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Mountain Riders Alliance Brings Sustainability to the Slopes

This post is part of a blogging series by marketing students at the Presidio Graduate School's MBA program. You can follow along here.

By Katie Schou

The newly formed Mountain Riders Alliance is a grassroots movement committed to changing the way the ski industry conducts business.  Shifting the focus of resort development from profit oriented real estate sales and over-priced restaurant and boutique income, MRA aims to develop mountain playgrounds that are values-driven, environmentally friendly, and rider-owned.  The Truckee, CA-based organization hopes to shift the ski industry towards sustainability, environmental protection, and positive influence on the surrounding communities’ cultural, social and economic concerns, and seeks to involve community members in every step.
To generate awareness of this ideological shift in ski area management, MRA has invested its efforts heavily in social media and online presence to gain community interest and buy-in through the use of Facebook, Twitter, and blog posts.  And, the community has responded in full support of the MRA mission and vision.

MRA has established partnerships with like-minded community and environmental snow sports organizations and other non-profit such as Protect Our Winters, High Fives, and Winter Wildlands Alliance.  However, MRA has neglected to reach out to private companies and investment firms with heavy influence in the ski industry and resort development.

Coincidentally, another recent happening in the arena of ski-resort change is the acquisition of Lake Tahoe’s world-class ski resort, Squaw Valley USA, by one of Denver’s largest private-equity funds, KSL Capital Partners.  KSL is led by former Vail Associates executives Mike Shannon and Eric Resnick.  With this new acquisition, KSL plans to invest nearly $50 million in the 4,000-acre ski area over the next three to five years, with plans for $5 million in upgrades within the next year.

The development that has occurred at Vail Resorts over the past several years, and what many expect to happen in the coming years at Squaw Valley, epitomizes everything that the MRA hopes to move the industry far away from – real estate sales, corporate ownership, and profits leaving the community for the hands of remote investors.  So much that, MRA has utilized its strong social network and marketing efforts to raise its voice against the possible culmination of KSL objectives.  In response to the KSL acquisition, MRA founder has formed Squaw Passholder’s Unite, a separate (and not directly affiliated) Facebook group dedicated to representing passholder’s interests through communication with Squaw Valley and KSL.

According to MRA founder, Jamie Schectman, three conditions must be met for a successful and sustainable mountain playground:

  • Outstanding terrain

  • High on-site renewable energy-generation potential

  • Community involvement

Luckily, Squaw Valley has all three.  With the local community, particularly Squaw passholders, up in arms over what might become of their beloved hill with new ownership at the helm, it seems like a perfect opportunity for a strong private (KSL) and non-profit (MRA) partnership to work cohesively towards smart, sustainable, and profitable community development.  KSL has an opportunity to tap into the local needs and wants through a partnership with MRA, by leveraging the strong ski community following, to make Squaw Valley profitable and sustainable for locals and visitors.  Additionally, MRA could work with KSL to make their vision a reality by working towards efficient and sustainable improvements to an existing ski-area.  This combination of resources - a strong social marketing campaign and capital investment - has the capacity to create a movement that all locals hope to see in their mountain communities, encouraging sustainable development on and off the mountain.

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