The Mountain Rider's Alliance vision for a sustainable ski industry is about to grow some flesh and bones, as the grassroots group partners with a Colorado engineering company to develop specific plans for carbon-neutral, net-zero-energy ski areas.
The partnership between MRA and the Brendle Group with forge toward a new model for sustainability in the ski industry, focused on alternative business models for small and medium-sized resorts.
For starters, the Brendle Group will develop and test a model for sustainability at Mt. Abram that can be replicated elsewhere, starting with comprehensive assessments of energy use, land use, procurement, and community sustainability to identify options for net zero carbon, energy, and water operations as well as integrating sustainability and local economic development.
"We are extremely excited to be partnering with such an outstanding organization that has been a longstanding leader in ski industry sustainability," said MRA chief Jamie Schectman.
“By partnering with MRA, we have the exciting opportunity to help advance MRA’s Mountain Playground vision while bringing our newest services in net zero water, ecosystems services, and sustainable economic development to the ski industry," said Brendle Group president Judy Dorsey.
The Fort Collins-based company has a long and successful track record of working with a variety of companies, municipalities and other entities, including the ski industry.
Dorsey said her firm helped the National Ski Areas Association develop its Sustainable Slopes program and, more recently, the Ski Areas Climate Challenge.
Around Colorado, the company helped Steamboat Springs develop a sustainability management plan and has also worked with water districts, the National Park Service and Xcel Energy on sustainability issues.
At Mt, Abrams, winner of last year's Golden Eagle ski industry sustainability award, the initial legwork will focus on utilities analyses and then move on with assessments and forecasts of energy and water use.
"Based on those studies, we can show them, here's what it would take to get to net-zero," Dorsey said, adding that Mt. Abrams already has a leg up.
The Maine ski area has already taken some significant steps toward a sustainable future, including the planned installation of a large solar energy array.
Of course, the concept of sustainability isn't completely new ground for the ski industry. Resorts large and small have taken numerous steps toward a more sustainable future during the past decade or so. Vail Resorts, for example, has made significant progress in cutting its overall energy use, but there's plenty of room for improvement.
Dorsey said her company specializes in taking a holistic approach to sustainability planning, showing companies how they can save money and help the environment at the same time. Incorporating sustainability into planning efforts from stage one makes it easier to achieve those goals, she said.
"MRA has provided a great vision and template. They've shown that riders are very interesting in this model. We bring the engineering and business rigor to prove these pathways are possible ... we're really optimistic we can prove that based on our previous net-zero work," she said.
"We look forward to implementing Brendle Group's roadmap to sustainability at our first partner ski area, Mt. Abram. Our partnership will help MRA achieve its goal of creating sustainable Mountain Playgrounds around the world," Schectman said.
Brendle Group will complete several other projects in support of MRA’s mission, including analyzing how sustainable practices can make small and medium-sized ski areas more economically viable.
Keeping those smaller and mid-sized resorts economically viable is critical to the future of the industry, which has become top-heavy with oversized mega-resort companies, an economic model that has had sometimes disastrous consequences for other industries.
"we feel the market is top-heavy at the top. Those mom-and-pop ski areas are a niche that's not being filled," Schectman said, explaining his organization's focus on that market segment.
Some of those smaller resorts have struggled in the face of economic challenges and some have thrived, but they are all important to the future of the sport and industry as the feeders that introduce new people to the sport, creating life-long enthusiasts.
The Brendle Group will also develop a screening tool for MRA’s future mountain conversion projects that includes environmental, financial, and community/social sustainability factors of the ski area and its local economy.