Liftopia Again Hits Back at “Extreme Remedy” of Forced Bankruptcy

“The Opposition confirms that the Petitioning Creditors had no independent basis to know whether the amounts they asserted they were owed in the Petition were correct.”

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If a guy owed you $900 and he was like “Well I bought you a beer last week it’s actually only $897,” would you just decide you guys were all settled up and move on?

One of the more shocking factoids to emerge from the involuntary bankruptcy case against Liftopia is that, as I wrote last month, the ski companies have never had access to transactional data about tickets sold via the platform outside of what Liftopia itself provides directly. In a July 7 email filed in United States Bankruptcy Court in the Northern District of California, Joshua D. Morse, a lawyer representing the ski companies, wrote to Liftopia outside counsel Robert Eisenbach:

As explained during our call last week, the Petitioning Creditors’ [the ski areas] claims were calculated utilizing the financial reporting provided by Liftopia. They have, as you know, no independent source of information to perform such calculations. Thus, the precision of the Petitioning Creditors’ claim calculations can only be as accurate and complete as the financial information made available by Liftopia.

One of the things about living in 2020 is that it’s an amazing place that is in the future as we imagined it would always be except without the flying cars which turned out to be a bad idea because people have enough trouble driving regular cars without running into a Dumpster because they had to look at their phone every nine seconds to see how many Giggles they had on Instapost. And in this future which is now you can see anything about anything in an instant. I can tell you exactly how many people have viewed this email and how many signed up for the newsletter after reading it. I can see the price of any stock I own and how many shares I have and how much I paid for them and how much they’re worth now. I can see everything I’ve purchased on my credit card for the past decade. But ski companies somehow were just like, “OK, sure sell our products and then just send us a check for whatever you think is fair because what could possibly go wrong with such an arrangement?”

Plenty, it turns out. In court documents filed on July 24, Liftopia used this voluntary ignorance against the ski companies, arguing that the involuntary petition to force Chapter 11 bankrupcty should be dismissed because a) the original amounts the ski companies claimed to be owed were incorrect, and, b) the ski companies admitted this when, on July 16, they agreed with revised debts that Liftopia had calculated and filed with the court in response to the ski companies’ original petition to force Liftopia into bankruptcy. In an exhaustingly titled document called a “Reply to Petitioning Creditors’ Opposition to Motion to Dismiss the Involuntary Petition,” Liftopia states that:

The Petitioning Creditors’ repeated attempts to malign Liftopia for contesting their erroneous claim amounts, and their efforts to mischaracterize this valid dispute as manufactured or lacking an objective basis, fail completely because the Petitioning Creditors have admitted that Liftopia is right. In addition, the Opposition confirms that the Petitioning Creditors had no independent basis to know whether the amounts they asserted they were owed in the Petition were correct. They filed the Petition anyway and, after Liftopia properly disputed their claim amounts, have attempted to blame Liftopia for their own overstatement of the claim amounts.

Liftopia goes on to state that the involuntary petition of the sort that the ski companies are trying to force is “an extreme remedy.”

But the reality is that Liftopia owes its partners a hell of a lot of money. When you buy a lift ticket on Liftopia, the service is supposed to process the sale, take its cut, and forward the balance to the ski companies. And whether the sum of those outstanding balances is the $3 million claimed in the original filing or the up to $10 million that a source told me the industry could be owed as a whole or some other amount, Liftopia is not disputing that it’s stuck at the top of Mount Shredmore with a busted binding and a storm moving in. Yes, Covid ruined everything. And yes, credit card processors, fearing refund demands for things like ski passes that may become invalid after purchase due to ski area closures, are in some cases holding back a percentage of customer’s purchases, as Liftopia CEO Evan Reece claimed to Aspen’s Matt Jones in an email filed with the court and sources privy to ski area finances have confirmed to me. But Aspen is just wondering you know when you can look it up exactly what happened to the $2 million-ish in Mountain Collective Passes that skiers bought through Liftopia? Are they locked in a credit card processor’s account or did someone forward the cash to rescue desperate Princess Magnificence from her island jail cell off the coast of New Canada or did some unscrupulous insider blow the whole stack betting this would be the Knicks year? (It won’t be.)

The ski companies would like to know. A hearing to consider whether to move forward with the case or dismiss it is set for Aug. 6 in San Francisco. With its missing money and its willfully ignorant victims and its absurdly titled court documents, there’s a Simpsons episode in here somewhere. There’s also a potential tragedy, as one of skiers’ main platforms for seeking out affordable lift tickets may be facing up to an existential crisis very soon.

Like plants growing through the cracks in concrete, chairlifts sprout across the Northeast even in Covid aftermath

The best ski-related news dribbling out of the steaming Northeast summer has been progress on the various lift projects that survived the Covid carpet-bombing of so many high-dollar capital initiatives across the ski world.

The most important of these is Saddleback, which has been dormant for five seasons and absolutely must have its new high-speed quad in place to open this fall. The mountain looks to be on track, flying concrete for the its high-speed quad lift towers a few weeks back. Chairs from the Rangeley Double, which a single snowcat dropped in one spectacular heave earlier this year, are for sale here.

In New York, ORDA has already sealed up improvements on the Whiteface gondola, with new cabins, drives, and drive motors. Maybe now the ride won’t feel like you boarded an improvised homemade lift composed of a toolshed strung between two oak trees on a backyard clothesline.

Down at Gore, ORDA is tearing out a pair of antique doubles and replacing them with quads that terminate higher up the mountain.

The removal of the unreliable High Peaks Chair, which had been in place for two years when the men first landed on the moon, is especially welcome. The new lift will join the Straight Brook Quad at the true summit of Gore Mountain, which ought to help traffic flow on the notoriously tricky trail layout.

Further down the mountain, the beginner-oriented Sunway Chair will push farther uphill. Gore is also lengthening and redesigning the previously blue-rated Cutoff trail that runs beneath the chair into a green circle, a logical move since there was previously no way to access green-circle Jamboree without first navigating an intermediate run.

Both projects should be in place for this coming season. No word yet on the fate of either old lift, but ORDA did sell off chairs from Belleayre’s old doubles when it introduced the new Lightning Quad last season.

Incidentally, the mountain is also expanding its snowmaking reservoir, giving it a, “significant increase of system capacity.” As I noted recently, ORDA is fairly reliable in pushing early openings for all three of its mountains, and so we can trust them to use this extra capacity consistently.

Meanwhile, work on Magic’s Black Chair appears to be moving along nicely, as you can see in this video that is not about Magic’s Black Chair:

A Magic switcheroo

Speaking of Magic, when I hosted Magic President Geoff Hatheway on The Storm Skiing Podcast last fall, he outlined how the mountain renovated its Black Line Tavern for $90,000 instead of $9 million. It’s an astonishing differential, and a tidy anecdote encapsulating the mountain’s scrappy comeback in a Southern Vermont dominated by megamountains run out of Colorado and capitalized like Nike-sponsored college football squads.

In recent weeks, Hatheway and company engineered a similarly clever plan to expand their beginner terrain and drop a night-lit terrain park onto the mountain. Magic will resuscitate a group of abandoned beginner trails by moving the current terrain park handle tow just uphill from the carpet lift. The terrain park will then move to the adjacent tubing area, which is already equipped with a handle tow and lights and is out of the way of what will become the runout to the Black Chair. The net of all this is a mountain with improved beginner terrain and the only night skiing in Southern Vermont.

And all of this comes at very little cost other than the loss of snowtubing. And while I think snowtubing is cool in the same sure-I’ll-do-it-every-five-years-because-I’ve-had-too-many-beers way that I think whirlyball or going to a live hockey game or snorkeling are cool, this is not a newsletter celebrating Snowtubing Life. Sorry snowtubing maniacs across the land, but this is a good thing.

Will Big Snow become the first ski area in the Northeast to reopen, or another lost ski area?

I got a little freaked out when I read this story about the collapsing financial situation out at the American Dream mall, home to New Jersey’s indoor Big Snow ski area:

After nearly two decades of construction delays, New Jersey’s mega-mall American Dream partially opened last October. Six months later, the three-million-square-foot venue was forced to close its doors because of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, even as the state continues its gradual reopening, there is still no reopening date for the $5 billion mall. As NJ.com reported, owner Triple Five Group has missed three consecutive mortgage payments and retail tenants are getting out of their leases at the space.

So I reached out to Snow Operating, which runs the snowdome and Mountain Creek, to gauge where they were on re-opening. Here’s what they said:

We’ve been working closely with the AD [American Dream] team petitioning the state on why we feel we can safely reopen. We’re still awaiting direction from the Governor on when we’ll be allowed to do so. Everything we’re seeing show us that AD has every intent of opening once the parks are allowed to open.

So we’ll see. That it’s indoors is hurting the odds of a re-opening happening in the immediate future, as New Jersey, citing increased awareness of Covid’s propensity to spread indoors and an uptick in cases in the state, recently rolled back indoor dining capacity.

Elsewhere:

Vail has officially shut two of its three Australian ski resorts for the season as the local government ramps up Covid shutdowns. In another Covid-related development, cityfolk and their tolerance for high prices are migrating to the mountains.

Killington GM Mike Solimano tells The Mountain Times that season pass sales jumped 12 percent at Killington and six percent at Pico so far this offseason, and affirmed that they plan to open Pico despite rumors to the contrary. New York Ski Blog just rebooted its forum – you’ll have to re-register if you’ve previously participated in the community. Awesome clip from the new documentary about Warren Miller. The Storm Skiing Journal earns a mention in Powder.

Finally, a good read from Freeskier arguing for more local skiing this coming season:

While it may seem like we’re “missing out” by not participating in life’s usual occurrences, it should be viewed as the opposite; these are formative times that promote the notion of supporting community, living intentionally, operating on a smaller scale with more immediate gratification. Looking ahead to winter, local ski shops and retailers require our attention, small ski areas need our season pass sales. Consider shifting your mindset to think about what’s close, what’s attainable from your hometown.       

I, for one, plan to significantly contract my typical ski range this coming season.

This week in not skiing:

We crossed the Hudson westbound at 5 a.m., leaving the broiling city silhouetted against the rising summer sun. All day we drove, 1,000 miles across this stalled America, moving like ghosts, stopping only for gas, never entering a building or facing another human, until we arrived at dusk in a clearing hacked out of the wilderness in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

It was my first time leaving the city in months and I would do it only for this, a tradition stretching back 22 years, an April rendezvous pushed this year to the cusp of August. Belonging to no religion or order, indifferent to holidays, toggling forever uncertainly between the Midwest of my upbringing and the East of my choosing, this is the one great and true repeating ritual of my life.

In our ragged caravan we arrived from our various points afar and commandeered the campground. For four wild firelit nights and four days cloudless and carved from some Mediterranean dreamscape we stomped in convivial belly-laughing conference. It is the kind of joy that is only possible when you carry the certainty that foolishness is forgiven and malapropisms eternalized in endless merciless jokes and creativity and spontaneity the raw materials of collective memory.

And somewhere in that drunken amped-up delirium the whole of these past four and a half months evaporated into that crystal sky and I felt normal again. This despite the changed nature of the gathering, the reduced number of attendees, the end of shared tents or meals or keg beer or ritualistic roughhousing. Here, a thing frivolous in appearance but vital to each of us had adapted and endured through creativity and sheer willpower. Ski rituals, this coming season, may be no different.  

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COVID-19 & Skiing Podcasts: Author and Industry Veteran Chris Diamond | Boyne Resorts CEO Stephen Kircher | Magic Mountain President Geoff Hatheway | NSAA CEO Kelly Pawlak| Berkshire East/Catamount Owner & Goggles for Docs founder Jon Schaefer | Shaggy’s Copper Country Skis Cofounder Jeff Thompson | Doppelmayr USA President Katharina Schmitz | Mt. Baldy GM Robby Ellingson| Alterra CEO Rusty Gregory | NSAA Director of Risk & Regulatory Affairs Dave Byrd

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 | Mad River Glen GM Matt Lillard| Indy Pass Founder Doug Fish | National Brotherhood of Skiers President Henri Rivers | Winter 4 Kids & National Winter Activity Center President & CEO Schone Malliet | Vail Veterans Program Founder & President Cheryl Jensen | Mountain Gazette Owner and Editor Mike Rogge