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WinterSports Hot Sheet: tree well deaths, top sales, lawsuits & more

Two tree well deaths at Whitefish Mountain Resort have rocked ski area officials, a lawsuit against the Town of Mammoth Lakes could force the town into bankruptcy, plus much, much more.

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Whitefish Mountain Resort officials are urging those wishing to take advantage of the deep powder covering the mountain to familiarize themselves with risks and safety techniques related to Non-Avalanche Related Snow Immersion Deaths, or NARSIDs, following the deaths of one skier and one snowboarder at the area. 

A 29-year-old snowboarder lost his life in a tree well in an off-piste area at Whitefish Mountain Resort on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2011, less than a week after a 16-year-old skier was removed from life support after becoming trapped in a tree well in the same area of the mountain on Dec. 29.

“This has been a very sad and tragic two weeks for all of us at Whitefish Mountain Resort,” says Winter Sports, Inc. President and CEO Daniel Graves. “Losing three lives in two weeks, two in tree wells and one due to natural causes, affects us all deeply, and our thoughts and prayers go out to the friends and families of the victims.”

According to the industry-created website, 90 percent of volunteers placed into tree wells in two experiments could not rescue themselves. When a skier or snowboarder falls into a tree well, the loose snow packs in around and on top of them, making it very difficult to move and/or free oneself. Further struggle can worsen the predicament.

“I think you need to ski off-piste similarly to how you ski back country or avalanche terrain,” says Whitefish Mountain Resort Ski Patrol Director Tary King. “Have a plan in place and stick to it. Talk to each other about how you are going to ski each run and stay close enough to help your buddy if needed.”

Snowsports, outdoor retail sales reports jump in November

According to SIA’s Snowsport RetailTRAK, snow sport sales surged 32 percent in both units and dollars for a total of $495M at retail this November, the strongest in at least 10 years. Cold weather combined with pent up demand to set the registers ablaze with all major categories surging over 30 percent over November 2009.

Moving into the holiday season, all outdoor dollar sales across all three channels (chain, internet, specialty) jumped an impressive 26 percent to post the largest November sales since at least 2006. Nearly every major category in all three retail channels had double digit gains and pushed total year-to-date sales up 10 percent over 2009.

Town of Mammoth loses $30 million appeal

The Mammoth Times is reporting that a three-member panel last week unanimously upheld a $30 million judgment against the Town of Mammoth Lakes in the Hot Creek Aviation litigation, which stems from the town backing out of a land development deal.

“Thus ends the litigation in a dispute that began in 1997,” the paper reports. “Now begin the myriad questions facing the Town and what it’s going to do about them.”

Citing, “Bollixed communications by the Town with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the project developers over a 13-year span” as well as “Unclear motives by the Town as it shifted its focus from private side development to creating an airport for commercial aircraft service,” the judgement could force the town into municipal bankruptcy.

Mammoth Lakes Town Manager Rob Clark told the LA Times, “We would not anticipate that municipal bankruptcy would take away our ability to pay for emergency response services or snow removal, which are matters of life or death. But we would be required to make the plaintiff whole as quickly as possible and at the same time ensure that people would not have to worry about whether it is safe or not to come to Mammoth.”

The town has until Feb. 8th, 2011 to file an appeal with the California Supreme Court.

European bird deaths blamed on skiers and snowboarders

According to a report from the International Journal of Avian Science, high alpine bird deaths in Europe may be a result of the increased popularity of wintersports.

The report states that certain indigenous birds require extended periods of immobility while digesting their conifer needle meals, and that the process is often interrupted by powder hunting riders. The report did not discuss any possible solutions to getting riders to whisper instead of ‘whoop’ while hitting the powder.

Battle of the Brands gets ready to rock Denver

Some of the top brands in freeskiing will battle head-to-head in the Nature Valley Big Air Challenge on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011, part of the Denver Big Air presented by Sprint.

The athletes representing the teams will be executing aerial tricks off a 102-foot high ramp that will be in Denver’s Civic Center Park.

The “Battle of the Brands” format will consist of five rounds of head-to-head competition to crown the champions. A seeding and elimination round will set the stage for the evening event with quarterfinals, semifinals and finals. In addition, judges will award a “Best Trick” prize. Each team will have three riders competing for a total of 39 competitors.

“The freeskiing industry is really energized about this opportunity to showcase its leading brands at one of the most spectacular events in our sport,” says USSA Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer Andrew Judelson. “The Nature Valley Big Air Challenge Battle of the Brands will showcase these companies and their athletes in front of thousands of spectators on an amazing, massive aerial jump in downtown Denver.”

In other news…

Movement Skis has teamed with a new North American distribution company based in Boulder, Colorado. Effective as of January 1, 2011, Movement will be distributed in Winter 2011/2012 through La Sportiva N.A…SWIX SPORT USA has appointed Jeffrey Lee as Director of Merchandising, Sales and Marketing for the company’s Textile Division…and Nordica USA has retained Denny, Ink, as its public relations firm.—Peter Kray

On Oct. 6, 2010, veteran journalist Peter Kray joined the SNEWS team and is now editor of the new SNEWS WinterSports channel. We trust you are enjoying the full offering of WinterSports news. Be sure to email your friends and let them know the best WinterSports news has arrived — just in time for the winter season. Got WinterSports news? Send your WinterSports news to Kray at Subscribers can also post WinterSports news releases directly to the SNEWS website. Email us at to learn about posting your own news releases, or for any other questions or comments. We love to hear from our readers!