Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The concept of community sustainability at a ski resort

Usually around this time the year I start breaking out my snowboard boots, just to try them on, to get "that feeling". Sometime in late August, I'll even strap into my board and listen to the bindings squeak. Summer is a long wait for those that don't reside near a volcano in Oregon (so jealous of instagram pics of summer camps, y'all...) or have mucho cash to fly south of the equator.

This time of the year is also when most, if not all, of the resort maintenance is occurring. Snowmaking systems are being repaired or upgraded, lift maintenance, maybe even some lodge facelifts. So I wondered, which resorts were making upgrades or adjustments? Here's one great resort project to highlight, earlier Mountain Riders Alliance had teamed up with Mt. Abram and was deep into a project they had spent time sourcing contributions via crowd funding in 2012 to implement a model of the sustainable mountain playground-complete with solar, wind, environmental Best Management Practices, and micro-hydro turbines (maybe that was in Alaska). The approach really resonated with me, a triple philosophy of community, environment, and a desire for a sustainable winter.

First off, from a community perspective, this is a eureka moment. When people actively participate, they have "skin-in-the-game" so to speak and they take ownership to prevent failure. Investor involvement, foundational funding, crowd-funding like Kickstarter is a great way to get this sense of ownership and dollars. Community is vital in education of the environmental issues, for example how their energy and water consumption can be easily tracked, so why can't yours? Education is also communicating at the consumer level, developing partnerships that benefit the community-not only where you live, but the snow-sports community as a whole. Community and sustainability seemingly go hand-in-hand in fact. Bill McKibben makes several good points about community in his book, Eaarth that I found highly applicable to this project:

  • Scale
  • Definition
  • Connection
  • Personal use
McKibben makes a point first about how we need to think about different scale. The size of the institution should reflect the size of your project. The project we are undertaking (in his reference to climate change and hunkering down) requires a different scale-he suggests that we need to think about neighborhoods and blocks. "Is the business sustainable and demographic to support to large infrastructure investment hoping to lure a crowd or focus on local support?" Interesting...deja vu.

He suggests that we need to rescue the community and make sure it becomes a prosaic term in the lexicon. Sure enough for me, I mean I'd like to think that I was part of this bigger scene hanging out with the cool kids on Mt. Hood in the summer, but my friends are working here and riding on the lake and dreaming about snow and when season passes go on sale. My community is reality, so I should start there.

McKibben suggests that "embracing local doesn't mean abandoning the connection to something larger". Thank God! We all have to dream, right?!

Lastly and what I paraphrased as "personal use", he suggests small farms where composting and building up soil counts. I think this comes full circle to the enlightening concept of the small resort aka ski area that MRA is partnering with. Taking the mountain in Maine and having the community buy-in and support, and demonstrating the concept to a larger extended community of snow enthusiasts is a bridge in facing what the POW/NRDC report highlighted to many-economic impact and livelihood at stake. Think about it...