#1: Caldor Fire Update Pt. 2 - Sierra-at-Tahoe Gets Hit, South Tahoe Evacuated:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the September 3, 2021 edition. This week we unfortunately start on the same down note that we started last week with: by discussing the Caldor fire. When we last touched base, the fire was continuing to creep closer to the Lake Tahoe basin, while posing an imminent threat to Sierra-at-Tahoe, Heavenly, and Kirkwood ski resorts. At the time, reporters were hopeful that the fire could be contained before it reached any of the three resorts. Unfortunately, that’s not how the story played out as westerly winds fanned the fire towards both the resorts and the Tahoe basin. While Heavenly and Kirkwood look like they’ll make it out of this situation unscathed, both resorts were in such imminent danger that they were forced to use snowmaking equipment to douse their terrain as a last ditch fire prevention effort. Sierra-at-Tahoe, however, wasn’t so lucky. Overnight on Sunday, the fire hit the resort, resulting in considerable fire damage and apocalyptic imagery of snowguns firing water desperately in a one-sided fight. The good news though, is that that’s the worst news. All told, while Sierra-at-Tahoe was directly hit by the fire, the resort actually made out alright, all things considered. While there was some fire damage done to ski trails and some auxiliary buildings, by and large the resort escaped catastrophe as no ski lifts or main lodges were affected.
In addition to concerns regarding ski resorts, there was also a considerable amount of very real fear regarding the fire’s potential entrance into the Lake Tahoe basin. As the fire crept closer to the area from the South, evacuations were enacted, resulting in South Lake Tahoe’s 22,000 residents being forced to leave, as well as an additional 8,000 people in the surrounding area. Again, fortunately this bad news is as bad as it gets. At present, the fire is 27% contained and running into a 40’ wide clear cut trench that was constructed this week in an effort to stop the fire’s progress. While it’s too early to say for sure, it does look like the worst of the fire could be over. Still, its physical, mental, and emotional toll on the region will likely last for many years. To learn more about the current status of the fire, check out this article from the New York Times, or their live wildfire tracking map.
#2: Eliasch & the FIS Create Initiative to Provide Low Cost Equipment to All Nations:
Moving on from the heaviest topic of the week, we’re excited to share with you some cool news from the FIS. Because it’s September and we suspect many of you might’ve taken a quick break from ski news over the summer, let’s do a quick recap of what’s been going on over at the FIS in recent months. Back at the start of June, the FIS held an election to find it’s next President, who’s guaranteed the position through May 2022, at which point another election will be held for the subsequent four year term. The winner of that election, and the current FIS President, is former HEAD Skis CEO Johan Eliasch. In his campaign pitch, Eliasch promoted himself as the candidate that would help the FIS become a more mainstream entity, ultimately setting the goal of growing viewership, awareness, and participation in FIS sports. With just a year to prove himself before the next election, and one in which the Winter Olympics are set to be held, Eliasch has wasted no time in getting to work. This week, we caught another example of this as a new initiative has just been announced in which the FIS will provide low cost equipment for top athletes from any nation. The system to pull this off is surprisingly simple: representatives from any nation can simply login to an FIS website and submit purchase orders directly to ski equipment manufacturers at deep discounts on the behalf of any qualifying FIS athlete. The goal of this initiative of course, is to eliminate any financial barrier standing between top tier talent, and top of the line equipment. With this initiative, all FIS athletes now have the opportunity to compete on the same high-end equipment, helping to level the playing field and enabling more countries to secure representation in FIS events. While the initiative itself is so simple it seems like it should’ve been put in place years ago, it’s this type of thinking that many have been hoping Eliasch would bring to the FIS to help further its global presence. To learn more about this, check out the writeup from SkiRacing.com.
#3: Indecision 2021: Opinions Fluctuate on the Looming Little Cottonwood Canyon Transportation Decision:
Third on our list this week is another check in with the ongoing decision regarding transportation solutions in Salt Lake’s Little Cottonwood Canyon. As you may know, the city’s been exploring ways to alleviate congestion on one of its most popular mountain roads. If you’ve been in Salt Lake in recent years, and have tried to ski at either Alta or Snowbird on a powder day, then you’re well aware of the insane gridlock, traffic, and congestion that turn this road into a standstill. The problem then is widely agreed upon: Little Cottonwood Canyon badly needs a solution to its traffic woes. The solution however, is far from agreed upon.
When the topic originally came up for debate, there were generally two proposed solutions: add an extra lane for buses and increase the number of shuttles, or build a gondola that would carry riders from the base of the canyon to either of the two resorts. That second option, unsurprisingly, has been the preferred option of many idealistic skiers and snowboarders in the area who quickly fell in love with the idea of taking a gondola to the base of their favorite resort in the winter, eliminating the need to worry about snowy roadways. As the decision deadline gets closer though, that idea is facing considerable pushback from realists who make several good points regarding whether or not implementing an expensive gondola actually makes sense. That sentiment was underscored in an article from the Salt Lake Tribune this week that covers comments made by a number of elected officials in a press conference on Wednesday. At that conference, multiple leaders expressed the opinion that spending $600 million on building and maintaining a gondola while running the risk of unsatisfactory results simply didn’t make good fiscal sense. Additionally, concerns were raised regarding the practicality of a gondola system for outdoor enthusiasts who aren’t heading to Alta or Snowbird. As was noted in the press conference, the canyon has seen considerable traffic year round from those looking to explore the backcountry without necessarily going to one of the two resorts. For these people, the gondola wouldn’t be a great solution as there would only be two destinations, making it impractical to explore other areas of the canyon. Ultimately, the outcome of this press conference was a renewed request for the Utah Department of Transportation to once again go back to the drawing board to explore ways to control traffic in the canyon. Unfortunately, that could mean a solution to the situation is still many years away. For more on this, check out the report from the Salt Lake Tribune.
#4: Leading By Example: Mount Bohemia Makes Three Big Announcements Benefiting Locals and Pass Holders:
Finally, we round out this week on something of a lighter note as we share an update from Mount Bohemia, one of North America’s most unique and forward thinking ski resorts. Actually, this update is really a 3-in-1 situation as the resort has made three big announcements in the last few weeks that have thrilled locals and season pass holders alike. The first of those three announcements came on August 17th, when they launched a Lifetime Season Pass option. For those who call Mount Bohemia home and intend to do so well into the future, there’s now a Lifetime Season Pass available for $1,299.00. Now, to be clear, “Lifetime” is defined as 75 years in this agreement, so if you’re still skiing Mount Bohemia in 2096, you might have to have a discussion with their operations manager about an extension. Still, even in that scenario, you would’ve skied for just $17.32 per year for the past 75 years, which seems like a pretty reasonable deal. The only other catch with this offer is that it’s limited to the first 100 customers this year. For more on this, check out their post on Instagram.
The second update we caught from Mount Bohemia recently, was their commitment to a $20 minimum wage for all employees at the resort. While a number of ski areas, most notably Vail, have made headlines in recent weeks for committing to a $15 minimum wage, Mount Bohemia continues to lead by example despite being a much less grandiose resort than some of its competitors. In a recent Instagram post, the resort announced the news, explicitly stating that all jobs will start at $20/hr, including lift operators, housekeeping staff, and food service staff. The one minor exception here is bartenders, who will start at $15/hr but are expected to earn approximately $30/hr after tips. So, if you’re a ski bum who’s more interested in skiing than being a bum and are willing to roll the dice on spending a season in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, it might just be worth checking out job opportunities at Mount Bohemia.
Finally, the last of the three updates coming out of this resort in recent weeks is the announcement that this season, Saturdays will be for season pass holders only. Of the three announcements, this one is potentially the most interesting as it’s an unprecedented move that prioritizes season pass holders and shows that the resort really values its local customers. While we don’t know what Mount Bohemia’s financial picture looks like, it feels relatively safe to assume that Saturday’s are likely the biggest day of the week at the resort, as is the case at most ski areas. Taking that into consideration, the decision to turn away potential business to create an environment that’s less crowded and more fun for season pass holders is a bold, yet applaudable move. While it seems unlikely that this particular concept will become widespread, it should continue to push the ball forward in terms of ski areas providing further benefits to pass holders. As you might recall, Arapahoe Basin made headlines this past spring by announcing some initiatives of their own that focus on optimizing the ski experience for their season pass holders. Ultimately then, our takeaway from this news is that while larger resorts are often able to lead the ski industry in a number of ways, it’s the resorts that align themselves with their most loyal customers that are likely to lead to improvements and innovations in regards to pass holder benefits. To learn more about Mount Bohemia, check out their website.