THE SNOW INDUSTRY LETTER
March 19, 2013 Vol. 35, No. 12
(Please be aware of the prohibitions - listed in the copyright materials at the end of this message - about forwarding your subscription copy of TSIL to non-subscribers without authorization. If you have any suggestions for improving our E- mail service, please call Mary McKhann at (802) 496-7757, or send an E-mail message to
Follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tsilnews and @TSILeditor on Twitter.
POST SERIES LOOKS AT ACCIDENTS, DEATHS ON COLORADO SLOPES
A number of articles about Colorado ski area accidents, accident investigation, lawsuits and deaths was just published and has gotten the attention of the public, resort officials and industry observers. The issues are complicated, and therefore TSIL will provide links to all the stories involved and will post links on our Facebook page.
The Denver Post ran a three-part series that started Sunday and concluded today. The first part, “Colorado system for investigating ski accidents raises concerns,” looked at who investigates when a serious accident or death occurs on the mountain or at a resort, noting that in most cases, it is the ski patrol and not law enforcement agencies. (http://tinyurl.com/d7nv2cf)
It also talks fairly extensively about the death of Cooper Larsh at Howelsen Hill Ski Area – a case that is still pending in the courts and was also covered in recent days by the Steamboat Pilot & Today. See http://tinyurl.com/ccer9wt and http://tinyurl.com/d847tbv.
Part two alleges: “Colorado ski operators, protected by state law and further insulated by season-pass waivers, have escaped liability for such incidents as an inbounds avalanche, a ski instructor running into a 9-year-old, and a decaying bridge injuring a skier.” (http://tinyurl.com/c56hnw8)
It continues: Season-pass waivers - used by most, if not all, of the state's ski resorts - essentially extend resort protections beyond the ski act. Even as many of these ski areas have been gobbled up by big companies … these waivers release them from "all liability" in exchange for the buyer's getting a discounted rate. In many cases, the buyer also agrees to reimburse the resort for attorney fees and costs if the buyer sues the resort for negligence, as well as to pay those costs if a third party, such as the buyer's medical insurer, sues the resort.”
Part three showed two different headlines, the most glaring of which read: “Colorado skiers deaths gruesome, mysterious.” The somewhat milder version, “Colorado skiers die on groomed, blue runs after hitting trees,” reflects what appears to have been going on nationwide in recent years.
Last season 19 people died on the slopes - marking Colorado's deadliest season ever - while the state logged 11 million skier visits. Nationally, 54 skiers and snowboarders died at ski areas, which saw a total of 51 million ski visits, according to the National Ski Areas Association. The Post notes that “if those who died had anything in common, it was catching an edge or losing control just long enough to crash into a tree on the side of a trail.”
The article goes on to say: “it's impossible for a concerned consumer to compare the safety records of ski areas - in Colorado or nationally. It also keeps consumers in the dark about what measures to take to protect themselves.”
While many of the comments on the Post site were rants about ambulance chasers and muckraking, a more reasoned response was posted by industry veteran Bob Berwyn, publisher of the Summit County Citizens Voice. Berwyn called for “public discussion and examination of the issue, by way of a standing ski safety commission that would include all sorts of experts: Ski patrollers, risk managers, doctors, Forest Service ski experts, insurance agents, and yes, even lawyers.” Read the full text at http://wp.me/pJ91e-4CB.
TSIL contacted a number of agencies and received this response from Aspen Skiing Co. Director of Public Relations Jeff Hanle. "Aspen Skiing Company is in complete agreement with Colorado Ski Country and the National Ski Areas Association on these issues. We believe the Colorado Ski Safety Act has been instrumental in making Colorado one of the top ski and snowboard destinations in the world. We stand behind the professionalism of our Ski Patrol, and in contrast to what the article states, we work closely with numerous agencies during accident investigations, including the U.S. Forest Service, Pitkin County Sheriff, Snowmass Village Police, Colorado Avalanche Information Center and others. The safety of our guests and employees is our top priority and we continue to evolve safety policies every year."
NEW HAMPSHIRE COMMUNITY IS LOSING ITS LOCAL SKI HILL
Another small community ski area just bit the dust. Whaleback Mountain, NH has more than $1 million in outstanding debt, and its owners are moving to liquidate and sell off its assets, according to published reports.
Co-owner and two-time Olympic skier Evan Dybvig said he plans to sell assets to pay outstanding state, federal and local property taxes - among other creditors. Enfield town records show Whaleback Mountain LLC owing $73,000 to the town in taxes dating back to May 2011. He said his lender is unwilling to advance any further funding and is prepared to foreclose on the property.
Dybvig and his co-owners - Frank Sparrow and Dylan Goodspeed - had plans for a year-round indoor skiing and snowboarding facility when they purchased the 154-acre property eight years ago. But early on, sources of funding began falling through as several investors dropped out and the area lost a “critical loan” from the government-run U.S. Small Business Administration.
Whaleback closed its regular season Sunday, but will be open on March 23 for a weekend combined motor sports and ski and snowboard event called “Motor Mayhem.” Dybvig said he hopes “that the community responds by stepping up and saying, ‘We don’t want to lose this, we don’t want it to go away.’ ”
Read more at http://tinyurl.com/cbn23rp.
RESIDENTS REACT TO PROPOSED MAMMOTH MOUNTAIN LAND SWAP
A land trade being proposed by Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, CA has raised the ire of residents who want the trade tied to the fate of the currently shuttered June Mountain ski area, according to published reports.
One of the Mono County Board of Supervisors agenda items for its March 5 meeting was to hear MMSA CEO Rusty Gregory’s presentation for political support for a federal land swap. The trade, if it occurs, will put 20 acres of National Forest Service land at the base of the main lodge into the mountain’s ownership - in trade for other properties the forest service hopes to get its hands on.
Gregory had reportedly asked for the agenda item to be postponed but the request came too late to take it off the county supervisors agenda. According to the Mammoth Times, “the agenda item brought forth fear and rage as June Lake residents attended and vented their frustration to the board of supervisors.”
Residents vented a lot of anger against Gregory personally and saw his need for political support for his land exchange as a unique vulnerability and an opportunity to put pressure on MMSA to do something valid with June Mountain.
The Board of Supervisors said it was not in a position to take any action at the time. “We are going to be bringing a lot more information to you, to the community, about what we think might work at June, get your input on that, and we think it only fair to allow MMSA the extra time they asked for to do the same thing,” Supervisor Larry Johnston told the overflowing crowd.
TRANSWORLD SNOW CONFERENCE LOOKS AT HOT INDUSTRY TOPICS
Lively conversations ensued last week at the Transworld Snow Conference on agenda topics that covered The State of the Market, The Economic Horizon and its Impact on Snowboarding, Breaking into the China Market, the Future Positioning of Snowboarding and ways to grow the market. Approximately 80 industry professionals, primarily from the product side, attended the event in Sun Valley, ID.
One of the more provocative sessions was by Dr. Peter Phillips, professor of economics at the University of Utah. Phillips offered an overview of the “global rebalancing” and the role the U.S, plays. He indicated that the country’s economic recovery is still is a couple of years away. On a bright note, he said that the leisure industry has not been hit as hard in the recession as other industries, such as housing.
He described skiing as a “mature market” and snowboarding as “getting there.” When interpreting data, he advised conference attendees to think about the market and the economy as a whole and to determine what data represents the product cycle as oppose to the business cycle.
Miriam Deller, director of Core Power Asia, told the group that China has unique brand perceptions, travel habits and purchasing perspectives. Effective marketing and an adequate supply of qualified staff are challenges faced by the Chinese snow sports industry. She said that snowboarding is experiencing a 30% growth in riders each year with most centered around coastal cities.
The conference ended on an upbeat, creative-thinking note on how to grow participation after an offbeat presentation by Andrea Kates, founder of the Business Genome Project. In between, conference attendees heard presentations from Burton, Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month, Winter Park and Hession Design representatives on ways to grow participation in the U.S. and increase conversion.
Other topics discussed included Climate Change and Realigning the Buying Cycle. – MJT
LODGING NUMBERS REBOUND IN WEST THANKS TO SNOW, ECONOMY
Better snowfall and a stronger economy combined to deliver impressive gains for the mountain lodging industry, according to the most recent data released by the Mountain Travel Research Program.
Actual occupancy for February 2013 was up 14.2% compared to last February and the average daily rate was up 2.6%. The booking pace for reservations taken in February for arrivals in the next six months (February-July) was up a dramatic 20.4%.
With almost 94% of total reservations that will be taken for the season now on the books, the season is currently up 9% in revenues although that is expected to drop slightly in the remaining weeks of the season, said Ralf Garrison, director of MTRiP.
As of Feb. 28, occupancy among participating lodging properties in 16 western destinations was up 6% for the past six months (September through February) compared to 2011-12 and the ADR was up 2.6%. The positive increase over last year is continuing in March with on-the-books occupancy for March up 9.9% as of Feb. 28 compared to last year.
Looking at the coming six months (March-July), reservations are up every month except April for an aggregated increase of 8.5% compared to the same time last year.
LEARN TO SKI AND SNOWBOARD MONTH SEES BIGGEST INCREASE
January’s Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month/Bring a Friend initiative saw its largest increase in attendance this winter, with 153,000 children and adults registering for beginner lessons from professional instructors. That was a jump of more than 50,000 compared to last year. The program began in began in January 2009 with 20,000 participants.
Ski and snowboard areas in 34 states took part in LSSM/BAF. Seventy percent of the ski/snowboard areas that responded to a post-initiative survey said their consumer participation was higher compared to last year.
Nearly 175 adults (ages 18 and older) took the Bring a friend Challenge that encouraged current participants to help newcomers sign up for lessons.
NSAA will announce the winner of its Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month Marketing Award at the organization’s conference in Palm Springs, CA April 30 – May 3.
SURGING STOCKS GIVE THE SKI HOME MARKET A LIFT
After the epic crash in 2008, the market for ski homes is finally getting a lift. Rising stocks, an improving economy and a rush of buying before the 2013 tax hikes have helped drive a surge in sales and prices for mountain homes in the West, according to CNBC’s “Inside Wealth.”
In Sun Valley, ID, the number of units sold in December and January is up 515 over the previous year, according to data compiled by Coldwell Banker. In Colorado, unit sales in Vail are up 29% and median prices are up 36% in Steamboat. California's main ski region around Tahoe has seen units sold increase 18%, while sales volume in Park City, UT is up 15%.
Real-estate agents say the strength is now cutting across almost all resorts and all prices ranges, though the lower-priced homes and very high-priced, one-of-a-kind homes are in the highest demand.
TIME IS RUNNING OUT FOR CANADIAN SKIER TRAPPED IN CREVASSE
Bad weather and high avalanche risk kept crews from resuming the search for a man who has been trapped in a glacier near Lake Louise, Alberta, for six days. But as of Tuesday, two rescue teams had landed and resumed efforts to reach Mark Taylor.
Three skiers from British Columbia, two men and one woman, were skiing in Yoho National Park Wednesday when Taylor, the parks manager with the City of Abbotsford, fell into a crevasse. He is believed to be 35 meters (about 115 feet) below the surface.
Taylor is reportedly an experienced skier and was carrying survival gear and supplies.
SEVERAL DEATHS ON THE SLOPES THIS WEEK; SKIER STILL MISSING
A woman died while skiing at Sun Valley, after apparently hitting a tree. Melanie Kendall, 38, was found unconscious on Wednesday near the Roundhouse Lane ski track on Baldy Mountain. She was reportedly skiing alone, wearing a helmet, and there were no witnesses to what might have happened.
At China Peak Mountain Resort, CA, Richard Sigle, 49, died on Saturday evening after he apparently hit a tree stump. Deputies responded to a call from the ski resort around 5 p.m. about a man who had an accident and was not breathing. He was among a group of season-pass holders who were allowed to ski a little longer after the resort closed most of its lifts at 4 pm, China Peak owner Tim Cohee said.
A snowboarder died March 9 at Marmot Basin in Jasper National Park, Alberta. Christopher Sorensen, 21, was snowboarding with a group of friends when he caught an edge and went into a snow fence. Sorensen, who was wearing a helmet, was treated by ski patrol and transported to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
The death of a 64-year-old man at Steamboat Ski Area, CO, was believed to have been the result of a heart attack. The man collapsed while skiing with friends on the Spur Run beginner trail.
Ken Walker, the skier who went missing in Aspen almost two weeks ago, is still missing. "We will continue our on-mountain efforts ... all employees are being asked to be extra diligent and to alter their daily routines in an effort to cover every possible scenario," said Jeff Hanle, Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman.
Travel and snow industry veteran Bruce Rosard is the new executive director of Mountain Travel Symposium and in his new position, has taken over full administration of professional development during the two-day Forum at the upcoming 38th annual meeting next month in Snowmass, CO. … Marcel Hirscher of Austria and Slovenian Tina Maze claimed the overall World Cup alpine titles last weekend, but it was also big for the U.S. Ski Team. Just three days past her 18th birthday, Mikaela Shiffrin on Saturday became the youngest woman to win the World Cup slalom title since 1974 and the first American World Cup slalom champion since Tamara McKinney claimed the crystal globe in 1984. Ted Ligety capped his dominant season in giant slalom to take the season-long title with a sixth World Cup win Saturday, fueling comparisons with Ingemar Stenmark, the best GS skier in history. And the injured Lindsey Vonn won her sixth straight World Cup downhill title after thick fog forced the final race to be canceled Wednesday. But that is hardly why she was in headlines in virtually every news source in the universe. Vonn sent out a tweet Monday confirming that she and Tiger Woods are dating. Woods sent out a similar tweet. Both asked for privacy. …Ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson, 18, edged archrival Sara Takanashi of Japan on Sunday to win the last World Cup meet of the women's ski jumping season. …Martin Rufener, who helped transform the Swiss ski team into a powerhouse that won multiple World Cup, world championship and Olympic titles, was named Alpine Canada’s new alpine director. …Austrian glovemaker Zanier Sports hired Jim Waite to head its new U.S. office in Richmond, VT. Waite will serve as U.S. director of sales. …Recreational Equipment Inc. in Seattle has named Brian Unmacht its interim CEO, while the co-op’s sitting CEO, Sally Jewell, undergoes the confirmation process to become Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Unmacht has spent 27 years at REI serving most recently as the company’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.
Links to the Denver Post articles and a number of other items can be found on our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/tsilnews. You can follow @TSILeditor on Twitter.
Contributors include Mary Jo Tarallo. For subscription information, go to TSIL's website at www.snowindustryletter.com or contact TSIL's business office at The Snow Industry Letter, LLC, PO Box 1032, Waitsfield, VT 05673; ph. 802-496-7757 or 802-770-9383 (mobile), e-mail,
Produced by The Snow Industry Letter LLC. Any reproduction - by photocopy, fax, any other form or electronically - violates federal law and is prohibited without the consent of TSIL. March 19, 2013.