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.