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Top 10 WinterSports stories from the off-season

With the 2011/2012 ski season right around the corner, SNEWS looks back at a very busy off-season, with the top 10 stories of the past four months.

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It’s September already, and with Labor Day sales set to start it looks as if the 2011/2012 ski season is just about underway. Plenty of rocker technology, some new ski lifts and on-mountain lodges, and maybe even a return of La Niña await this year. But it has been a very busy off-season as well, and at SNEWS we wanted to take a last look back at the top 10 stories of the past four months before we officially bid summer goodbye. 

1) Record year for skier visits after all

We knew it was a record year for snowsports retail (hitting $3.3 billion in sales) by May, but we had to wait to hear if it was also a record year for skier visits until mid-July. That’s because exceptionally deep snow depths in California, Utah, Colorado and Washington State kept dozens of chairlifts spinning past Independence Day. The result was a new all-time record of 60.54 million skier visits across the country according to the Kottke End of Season Survey. A testament to the power of good snow, the new mark also demonstrated the strength of skiing’s popularity in a tough economy.

2) Hurricane Irene focuses wrath on Vermont

As the Northeast continues to clean up in the wake of Hurricane Irene, it seems that in Vermont especially, it could be months before the full extent of the damage is known. Towns were still partially flooded on Sept. 1, 2011, days after the storm swept through. Killington ski area, where floodwaters swept the K-1 Lodge’s Superstar Pub off its foundation, was still evacuating guests through a network of damaged roads. And as this video on Facebook shows, with up to 200 roads ravaged around the state, repairs are certain to be ongoing once the snow begins to fall.

3) Apparel market rattled by allegations against Gore

There has been no announcement of any official findings yet in the investigation seeking to determine whether W.L. Gore engaged in unfair methods of competition, but the fact there even is an investigation made national news from Bloomberg to the Wall Street Journal. SNEWS President Michael Hodgson, who has been following the story since 2010, most recently wrote about it here.

4) Slopestyle, halfpipe skiing get Olympic nod

With slopestyle skiing and snowboarding, as well as halfpipe skiing set to enter the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi as medal events, youth is certainly being served. On July 4, 2011, during an executive board meeting in Durban, South Africa, the International Olympic Committee announced the addition of the events, and shredders all over the globe began to dream of Olympic gold. The decision “recognizes the millions of youth who are already participating in the sport in terrain parks around the world,” said USSA President and CEO Bill Marolt. In anticipation of the decision, the USSA founded the U.S. Freeskiing program in January 2011.

5) Helmet nation close to becoming a reality

The California Legislature is awaiting Governor Jerry Brown’s decision whether to sign a bill that would mandate helmet use for skiers and snowboarders younger than 18. Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an identical measure in 2010, but vetoed a companion bill that called for ski resorts to develop and publish safety plans. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie already signed a similar law on April 6, 2011. Starting this fall, parents or guardians of “un-helmeted” minors skiing at one of Jersey’s three hills could be fined up to $25.

6) Growing the sport meeting convenes in Denver

It won’t be until the end of January 2012, when the results of Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month are tallied, that we will learn the full impact of the “Growing Snowsports” meeting held in Denver on Aug. 17. What is clear is that principals from Snowsports Industries America (SIA), the National Ski areas Association (NSAA), Professional Ski Instructors Association and American Association of Snowboard Instructors (PSIA-AASI), National Ski Patrol (NSP), the National Ski and Snowboard Retailers Association (NSSRA), rep groups and the SSL and SMC retail buying groups all sat down together in a way they haven’t in decades, and talked about establishing more marketing synergy for the benefit of everyone in snowsports.

7) Jeret ‘Speedy’ Peterson commits suicide

Stunned doesn’t begin to explain how many in the ski industry felt when hearing that aerials silver medalist Jeret Peterson had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on the evening of July 25, 2011. Peterson was apparently despondent over a recent DUI citation. As an athlete, he was known for creating the groundbreaking “Hurricane,” a five-twist and three-flip aerial maneuver that landed him a silver medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

8) Powderhorn’s surprise buyers

Heads turned on Aug. 4, 2011, when it was announced that former Vail Resorts executive Andy Daly had partnered with legendary snowsports retailers Ken and Tom Gart to buy Southwest Colorado’s little Powderhorn Ski Area for $1.4 million. Calling the area “a wonderful gem that has been undercapitalized for years,” the trio promised to bring skiing expertise and capital.

9) Southwest fires damage lifts at New Mexico’s Pajarito

The devastating Las Conchas fire near Los Alamos, N.M., destroyed more than 150,000 acres on its way to becoming New Mexico’s largest wildfire. Along with the 63 homes the fire claimed, Pajarito Mountain Ski Area reported the fire destroyed the top lift shack and unloading ramp at Chair 1, and also damaged several runs. The Southwest was the only area hit by fire, however, as on July 6, 2011, the 50-year-old lodge at Mt. Abram Family Resort in Maine sustained heavy damage from a blaze, which was likely the result of a lightning strike from a severe thunderstorm.

10) Speed Center to help spur downhill dominance?

The USSA announced has partnered with Copper Mountain to open a full-length downhill training center with a run from the top of the Super B lift to the bottom of Rosie’s Run, covering more than 2,000 vertical feet. The USSA plans to have the run open by early November each season (in two months!), beginning this fall. “The U.S. Ski Team Speed Center at Copper will be a game changer for U.S. athletes,” said USSA President and CEO Bill Marolt.

Peter Kray

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