A global collaborative explores ski industry
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — When Hal Clifford penned Downhill Slide back in 2002, it was the peak of the go-go years for the ski resort industry. Many ski resort operators were morphing into development companies for whom the skiing and riding were amenities to be used as a marketing tool for real estate sales.
Clifford’s warnings were laughed off or ignored by the short-sighted speculators who were driving the boom. In hindsight, they would have been better off paying attention to his conclusion that the industry’s path was unsustainable.
Nobody thought the end of the boom would come so quickly, though. But now, after a couple of years of moribund sales and almost no new real estate development at major resorts, even the big boys are looking for an alternate vision.
That vision may come from a core group of skiers and riders who want to take the ski industry in a completely new direction, operating areas that are rider-centric, environmentally sustainable and sensitive to local cultural, social and economic concerns.
Billing itself as a global collaborative, the Mountain Rider’s Alliance last week launched the way so many 21st century endeavors start — with a website, a blog, a Facebook page and a Twitter account — all to forge connections and give some concrete shape to the dream.
“Rider-centric means a ski area that puts the needs and wants of a skier and snowboarder first, before profit,” said Shanie Matthews, one of riders who is involved in the movement. “A resort that is values-based knows that caring about the ski community will assist in the progress of the overall business,” she said.
“Values-based means that business decisions are made on what is best for the rider, not turning a quick profit,” said Mountain Rider’s Alliance cofounder Jamie Schectman. “Some examples would be keeping the ski area open until the snow melts, riders being treated with respect and appreciation from the staff, well thought out lift alignments, hydration stations around the mountain and a real-time website with detailed accurate mountain information.”
The group hopes to develop ski-energy centers that will strive towards a zero carbon footprint by selling energy to local utilities and buying back what it necessary to run each ski area.
“By installing wind turbines, solar panels and hydropower, and connecting to the existing grid, a ski resort can generate power year-round,” said Schectman. “This power could then be sold to the local utility, and the ski area could buy back the power that is consumed. By creating more power than is consumed, the ski area will not only have an additional revenue stream, but will minimize its carbon footprint, thus helping to reverse climate change.”
A great example of this already happening is a small ski area, Jiminy Peak, located in Massachusetts,” Matthews added. “They have already shown increased revenue of 17 percent with the incorporation of just one wind turbine, the Zephyr.”
The 1.5MW wind turbine at Jiminy Peak generates about 33 percent of the resort’s annual electrical demand. During the winter, it may generate as much as half the ski area’s power demand, resort officials said.
To advance its vision, the Mountain Rider’s Alliance has already established partnerships with like-minded nonprofits including Protect Our Winters ,Ski Duck, Peace Pedalers, NorKa Recreation, and Sustenator.
Once the group had identified potential locations and developed a master plan, the next step is to sell offer responsibly-priced investment shares to the global ski community, the idea being to create true skier-owned resorts who will exercise their ownership rights for the long-term advancement of the sport, and not for short-term profit.
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