In 25 years, I envision ski areas that double as energy centers. Virtually all ski areas have the ability to make their own energy from a combination of solar, wind, micro-hydro, geothermal and/or biomass. As energy costs continue to increase, this will become commonplace and eliminate the number two cost of running a ski resort.
The current paradigm of corporations and their focus on box amenities, real estate, and theme park attractions will be replaced with ski areas that get back to focusing on what is important, providing uphill transportation and on-snow recreation.
I envision many ski areas that are owned by their customers and the surrounding community. Much like the 50-mile diet and local co-ops, the concept of people pooling their assets together for a common good will be prevalent. What will precipitate that change? Many mom and pop ski areas being squeezed out. In the ‘80s, there were 800 ski areas in North America. As communities are facing closing ski areas, like June Mountain in California, Magic Mountain in Vermont, some mountains went local. Communities want to maintain ski areas. The current ownership structure is not working.
I’m not a doomsdayer, but the bigger a ski area is, the harder you fall. Vail is a great example. It owns ten ski resorts and controls 25% of the market. If something happened to Vail, it would have a devastating effect on the industry as a whole. As electricity costs go up, big ski areas are not going to be able to keep building and continue to make their nut. A big resort needs thousands of skier visits each day to break even. A huge footprint equals more susceptible.
Now we have the ski area enhancement act that allows any recreational activity to occur on US Forest Service public lands. Other revenue streams, other activities will offset the lack of snow. It used to be skiing was centerpiece and the base lodge was the amenity. Now it’s reversed. Food, roller coasters, waterparks and the rest of the village are the centerpiece and skiing is the amenity.
The world is shifting to a greener place. By the time today’s kids are adults—being sustainable will be commonplace. We’re at a crossroads, but it’s starting to matgreeter to people. Jiminy Peak in Massachusetts installed a wind turbine, and the next year they had a 15% increase in skier visits. Ski areas making a sustainability commitment are getting a following. Skiing, community, respect for environment is what’s important. We’ve forgotten about that. But we’re getting back to that place.
Jamie Schectman, Co-Founder of Mountain Rider’s Alliance.