Lead Image: This summer, we talked a lot about what has to happen to get the U.S. Ski Team back on track. On that list is the return of World Cup Events. Fortunately, progress on that front will come about this year as a Men’s Downhill race is set to return to Aspen. Image: Aspen Snowmass on Facebook
#1: FIS Officials & US Ski Team Visit Aspen as Excitement for the Return of Downhill Grows:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the September 2, 2022 edition! This week we’ve got a bunch of ski resort type updates, but not all of them are exactly what you might expect. Point in case: an update from Aspen that’s not really about Aspen at all! This week, FIS officials and leadership from the U.S. Ski Team convened at the resort to inspect the venue for the 2023 Downhill race and to wrap their heads around some of the bigger logistics decisions being made to coordinate the event. As basic as the facts behind this story are, the real highlight here aren’t the specific details of what happened this week, but the overarching story surrounding the visit. Let us explain.
Despite last hosting an FIS Downhill event in 2017, Aspen is home to what’s affectionately known as “America’s Downhill,” having hosted a total of 22 Downhill events there over the years. Not only that, but Aspen is known for drawing large crowds of spectators who pack the grandstands and line the course to watch. In other words, it’s an extremely popular FIS race venue. This year, both the U.S. Ski Team and the FIS are excited to bring the event back after a 5 year hiatus. Interestingly enough, the reason for the excitement on both sides is perfectly aligned: all parties involved want to generate more interest in ski racing in America. For the U.S. Ski Team, this is obvious. Over the course of the summer, we covered each installment of the Vail Daily’s “Inside the Skiing Pipeline,” series, which took a deeper look into ways that the U.S. Ski Team could strengthen its talent pool. One of those ways is to bring more FIS World Cup events to American soil so that young ski racers can witness world class talent first hand, meet the athletes, and realize that their dreams are attainable. With that in mind, bringing World Cup racing back to Aspen this winter is huge for ski racing in America.
Likewise, the FIS also has interest in growing the sport here. Under the leadership of Johan Eliasch, one of the FIS’s overarching goals is to increase the global visibility of their brand by increasing interest worldwide. In recent years, America has only hosted FIS racing at Beaver Creek and Killington. Recognizing the potential size of the market here, the FIS has shown renewed interest in bringing races back to high visibility American venues, ultimately resulting in both Aspen and Palisades Tahoe being added to the calendar for the upcoming season. In other words, with both the U.S. Ski Team and FIS’s priorities aligned, bringing racing back to Aspen is an absolute win-win situation for all parties involved. To read more about this week’s visit, check out the report from Aspen Daily News.
#2: Utah Department of Transportation Formally Backs Canyon Solution, Ushering in Next Phase of the Development Roadmap:
In other news this week, there’s been a pretty significant advancement in the story regarding the pending decision of what to do about transportation up Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon (LCC). At this point we’re suspecting that most of you are well versed in this story, so we’ll make our recap lightning fast: since the summer of 2020, Utah’s Department of Transportation (UDOT) has become quite serious about their intentions to solve the traffic congestion in LCC. At that time, they were deciding between recommending enhanced bus routes, adding a railway, or installing a gondola up the canyon. Fast forward 2+ years, and thousands upon thousands of comments have been made (both online and IRL), and as of this week, the UDOT has finally made their official preliminary recommendation: Utah should build a gondola up the canyon.
This week’s news is significant as it brings to a conclusion the first phase of this story as up until now it’s been primarily focused on the debate between which option would be formally recommended. In many ways though, it’s also somewhat insignificant as there are still a number of hurdles to clear before the project even starts laying plans to break ground. From here, the public has 45 days to submit additional comments specific to the gondola project, with that period closing on October 17th. At that time, the UDOT will collect the additional feedback and use it to make their final, ultimate decision sometime during the course of this winter. Only then, if their decision stands, will the department begin the challenge of securing funding for the project. Estimated to cost $550 million, there are significant questions regarding who will foot the bill: the state of Utah, the federal government, or private entities. For obvious reasons, this question is a heavy point of contention for locals who worry that they’ll find themselves footing the bill for a project that stands to primarily benefit just a fraction of the local population and visitors to the area.
In addition to all of these details and considerations, there is one detail to this story that’s quietly lurking in the background: while the UDOT receives comments over the next 45 days, continues to deliberate on their final recommendation, and ultimately looks to secure funding for the project, they also plan to move forward with intermittent plans for enhanced public transportation. Amongst the plans for this phased approach are concepts like “enhanced busing”, tolling, restrictions on single occupancy vehicles, and creating more mobility hubs. In other words, while UDOT isn’t pushing their enhanced busing plan option to its full scope, they will be enacting components of it while they continue to explore the gondola option. While it seems to be an overlooked idea, we can’t help but wonder what might happen to the gondola project if the phase that involves a focus on enhanced public transportation shows promise. As always, only time will tell. For now, learn what we learned this week by checking out this writeup from Salt Lake’s Deseret News.
#3: Ski Resort Update Double Header: Checking in With Sierra at Tahoe and Mayflower:
For our next update this week, we’ve got a bit of a double headers consisting of two quick resort updates. First on that list is some good news from those who call Sierra at Tahoe home. After being devastated by the Caldor fire just over a year ago, and being forced to close for almost the entire 2021-2022 season, Sierra at Tahoe announced via an emotional blog post this week that they’ve met their phase 1 goals and are eager to reopen this season. When the Caldor fire tore through the resort, its primary target was the area surrounding the West Bowl Express. As a result, workers have been mostly focused on clearing approximately 14,000 fire damaged trees from the area in order to reopen this season. In their blog post, the team at Sierra at Tahoe does an excellent job of conveying the sentimental value that the trails formed by these trees had for them, while also highlighting the silver lining that the area is now wide open, ready for a whole new version of the resort to shine through. All in all, it’s a great update for those who are eager to get back on the slopes at Sierra at Tahoe this season. To give the blog post a read in full, click here.
In other ski resort news this week, we also caught a quick update from Mayflow Resort; the ski area that’s being developed on the backside of Deer Valley in Utah. As you might already know, as part of this resort’s master plan, resort developers are putting significant weight into the fact that they’ll be able to connect their trail network with Deer Valley’s. While work at the resort is well underway, an agreement between the two ski areas has yet to be finalized. As should be expected, there are a number of details and factors at play which need to be decided upon before an agreement can be made, chief amongst which is the debate over how to handle snowboarding at the resorts. As one of the few remaining ski areas that doesn’t allow snowboarding, Deer Valley has reservations about connecting to a resort that does allow it. Still, despite this point of contention, we received promising news for the future of Mayflower this week as KPCW.org shared an article in which both upper management at Deer Valley and Extell Development Company (the team behind Mayflower) are optimistic in their views about reaching an agreement. So, while this week brings no official updates on the project, it does bring word that things are progressing in a positive direction and that an official announcement could be on the horizon. Until then, check out the report from KPCW to learn more.
#4: Glacier 3000 is in the Process of Drilling a Tunnel Through a Mountain to Create Access to a Perfectly Pitched, Snowy Oasis:
Finally, we round out this week with another ski resort update, but one that’s drastically different and tells a story that we think is just downright interesting. Over in Switzerland, ski lift operator Glacier 3000 is well on their way to developing what will likely become one of the most iconic ski runs in the world. There, developers are in the midst of creating a 265 meter long tunnel directly through a mountain ridge which will enable access to a steep, vast snowfield. Entering from an intermediate level trail, this tunnel would be part of a new trail called the “Cabane - Pillon.” Upon exiting the tunnel, skiers and snowboarders will find themselves at the top of a 41°, 3km long trail that starts in a wide open snowfield before winding through alpine glades. Along the way, skiers will descend over 1,000 meters. To be honest, that’s really it. That’s the whole story: Glacier 3000 is developing a new trail that sounds absolutely amazing. To share our excitement for this project, check out the article from SkiMag.com, or watch the accompanying video.