Alternate vision for ski industry manifests in Maine

A new future for skiing is dawning at Mt. Abram. Photo courtesy Mountain Rider’s Alliance/Mt. Abram.

Sustainability, and people before profit, will be the guiding principles for a partnership between the Mountain Rider’s Alliance and Mt. Abram

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — The Mountain Rider’s Alliance is one step closer to manifesting its long-term vision for an alternate model for ski resort ownership and operation.

This week, the organization announced an agreement to partner with the Mt. Abram ski area in Maine to try out a new ownership and management model aimed at boosting regional visitation, increasing awareness of sustainability issues, and focusing on the core values of skiing.

MRA is currently raising funds for the deal through crowd-sourcing and social media with the Support the Future of Skiing campaign at indiegogo.com.

When the details are finalized, potentially next spring, the ski area will sell membership shares to the public, loosely based on a co-op business model. The membership shares  will offer a variety of benefits and privileges. Members will hold elections and be represented in a dialog with ski area management.

Mt. Abram and MRA plan to work side by side through the 2012-2013 ski season to best share ideas and transition ownership to the partnership. Read a fact sheet about the partnership here.

Instead of top-down decision making to benefit corporate shareholders, grassroots involvement by skiers could help shape management decisions, ensuring that the area is run for the benefit of the skiers and riders.

“We’re trying to build a sustainable relationship-based economy, rather than a one-night stand economy,” said MRA cofounder Jamie Schectman. “We started this movement in 2009. Since then, we’ve seen thousands of passionate folks around the world support the preservation of our sport. It’s about the local communities, generating our own energy, reducing our carbon footprint, and most importantly sliding downhill on snow,” Schectman said.

“With Mt. Abram’s dedication to the community and environment, we couldn’t ask for a better partner. Supporting this mission is just the beginning. We’re building a replicative model to save what we love about skiing, and offer a new direction for ski areas around the world,” he said.

Mt. Abram, with 560 skiable acres and 1,150 feet of vertical, is located about 90 miles from Portland. The ski area recently was awarded the 2012 Golden Eagle Award for Environmental Excellence by the National Ski Areas Association. Mt. Abram is owned and operated by Maine businessman and recent Maine Sports Hall of Fame inductee Matt Hancock.

The ski area has a permit to install a one-acre solar garden that, at peak performance, could generate more electricity than the ski area uses, according to Schectman.

“Mt. Abram’s greatness doesn’t have to be restricted to Maine,” Hancock said. “There are a number of other independent ski areas that would fit well into this model. Mt. Abram’s collaboration with MRA is about skiing, plain and simple; a thriving business model away from the commercialized, overpriced, factory outdoor experience at the mega-resorts,” he said.

“Mt Abram’s niche is soulfulness, great terrain, skier-centricity, and enjoying the outdoors with family and friends,” he said. “That’s what attracts people to the sport. MRA was founded to instill and promote these same characteristics in an industry that is moving away from what we love about skiing.”

The Mountain Rider’s Alliance was founded to create and support a sustainable ski industry model, which focuses on keeping environmental, community, and rider concerns ahead of short-sighted decision making.

This partnership with Mt. Abram represents MRA’s first conversion of an existing ski area. Mt. Abram will remain open to the public without significant changes to its operating plan.

In addition to Mt. Abram deal, MRA has entered into the permitting process to restore Manitoba Mountain, a ski area that last operated in 1960 on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula.

MRA has recently launched “Support the Future of Skiing”, skiers and riders who wish to support this crowdfunding campaign are invited to visit: http://www.indiegogo.com/SupportTheFutureOfSkiing.

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