The combination of a modest snow year and mild temperatures with rain earlier this month have come together to put the end of the ski season in our region in sight. Only a few ribbons of stockpiled snow and a marketing effort aimed at die-hards are what’s left to keep the lifts spinning at many ski areas.
Open until Easter? The holiday is late this year on April 17. Barring a major freeze and snowfall event in the next few days, it is unlikely that most areas stay open beyond the point when most of us have looked out the back door and accepted that the months of bad sliding have arrived.
However, despite some strong headwinds this winter, the ski business has had a solid season. Late arriving snow in the fall got the winter off to a slow start in our area, and unusually cold periods in January and February weren’t helpful. But And, major season pass sales efforts brought lots of folks to the slopes. As the big areas filled up, the smaller areas closer to home started looking very attractive and those in our area did well this winter too.
It wasn’t all rosy. The biggest of the big, Vail Resorts — with its network of resorts including Stowe, Okemo, Mt. Snow, and Hunter in the East — dropped the pricing of its system-wide Epic Pass that brought down the costs for those who ski regularly at their areas, especially for those who also travel for a ski vacation each winter.
What could possibly go wrong with that?
In the first place, more than 2.1 million of those passes were sold which among other features gave people unlimited access to any Vail area of their choosing on the dates of their choice. Weekends, holidays, and days of major snowfalls were the obvious choice for At the same time, all areas had staffing issues — in some places because of relatively low pay, in other cases because nearby affordable housing was unavailable — all of which were made more acute by rules that forced out employees who And that meant unhappy customers, much of that fed by unfiltered social media reports of the situation. And that meant unhappy customers, much of that fed by unfiltered social media reports of the situation.
What will next season be like?
Well, the ski companies will have had a year to address problems that all recognize will not go away without attention. Vail has just released its program for next season and its pricing will not jump significantly and its pass options will continue to be very broad to What they did change is to guarantee at least a $ 20-an-hour wage to all employees, a very competitive rate intended to solve the employee shortage problem. This problem was not unique to Vail Resort properties but, because it is the biggest, it stood out the most.
Parking and traffic control, for instance, were also a major issue at some areas where one lane access roads and limited vehicle capacity magnified the frustration for skiers who then had cause to be unhappy even before they reached the slopes. Look to see more parking and increased shuttle bus services added for next year, plus more local management discretion to address local issues.
The pass situation for next winter is getting a lot of attention right now because regular skiers know that this is the best time to buy. Each pass program has its own discount rates and deadlines but if you know where you would like to ski next winter, buying now makes a lot of sense. In addition to Vail’s Epic Pass, there is Alterra’s IKON pass which has a very appealing menu of 50 areas including Killington, Stratton and Sugarbush in our area. Then there is the INDY pass program for an array of West Mountain, Catamount, and Titus are among the 80 areas involved with that program. More limited offerings like the Big Three pass for Belleayre, Gore and Whiteface are also appealing to people in our area.
Don’t let what happened this winter dictate your choice for next season. The pricing is appealing at all right now but more important is where you intend to ski next winter, and how often. Let those considerations direct your choice of which pass program to buy.
Ski passes were not the only topic of discussion in recent months.
As happens every four years, the Winter Olympics dominated the airwaves for two weeks in February. Despite strict quarantining and largely fan-free events, the competition went off smoothly. Skiing and snowboarding produced some very competitive results for Americans including cross country skier Jessie Diggins and Alpine racers Ryan Cochran Siegle and River Radamus. Unfortunately, the biggest story was the failure of downhill star Mikaela Shiffrin to win a medal in any of the six events she entered.
Despite her disappointing results, Shiffrin, who just turned 27, was just as gracious and classy in defeat as she has been after victories in the past. She is a role model for athletes, no matter what sport, and she proved that the Olympics was just a bump in the road as she came back last week to win the overall world Alpine championship for women based on cumulative event results throughout the winter.
While our area had no competitors in the games this time, Niskayuna’s Sarah Simson was in the middle of it all as one of eight on an international panel who judged the aerial and moguls competitions in Beijing.
In addition to the five events where she was a judge, Simson did get a chance to see some of the snowboarding and slopestyle competitions.
“The highlight for me was being there to see Lindsey Jacobellis and Nick Baumgartner win the mixed boardercross event,” Simson said. “At ages 34 and 40, both have been at it a long time. They had great spirit. They went for it. and they got it. ”
Simson who judged her first World Cup competition back in 2003 is the first American woman to serve as a judge for moguls and aerials in the Olympics. She thinks this was her “one and done.”
“I plan to continue judging a little longer,” she said. “But after the Olympics, two world championships and several World Cup events, I’ve had my turn. I don’t want to be in the way of talented young judge. who deserve their time at major events. ”
WORLD UNIVERSITY GAMES IN JANUARY
While we will have to wait until 2024 for the next Winter Olympics, we will get a good look at high level multi-sports winter competition when the World University Games come to our area next January. More than 1,600 athletes from 50 countries are expected to compete in 86 medal events in 12 sports. Many of the competitions will be at new state-of-the-art sports facilities developed by New York state to host the games. There will be multiple skiing events at Gore Mountain and Whiteface, as well as ice events in Lake Placid.
Locally, a couple of long time fixtures on the winter scene experienced some tough going but will take another crack at it next season.
The Hickory Ski Center in Warrensburg created some buzz last fall when local supporters announced plans to re-open the area which had been closed since 2014. Unfortunately, regulatory and insurance issues were not resolved in time and the hill did not open as planned this winter ..
The New York State Capital District Ski Council did not hold races this winter. These annual competitions that date back 70 years were canceled in January when the races did not draw enough entries for the races to be held. Organizers are planning to race next year.
ODDS AND ENDS
It was not all tough going this winter. Area specialty retailers report business was very good, despite reported supply chain issues last fall.
“Participation in winter sports is up because more people want to get outdoors.” Said Alpin Haus Ski and Pool Division manager Jamie Georgelos recently. “We took in new inventory as recently as last month and we have ordered a lot more than in the past.” for next season, ”
“My advice is if you see something on a shelf that you want, buy it now,” Georgelos said.
Finally, happy birthday to the Adirondack Mountain Club, which next month will celebrate the 100 years since its founding in April 1922. ADK has long been a major and lasting contributor to the outdoors in our region and will soon become more visible when its new facility on Route 73 outside Lake Placid, the former home of the Cascades Ski Center, opens later this year.
This will be the final Ski Lines of the 2021-22 winter season. But, just a few months of bad sliding then we’ll be back on the boards again.
Phil Johnson can be reached at [email protected]..
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