Why the Skiing Co-op Will Save our Resorts

I’m a home­town boy. I did­n’t learn to cut turns from a lat­te-clutch­ing ski instruc­tor, and I’ve nev­er stayed in a pres­i­den­tial suite. I like good snow and I hate long lift lines. Due to the sky­rock­et­ing price of admis­sion to many resorts across the nation, I’ve ditched the chair­lifts for a more ana­log approach: boot-pack­ing back­coun­try bliss.

Accord­ing to the Den­ver Post, vis­its to Col­orado’s ski areas fell 9.8 per­cent last sea­son, mak­ing it the third-worst sea­son in the past twen­ty years. The lat­est report from SnowS­ports Indus­tries Amer­i­ca (SIA) weaves a sim­i­lar tale of inim­itable demise. Despite much bet­ter snow­fall totals than the pre­vi­ous sea­son with some resorts clos­ing lat­er than nor­mal, only an esti­mat­ed 15.6 mil­lion folks bit the bul­let last year. Along these lines, the Den­ver Bus­ni­ness Jour­nal report­ed 57.1 mil­lion vis­i­tors through­out the sea­son. Now, the way SIA crunch­es their num­bers reflects one per­son ski­ing mul­ti­ple times through­out the sea­son, while the DBJ report is mere­ly mass num­bers. It’s a tricky lit­tle num­ber infla­tion trick that the indus­try prefers.

Regard­less, “The num­ber of new skiers is drop­ping off about 3 per­cent a year; peo­ple aren’t going back and try­ing it as much…Snowboarders that went about 7.5 days a year 15 years ago are going less than 6 days a year,” Ed Sealover with the DBJ told the Den­ver Post.

My lit­tle home­town resort, Hogadon Ski Area in Casper, WY is fac­ing the same fate—a mix­ture of errat­ic snow­pack, ris­ing oper­a­tional costs, and all of that on top of mil­lions of dol­lars of ren­o­va­tions. While most resorts are pri­vate­ly owned and rely on retail and upscale lodg­ing to shoul­der some of the finan­cial bur­den, many small­er moun­tains are being crushed.

When White Pine Ski Resort in Pinedale, WY was on the brink of clo­sure, local busi­ness own­ers stepped in to save it. A sim­i­lar sto­ry in Ter­race, British Colum­bia forced the local pow­der­hounds to step in and con­vert the moun­tain into a non-prof­it co-op. When the moun­tain faced clo­sure, the town banned togeth­er to form what would be the My Moun­tain Co-Op, who offi­cial­ly runs the moun­tain as of last year.

Shames Moun­tain is a mod­est affair eschew­ing the restau­rants, bars, and din­ing for the sim­plic­i­ty of pur­su­ing the piste. It has two chair­lifts, a tow bar, and a base lodge where you can buy food and drink and hire equip­ment, but with 480 inch­es of snow a year, few are complaining.

The Moun­tain Rid­ers Alliance is try­ing a sim­i­lar mod­el on our slopes. MRA has been work­ing with Maine’s Mt. Abram since 2010 and, in 2013, began man­ag­ing the ski area oper­a­tions. Mt. Abram has been in oper­a­tion since 1960, offer­ing 51 trails and 1,150 ver­ti­cal feet over 560 acres. In 2012, it was the sec­ond ski area to install E/V Charg­ers and received a USDA REAP Grant to install a large solar array, cre­at­ing its own ener­gy on site. With­out the man­age­ment of  coop­er­a­tive own­er­ship these ren­o­va­tions would not be pos­si­ble because the resort would not exist.

While the decline of large resorts makes the future of ski­ing in Amer­i­ca some­what fog­gy, it’s uplift­ing to see com­mu­ni­ties step in and com­bine their resources in an effort to keep their shred.