Here in Australia our resorts tend to be corporate owned. For instance Mt Hotham is owned by Merlin Entertainments Group, and Thredbo is owned by Kosciuszko Thredbo, which holds the lease for the areas of Thredbo Village and Thredbo Resort and runs a number of hotel and cinema operations around the world. US-based Vail Resorts has recently bought Perisher ski resort (this includes Perisher Valley, Smiggin Holes, Blue Cow and Guthega). Some are run by boards (for instance Mt Buller).

The Thredbo example is indicative of a global trend, where smaller, sometimes community- or locally-owned resorts are either going under or being bought up by larger corporations.

The Mountain Riders Association (MRA) was founded in North America 2010 with the mission to “develop values-based, environmentally-friendly, rider-centric mountain playgrounds that encourage minimal carbon footprint business practices, while making a positive impact in the local community”. It has focussed on helping smaller resorts to survive and thrive rather than be consumed by larger corporations.

Obviously if a resort or ski area is locally owned it is most likely to be connected to the local community and thinking about the long term viability of the area and encouraging development that will be acceptable to locals. In contrast, where resorts are part of a much larger conglomeration (eg the parent company owns a range of resorts) then the financial ‘bottom line’ can often become the dominant force in how resorts are managed and developed.

Now the MRA has helped establish the Mountain Playground Group, a collection of community and independently owned ski areas that “offer an authentic skiing and riding experience, not found at corporate ski resorts”.

The MRA says:

“Through the years, we have studied the inner workings of community and independent ski areas extensively and have identified their biggest challenges.

The Mountain Playground Group is a solution-based nationwide initiative designed to help standalone ski areas to be more viable. Participating ski areas will band together to reduce expenses while increasing efficiencies and profits by sharing best practices and ultimately to achieve economies of scale. Participating ski areas will receive an additional layer of sophistication not normally associated with smaller ski areas.

A cornerstone of the program is a joint marketing effort centred around the Mountain Playground Card. Cardholders will receive exclusive discounts from each participating ski area as well as deals on custom skis and snowboards, hard and soft goods, lodging, international tours and much more”.

This co-operative approach among smaller players in the ski industry makes sense on many levels. Not least by increasing the chance of smaller operations surviving and thriving in coming years as they struggle with shorter and more erratic winters.