If you follow The Brave Ski Mom blog on Facebook, you may have seen the following video about Mountain Rider’s Alliance when I shared it in July. If you haven’t seen it, take a few minutes and watch. It’s a great introduction to this unique organization.
Vision to Reality
Fed up with what they see as skiing’s “increasing costs and sense of exclusivity,” Mountain Rider’s Alliance seeks nothing less than to recreate the ski industry along more sustainable lines. In the minds of the MRA founders, this means taking the focus off of real estate development and putting it back on skiing and riding. It means promoting resort-based, environmentally friendly practices and partnering effectively with local communities to create jobs and viable places for people to live and thrive. They aim to create “sustainable mountain playgrounds.”
In late August, MRA took a huge step toward achieving this goal by entering into a partnership with Mt. Abram ski area in Maine.
Mt. Abram As Prototype
Mt. Abram is a 560-acre privately held ski area located 90 minutes from Portland, Maine. Known for being low-key, affordable and authentic, Mt. Abram was one of three resorts honored by the National Ski Areas Association for environmental excellence in 2012. Matt Hancock, the Maine businessman who owns Mt. Abram, was recently inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame.
The MRA partnership with Mt. Abram is unique. In the short-term, Mt. Abram will continue to be owned by Hancock and will continue to operate much as it has in the past. A change of ownership is expected to occur next spring, at which time memberships will be available. Members will receive access to future MRA Mountain Playgrounds and the opportunity to be elected to a membership advisory board that will work with management.
The Mt. Abram collaboration is not a one-off deal, but rather a way to test and share MRA’s model. MRA describes the venture as a cooperative business model that can be replicated at similar ski areas worldwide. As MRA’s first partner, Mt. Abram is the prototype and proving ground for this vision.
I asked Mt. Abram skier and ski dad Troy Pattison what he thinks about the collaboration. “Bottom line is that I’m for ANY plan that keeps Mt. Abram open,” opined Pattison. “If that includes a new relationship with partners who “get it” in terms of retaining and building upon what we already have at Mt. Abram — a mountain with great character and great skiing — then that’s even better.”
Sustainable Big Mountain Skiing
So if the Mt. Abram collaboration is step number one in creating sustainable mountain playgrounds, the restoration of Alaska’s Manitoba Mountain is step number two.
I spoke with Mountain Rider’s Alliance CEO Jamie Schectman about Manitoba Mountain in July. Manitoba Mountain is a “lost” ski area that operated on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula until 1960. As he explained the project, the restored Manitoba Mountain would be “small in infrastructure, but big in terrain.” The redeveloped resort would have three surface lifts for a total of 2600 vertical feet. The south and west-facing aspects of the mountain would have approximately 1000 acres of inbound terrain, ranging from beginner to advanced.
Accessible backcountry terrain is what would make Manitoba Mountain special, however. A backcountry gate atop the 3,702 foot mountain would allow experienced backcountry skiers and riders to experience 10,000 acres of chutes, spines and bowls. Some of the terrain is easily accessed, with no more than a two-hour hike to ride the furthest reaches. As Schectman describes it, this terrain is comparable to what heli-skiers experience in Alaska, but without the cost of the helicopter. He describes it as “lift-served big mountain skiing.”
Mountain Riders Alliance has initiated the permitting process to reopen Manitoba Mountain. The application calls for phased-in development with a Nordic center to open as early as this winter “The state and the US Forest Service suggested we take this route,” shares Schectman. “This way we can show that there is demand in the area before we go vertical.”
Support the Future of Skiing
As you might have guessed, everything that MRA is doing costs money. After “bootstrapping” for three years, Schectman told me that Mountain Rider’s Alliance recently received some significant seed funding. The organization has completed a financial analysis and is working on a comprehensive business plan. The ultimate goal is to attract large investors interested in creating a portfolio of stand-alone ski areas using the MRA model.
In the meantime, you can help support the MRA vision, even if you (like me) aren’t a “large investor.” Mountain Rider’s Alliance currently has a campaign underway with crowdfunding site, Indiegogo. Make a donation of $10 or more before midnight on Sunday, September 9th and help the cause. I’m in for $50 because I believe in what they are doing.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy big resort skiing. I enjoy luxury and fine dining as much as the next skier on vacation. But I don’t just ski on vacation. I ski all over my home state several times a week during winter, and I don’t want or need the luxe experience every time I’m on snow.
Diversity is a good thing. Affordability is a good thing. Consumer choice is a good thing. The alternative vision developed by MRA isn’t appropriate, or desirable, for all mountains. But for some, like Mt. Abram, Mountain Rider’s Alliance offers a way to sustain the resort and the neighboring community.
It’s a grand experiment. And if it makes skiing and riding more affordable for more people, then that’s a great thing.
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