#1: More Resorts, Countries Announce Official Pandemic Policies for 2021-2022 Season:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the September 24, 2021 edition! This week we have a few exciting updates to share with you, as well as one that’s significantly less fun. As such, we’ll borrow a bandaid removal technique and apply it to this week’s news. That is, we’ll get the painful part over with as quickly as possible so we can move onto more fun topics of discussion! So, on that subpar analogy, let’s get into this week’s first topic of discussion: Covid-19 protocol updates.
We touched on this topic briefly last week when we shared the news that the Aspen Skico. has made vaccines mandatory for all employees, barring any religious or medical exemptions. This week, on the heels of that news, we’ve learned that Arapahoe Basin has also implemented a similar mandate. Perhaps overshadowing that news though, was the press release from Vail this week outlining the latest in their overarching covid policies. In that release, they too announced that vaccines would be mandatory for employees across all Epic Resorts. As we’ve come to expect from Vail when it comes to handling the pandemic though, they also took measures a step further. While they’ve reconfirmed that there won’t be a reservation system in place this year, and that lifts will be operating at full capacity without the need for facemasks, their indoor experiences have increased in restrictions. This year at Vail resorts, in addition to all employees needing to be vaccinated, guests who want to use the resorts’ cafeteria, restaurants, or other dining options will also have to be vaccinated. In the words of Vail CEO Rob Katz, “Consistent with many other large-scale indoor activities and venues, we believe the vaccine requirement is important for the protection of our guests and our employees, given the number of people using these facilities and the fact that guests will not be wearing face coverings while eating and drinking.” While we have yet to hear any announcements from Ikon, we have to believe that they’ll also be making a similar announcement in the coming weeks. When we do, we’ll update you. Until then, check out this report from the Denver Post about Vail’s latest announcement.
In addition to this week’s North American news, we also caught some news regarding pandemic precautions in European nations. As you might recall, the ski season was a bit of a disaster in Europe last year as neighboring countries often had conflicting policies. This dynamic was particularly difficult in regions where borders can be crossed on skis. While the verdict is still very much out on the year ahead in Europe, we do know that Austria will be requiring all guests who use the chairlift to have a Covid-19 pass. That pass is only available to those who’ve been vaccinated, have recovered from Covid-19, or have received a recent negative test. Additionally, guests will have to wear face coverings on enclosed lifts, and will likely need to wear them in indoor spaces as well, although that final restriction hasn’t been put in place quite yet. Looking ahead, it’s also believed that Italy will be implementing a similar set of rules. Considering the fact that last year’s difficult season in Europe largely stemmed from varying rules between countries, it would be excellent if nations within the EU could create a common system such as the Covid-19 pass to unify regulations across their borders. While that idea is still just a concept, it could prove to be the way forward in the weeks ahead. To learn more about this, check out the report from Reuters.
#2: The Work Continues - SKI Magazine Publishes Their First Cover Featuring a Black Skier, Shot by a Black Photographer:
Alright, enough heavy lifting, let’s get into some more interesting, positive highlights. With that mentality in mind, we’re excited to share with you a story from SKI Magazine this week that takes us behind the scenes of one of the most important photoshoots in the magazine’s history. This week, SKI Magazine released their 2022 Gear Guide, and on the cover is a black skier, photographed by a black photographer, marking the first time this has ever happened. Now to be fair, there’s plenty we could say about how this is great progress for the magazine, and shows a real commitment to diversifying the sport of skiing. A real commitment to actions promised after a tumultuous year. But, rather than having us, a community of white skiers, explain the importance of this moment for the black community to our largely white audience, SKI Magazine has fortunately taken their effort a step further by giving the shoot’s photographer, Stan Evans, the opportunity to speak his mind on both the importance of the occasion, as well as the current state of BIPOC talent in the outdoor industry. His words are a solid mix of revealing, reassuring, and hopeful.
In the article written by Evans and published by SKI Magazine, Evans finds himself discussing at length the awkward yet important role that BIPOC winter athletes currently find themselves in. Until recently, BIPOC participation in skiing was overlooked from a marketing standpoint, resulting in a limited availability of talent now that outdoor brands are beginning to realize the importance of including these communities in our culture. Evans describes this dynamic beautifully when he says, “It was like a bunch of brands looking to pull carrots while realizing they never planted any seeds.” In other words, BIPOC athletes find themselves in a strange environment these days. Until recently, brands didn’t market to their community, resulting in low participation numbers. Now, in the wake of last year’s racial reckoning, brands are eager to partner with minorities for marketing campaigns, but are quickly realizing that the availability of athletes is limited. Therefore athletes and photographers such as Stan Evans, Errol Kerr, Lauren Samuels, and Justin Samuels find themselves suddenly in high demand and having to pioneer the value they put on their services. Recognizing the importance of their inclusion in marketing campaigns, they find themselves having to balance their needs to earn compensation that’s on par with their value, with the bigger picture importance of showing inclusion in marketing campaigns to grow participation within their community. All in all, it’s a complex dynamic and one that’s likely to have uncomfortable moments on both sides of the aisle as brands and athletes will be forced to acknowledge their awkward pasts and presents as they look to build a better future together. For more on this, check out the excellent article from Stan Evans, and shout out to SKI Magazine for not only making this cover happen, but for also giving Evans a platform to freely voice his thoughts on a complex matter.
#3: Vail Announces $320 Million in Investments Across All Resorts for 2022-2023 Season, Including 19 New Chairlifts:
In other big news this week, we caught wind of massive investment plans from Vail as they announced a new $320 million initiative they’re calling Epic Lift Upgrade. Now, before we get into some of the more exciting parts of this plan, we want to set the stage a bit by reminding you of some news we shared back in July. At that time, we learned that Vail had approximately $1.3B available in cash reserves, as well as the fact that they’d told investors that they plan to remain aggressive in acquisitions. Taking that news, and pairing it with this week’s update, we can assume that Vail plans to spend $.3B on lift upgrades, leaving them with $1B in cash for further resort acquisitions and additional developments. We point this out simply to remind us all of where Vail stands financially, and to suggest that this week’s news likely won’t be the biggest news of the year for Vail.
Now, let’s break down this week’s news a bit further. In their Epic Lift Upgrade announcement, Vail clearly states two goals for the project: increase uphill capacities, and at some resorts, introduce new terrain. Across their $320 million spend, they’re planning on adding 19 new chairlifts across 14 resorts. Of these lifts, 12 will be detachable high speed lifts, 1 will be a gondola, and 6 will be fixed grips. While the most exciting individual upgrades could be debated at length, the one that most immediately caught our attention is the confirmed expansion of Bergman Bowl at Keystone. There, Vail will add a brand new 6-person high speed lift, as well as 16 new trails, a ski patrol hut, and additional snowmaking infrastructure. Another project that we’re personally excited about is an upgrade right here at Stowe, where the Mountain Triple on Mansfield will be replaced with a detachable 6-person chairlift, access to which will be brought to the same level as the base lodge and parking lot. In total, after this latest round of additions and upgrades, Vail will have invested $2.2B in infrastructure upgrades over the span of 15 years. Love it or hate it, Vail’s consolidation play has certainly resulted in some big improvements at a lot of resorts. To learn more about this week’s announcement, check out the official release from Vail, or this coverage courtesy of prenewswire.com.
#4: It’s Ski Movie Season! Salomon Announces Their “Quality Ski Time” Film Tour:
Finally, we round out this week with a piece of entertainment news. Being that it’s the last Friday in September, it’s beginning to be that time of year when skiers in ski towns flock to their local venues to take in the latest ski flicks and bask in preseason excitement. Now, to be sure, this ritual has been changing slightly in recent years. Due in no small part to the constant stream of media we intake every day, film makers have started restructuring their models from the traditional “one film a year” approach, to releasing shorter, more focused films, more often. Between this evolving model, and last year’s pandemic, it’s safe to say that this year’s edition of premiere season could look different than years past.
Case in point: this week, Salomon Skis announced their cleverly named “Quality Ski Time (QST)” Film Tour. This tour, put on by not a traditional ski filmmaker but by a ski brand, will show five films at multiple locations across North America. At the moment, there are nine events officially on the schedule, all of which are in the Rocky Mountain or Pacific Northwest Regions. Fortunately though, the announcement from Salomon indicates that more dates and locations are yet to be announced, meaning there’s still hope for us East Coasters. In addition to the refreshing format of this tour, the content of the films is also cause for excitement. While there are a couple of traditional, powder centric movies on the roster, there are also a few films for thought. Drew Petersen’s “Ups and Downs” for instance tells his personal story of overcoming depression, anxiety, and PTSD following a rockfall incident in 2017 that nearly took his life. In the film “Girl Crush,” five female friends share the story of their adventures with ski touring and winter camping in a film that’s sure to not only entertain, but also to inspire a new generation of girls who are destined to follow in their footsteps. All in all, as exciting as a ski movie premiere format like this one is, it’s the variety and intention of the films shown that has us the most fired up about this news. To learn more, check out the release from Salomon.