort owners Nancy and Alex Cushing said they were taking the requests seriously, but unfortunately no progress was ever made. Then, due in large part to America’s tumultuous summer of racial awakening, the management team at Squaw realized that revisiting their name was long overdue. That decision was made public in August of last year, after an earlier announcement in June in which the management team shared that they were beginning to explore the idea.
Fast forward to this week, and we officially have a new name. Moving forward, both Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows will fall under the Palisades Tahoe brand. To differentiate the two, the base area of the resort formerly known as Squaw will now be known as Olympic Valley, while the ski area formerly known as Alpine Meadows will continue to use that name for its base area. Now that a name has been selected, the heavy lifting begins. With operations expected to begin sometime in November, the resort and region are faced with the challenge of rebranding every instance of the word “Squaw.” From onhill signage, to references in marketing materials and a plethora of merchandise, the process of updating the resort’s name will require an exceptional amount of time and money to accomplish. Still, it’s the right thing to do. In addition to these efforts, Palisades Tahoe is also making a proactive effort to right their wrongs. Currently, the resort is giving cultural tours sharing the history of the Washoe Tribe, the indigenious people of the area, with additional plans to create a museum sharing their history. Ultimately, while significant, these efforts are just a start. Moving forward, representatives from the Washoe tribe are looking to build from these initiatives, with hopes of hosting traditional festivals in the area as well as reclaiming land that was once theirs. To learn more about this latest round of news, check out the writeup from Outside Online.
#2: Aspen Skico Announces Mandatory Vaccinations for Employees:
It’s been a while since we’ve done a Covid-19 update here, but with this week’s news, it feels like a good time to check in on the status of the pandemic and its potential impact on the ski industry. That’s because, this week, we found out that the Aspen Skico., owners of Snowmass, Aspen, Aspen Highlands, and Buttermilk, announced that they will be making vaccinations mandatory for employees. The announcement was made on Tuesday, with Skico. CEO Mike Kaplan saying, “We all value autonomy and freedom of choice in this country. However, when our individual choices affect the wellbeing of our fellow employees and community members, as an organization we must look through a broader lens that prioritizes our collective safety and wellbeing.” In other words, while there’s a recognition that individual freedoms remain a core value of both Americans and Aspen Skico., it’s ultimately the greater good of the community that takes precedence. For ski areas, this dynamic is particularly relevant as their role as tourist destinations means that an outbreak could have a devastating impact not just on the local community, but national and international communities as well. For proof of this, we need to look no further than Ischgl, Austria, where the mountain town’s role as one of the first superspreaders of the virus is currently the center of an international lawsuit.
In addition to Aspen’s announcement, we’ve heard murmurings of other ways Covid could impact the upcoming season. At nearby Steamboat Springs, the resort is also considering mandatory vaccinations for employees. In Pitkin county, home to all Aspen resorts, an indoor mask mandate was just reinstituted. At Vail, alongside an announcement sharing anticipated opening days for a number of their resorts, it was reiterated that a reservation system is not expected to be used in the season ahead, however they retain the ability to change their plans depending on the latest information. These items, coupled with ongoing staffing shortages, all suggest that while this year will almost definitely signal a step back towards normality, we might not be entirely out of the woods quite yet. For more on Aspen’s recent mandate, check out this report from the Aspen Times.
#3: New Study Suggest Skiers Experience Less Anxiety:
In other health news this week, we caught wind of an encouraging report that suggests skiing, specifically nordic skiing, can help prevent anxiety. In a study published by Frontiers in Psychiatry, researchers followed nearly 400,000 individuals for up to 21 years, tracking their mental health. Of that group, 197,685 had participated in Sweden’s Vasaloppet Nordic race, an ultra-distance race in which competitors can ski up to 90km. This group of skiers, compared to a comparable non-skiing population, had a lower risk of experiencing anxiety. While that decreased risk was consistent for both men and women, one interesting note is that for women, those who finished the race faster and were more competitive saw a slightly higher risk for developing anxiety. On the mens’ side however, speed and finishing time had no correlation to the risk for developing anxiety. Ultimately, regardless of gender, the study found a clear connection between physical exercise and a reduction in risk for developing anxiety.
Now, there’s almost definitely a contingency of readers thinking to themselves, “well wait, if this study is true, why do mountain towns have a higher rate of mental health issues (at least in America)?” Great question. While we’re not scientists ourselves, we can confirm that American ski towns do in fact have higher rates of mental health issues, a trend that’s serious enough that outgoing Vail CEO Rob Katz and his wife Elana Amsterdam have made multiple contributions to support efforts combating the trend. Again, while we’re not the experts here, it would be our guess that socioeconomic factors, such as difficulties finding housing and the higher cost of living in ski towns, ultimately overrule the mental health benefits of exercise. While nordic skiing certainly isn’t a singular solution to the larger problems facing mountain communities, it should be noted that in addition to alpine skiing and snowboarding, it could be a useful tool to combat mental health issues in mountain towns. To learn more about this recent study, check out the study itself on Frontiersin.org.
#4: The 2022 Freeride World Tour Announces Official Dates and Updated Format:
Finally, we round out this week on a high note as the Freeride World Tour just released their official calendar and format for the 2022 season. Now, to be fair, this new format is more or less the same format update as they’d planned for last season before the tour was forced to make significant changes throughout the season as a result of Covid-19. We’ll dive into some of those details in a second here, but first, let’s take a look at this year’s venues.
Kicking off the tour, athletes will convene in Baqueira Beret, Spain during the week of January 22-28 for both the first stop of the tour, and first ever stop at this venue. From there, the athletes will spend the remainder of the season in familiar territory as the rest of the tour will take them to Ordino Arcalís, Andorra, Kicking Horse Golden BC, Canada, Saalbach Fieberbrunn, Austria, and then finally, Verbier, Switzerland for the final event. While it’s a bit of a shame to see that the Hakuba, Japan stop didn’t make this year’s list, we trust that event organizers know what they’re doing and that Baqueira Beret will be just as exciting as that stop was.
In addition to the list of venues, we also learned that the Freeride World Tour will be revisiting their previously planned updated format. This year, with a full five stops, the first three stops of the tour will be considered qualifying rounds. Whereas the tour has traditionally utilized the first four stops as qualifiers, and the fifth was reserved for just the finalists, this year’s iteration will see athletes vying for their spot on the final roster across just three venues. The hope is that this will keep all of the pre-finals stops more competitive as each one offers crucial points for athletes looking to make the cut. Another interesting introduction to this year’s tour is that the fourth stop will be a best of two runs format. For those who’ve found themselves lamenting results for competitors who almost pulled together the run of the day, only to crash and burn in the final stretch, this stop of the tour will give athletes the unique opportunity to redeem themselves. Finally, the last change, and the only adjustment from last year’s proposed format update, is that the winner of the final two stops will be awarded 12,500 points rather than 10,000 points. Previously, the updated format offered a 1.5x multiplier for all positions in these final two events, but from what we can tell, this has been adjusted to only give the first place finisher additional points. As for overall champion, this year’s format made no mention of how a final winner will be selected, leaving us to assume we’ve returned to the traditional format of a simple calculation of total points, not a best three stops format as was proposed for last year’s tour. We could be wrong on this final point, but we’ll be sure to clear it up when our Freeride World Tour coverage begins this winter if we are. For now, check out the announcement on the Freeride World Tour website to learn what we know.