What this is: This is the fourth in a series of short conversations exploring the fallout to the ski industry from the COVID-19-forced closure of nearly every ski area on the continent in March 2020. Click through to listen to the first three: author Chris Diamond, Boyne Resorts CEO Stephen Kircher, Magic Mountain President Geoff Hatheway.
Who: Kelly Pawlak, President and CEO of the National Ski Areas Association
Why I interviewed her: The $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that the president signed into law on March 27 is 880 pages long, meaning that approximately zero people have read the entire thing. While there are plenty of high-level breakdowns itemizing what the act delivers American individuals and businesses, it’s less obvious what this titanic relief bill means for the ski industry and its nearly 1 million employees. As the primary trade group representing U.S. ski areas, the National Ski Areas Association’s mission over the past several weeks has been to raise its hand on behalf of the collective industry and say, “Hey Congress, don’t forget about us.” I wanted to get a sense of exactly what the bill offered ski areas large and small, and to gauge what else the NSAA was prioritizing over what is set to be a very long slog back to skiers riding lifts up mountainsides. Also, the industry seems extremely satisfied with the NSAA at the moment (Steve Wright is the GM of Jay Peak; Christian Knapp, who comments on the thread, is the CMO of Aspen-Snowmass):
What we talked about: The factors behind the NSAA’s estimate that U.S. ski areas will lose $2 billion from the COVID-19 shutdown; the ripple effect of cancelling large capital projects; how much U.S. ski areas invest in capital per skier visit; the importance of summer business and what it will mean if that goes away; what’s in the CARES Act for ski areas and their employees and why it may take a while to sort all that out; the risks of being overlooked for relief money as a seasonal business whose season was three-quarters of the way over; how to get attention for the ski industry when the entire economy collapsed, taking just about every industry with it; the different CARES Act aid that small and large ski areas are eligible for; how the NSAA is approaching the next possible round of Congressional stimulus; how to avoid the, “What do you guys need money for, is there even still skiing in March?” trap when jockeying for that cash; the crucial role of ski areas to rural economies; the Congressional Ski and Snowboard Caucus sounds fun – what is it?; Forest Service land lease fees that 122 U.S. ski areas pay each year could be waived or deferred; the problem with business interruption insurance; is Ski Blandford a bellwether for a wave of independent ski area closings in the COVID aftermath?; echoes of Mount Snow-Haystack in the failure of Butternut subsidizing Blandford; when and why the NSAA cancelled their annual trade show and convention for the first time in 58 years and what they’re doing instead; how the industry is embracing this whole thing as a learning opportunity
What I got wrong: I said that Vail had cancelled all of its capital spending for the rest of the year, but that is incorrect: they are eliminating up to $85 million in major capital projects such as new chairlifts and terrain expansions, but are not cancelling basic maintenance capital spending. I also stated that the new Hermitage Club ownership group was “a part of the old ownership,” which isn’t exactly right – a group of former club members purchased the mountain at auction for a bit more than $8 million last month.
Fact check: Kelly and I ponder the number of U.S. states that have ski areas – there are 37, four of which only have one: Tennessee, Rhode Island, Maryland, and Alabama(!).
Recorded on: April 2, 2020
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The Storm Skiing Podcasts: Killington & Pico GM Mike Solimano | Plattekill owners Danielle and Laszlo Vajtay | New England Lost Ski Areas Project Founder Jeremy Davis | Magic Mountain President Geoff Hatheway | Lift Blog Founder Peter Landsman | Boyne Resorts CEO Stephen Kircher | Burke Mountain GM Kevin Mack | Liftopia CEO Evan Reece | Berkshire East & Catamount Owner & GM Jon Schaefer| Vermont Ski + Ride and Vermont Sports Co-Publisher & Editor Lisa Lynn| Sugarbush President & COO Win Smith| Loon President & GM Jay Scambio| Sunday River President & GM Dana Bullen| Big Snow & Mountain Creek VP of Sales & Marketing Hugh Reynolds |