One of the most interesting (and rewarding) things about last ski season was making the transition from resort skiing into the backcountry. It was longer coming than I wanted it to be as a result of the time I lost to injury and surgery, and in ten days of earning my turns I barely scratched the surface of what’s possible beyond the ropes, but it was enough for me to understand that I’d found a completely new side of the sport I love. Backcountry skiing has this amazing purity to it: it’s a world of silence, beauty, untouched snow, and powder turns on lines that are all the better for the work it took to reach them.
While I suspect my own skiing future will lie more and more in the backcountry, in some ways the contrast did make me appreciate aspects of my resort days more. The sheer amount of downhill you can log when lifts whisk you to the top of the mountain; the variety of terrain you can access on a managed hill; and the undoubted benefits of easy access to hot food and a cold beer at the end of a day on the slopes.
Which is why I’m so excited by the Mountain Riders’ Alliance, and the philosophy that they want to bring to the future of skiing. Built on the triple foundation of people, community, and the environment, the MRA proposes a new model for ski area development that provides a welcome contrast to the money-hungry resorts where it feels like the skiing experience is increasingly peripheral to the off-the-hill activities of clubbing, dining, and high-end massages. The MRA is looking to build Mountain Playgrounds rather than resorts: skier-focused developments with minimal infrastructure and reasonable costs, built in partnership with local communities and with a mindful eye on environmental impacts.
The flagship MRA project, Manitoba Mountain, reads like my personal manifesto of what I’d most like to see in a ski area. Minimally invasive surface lifts offering access to both in-bounds terrain and backcountry gates leading to more than 10,000 acres of Alaskan chutes, cliffs, spines and bowls. An opening policy dictated by snow conditions, not by the bottom line. Thoughtful development based on the riding experience and not access to restaurants, shops and bars. Pricing designed to keep skiing affordable and accessible for people who love to ski, not to maximize corporate profits.
The MRA has, until now, been running with zero operating capital. They’re currently in the final days of a crowdfunding campaign to raise $10,000 in start-up funds to help the first two Mountain Playgrounds – Manitoba and Maine’s Mt. Abram – become a reality. The future of skiing that they propose is the future I want to see for my sport. If you love skiing or riding, please consider contributing to their campaign.