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A New Plan for the Ski Industry

mountain-riders-alliance-tom-winterMembers of the MRA pick a line on Manitoba Mountain, Alaska. Photo by Tom WinterFounded in 2010, the Mountain Rider’s Alliance is a company focused on building ski areas owned and operated by skiers and riders. That’s not all: Founder Jamie Schectman wants these mountains to produce their own energy, create jobs, and access great terrain. It may sound too good to be true—but Shectman and the MRA are in the process of making it happen at Manitoba Mountain in Alaska. Pick up a copy of Early Winter for more on that project, and keep reading for more from Schectman on why he started the MRA and what he hopes to achieve with the company.


Why did you start Mountain Rider’s Alliance?

I started the organization because I was concerned with the direction the ski industry was taking. It was getting away from skiing and focusing on the out-of-boot experience.


I founded MRA in 2010, but before that we tried to do the Shames Mountain Co-Op in British Columbia. I learned some lessons from that. A lot of people feel the same way; they want to own a piece of their own mountain that is focused on skiing and not profit.


What is the goal of MRA?

 To create sustainable mountain playgrounds, both environmentally and economically. We want to create more energy on site than we are consuming. No one’s done this before. The closest is a hydroelectric project in Whistler. We are ecstatic to show the naysayers that we can lead by example. As skiers, we have the most to lose from climate change. Unless we change our ways and combat climate change head on, our sport will become extinct for future generations.


How is the MRA model different from the current ski industry model?

 The corporate model judges skiers visits how the U.S. judges GDP [gross domestic product]. There are other ways to judge happiness than how many lift tickets you sell. More people on the mountain decreases the skier experience. Our model reduces the carbon footprint, sells memberships, and has advisory councils to keep the management in check. We want to create a mountain focused on the downhill experience, not the village experience, and exciting terrain and reliable snow.


Will MRA ski areas make profits?

 We still want to make a profit but we want to do it values-based. Ben & Jerry’s is a good example. Instead of spending eight percent on advertising, they spend it on non-profits. We are going for the minimalist approach—sub-out payroll, create electricity, by having membership-only mountains we potentially lower the cost of insurance. We won’t need to sell 10,000 lift tickets to break even.


Why do you think this model will succeed?

 We think people will buy shares because their voice will be heard.


What other ski areas are you looking at to convert to the MRA model besides those in Alaska and New England?

 In Montana, there is a piece of private land for sale. In Argentina, a community wants to develop a ski area close to Las Leñas. Another community in British Columbia contacted us. Maybe Kirkwood [near Tahoe] is in the future?  —Melissa Siig


Learn more about the MRA at mountainridersalliance.com, or follow the company on Facebook and Twitter

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