Manitoba Mountain: A new ski area wants to change the world

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Mountain Riders Alliance (or MRA) is moving forward on its plan to reopen Manitoba Mountain, a ski area on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula that closed down in 1960. MRA, according to its website, wants to make a “positive change in the ski industry.”

Their plan? To develop rider-owned-and-operated ski areas with minimal carbon footprints. Their website outlines how the business model will work: they will offer memberships to riders, utilize local and regional grants, and create energy and sell it back to the grid, all while keeping the infrastructure costs down. MRA has some pretty interesting goals, including everything from ensuring there’s a clock at every lift station along with free parking and a state-of-the-art website to making the world a better place.

Manitoba with Silvertip in the Background

Their first project? Manitoba. With three surface rope tows and 10,000 acres of terrain, this ski area could have the lowest infrastructure to acreage ratio of any ski area around. They will also create energy with small hydro projects as well as potentially develop wind and solar.

The terrain accessed from the rope tows will cater to beginners and intermediates. Beyond that, thousands of backcountry acres will be available via an access gate. Riders will be required to carry avalanche equipment and take responsibility for themselves. The details about access haven’t been spelled out specifically, so this remains a little to be seen. However, since MRA will soon be offering memberships (once they receive final approval for the project), this gives local owners a chance to set the ground rules for the ski community of Manitoba.

The model MRA is setting for Manitoba as well as other ski areas might not work for everyone. The base facilities will be minimal, and the really worthy terrain will first require up to a two-hour hike. But for a growing percentage of the ski population, this is exactly what they are looking for.

Skiers arriving from Anchorage will drive first by Girdwood, and its patrons, Alyeska Resort and Chugach Powder Guides, before continuing another hour to Manitoba, where few overnight accommodations exist. However, that’s just what might make Manitoba so special. It’s about the skiing. Not real estate, not a big lodge and a roaring fireplace. Maybe not even bored lifties and ski instructors working for tips and a few free runs in between classes. It’s simply about what happens when the lifts are actually turning, the backcountry access gates are open and the customers (or maybe members in this case) are carving, floating and hiking through deep snow.

Facts

  • Base elevation: 1,106 feet
  • Top of highest surface lift and backcountry access gate: 3,702 feet
  • Lift served vertical drop 2,596 feet
  • 3 Surface Lifts
  • Inbounds terrain: Approximately 1,000 acres
  • Backcountry and hike to terrain: Approximately 10,000 acres within a 2 hour hike
  • Estimated average annual snowfall: 350 – 550 inches

For more information, check out their website at www.skimanitobamountain.com.

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20 responses »

    • Brett,
      Thanks for commenting. I love a good debate. Can you explain some of the issues at stake? Is Manitoba Mountain in a wilderness area? Does it represent a large chunk of the accessible backcountry in your area? Is this more of a land use issue or is it something else? I’ve read the comments on your fb page, and get the feeling that this is dear to your hearts because there’s already a road there. If Manitoba is built will you lose this access?

  1. What MRA isn’t mentioning is that the Manitoba area went though a detailed federal review in 2006 with input from people and communities from Anchorage to Soldotna (a distance of 150 miles) and the overwhelming consensus was that Manitoba should stay non-motorized. These MRA guys show up and start doing the hard sell on ESPN and neglect to mention that this is an area where people have already provided input – and that input was leave it as is and closed to motors.

    The push to turn Manitoba in a lift served ski area flies in the face of dozens of activists and skiers who fought hard to preserve the area and gain a little more non-motorized ground in an area that is heavily weighted towards motorized usage.

    Furthermore MRA’s push to heavily market this area to outside investors (as evidenced by their continual hard sell to every paper and blog from California to Colorodo) infuriates local skiers who feel that such a project should be pushed for and financed by local communities instead of being sold in the Boulder Weekly.

    • wf,
      Thanks for adding your voice to the discussion here. If Manitoba is meant to be non-motorized, then do they currently have a road to it? Is there a parking lot there already? I was under the impression that there was, which was why the backcountry access was so awesome. However, that leads me to wonder if the road is plowed, and if so, by whom. Can you fill me in on these details? Also, did your group’s activism change the Forest Service designation to non-motorized or was that a more informal designation?

      Also, if they are selling memberships to out-of-towners, seems to be that would mean fewer local members, which means fewer people up there. Perhaps numbers don’t matter to you, rather just their existence at all. Again, thanks for adding here.

      • Manitoba sits right off the Seward highway and the parking lot is plowed throughout the winter. When I say non-motorized I mean closed to snowmachines and helicopters – a rarity in Alaska. As for the designation — Manitoba has been officially closed to motorized traffic for 20 years – however until recently there was a motorized corridor right next to the peak and snowmachines routinely poached the area. It was only in 2006 that the lands surrounding the peak were closed to snowmachines. What this meant was less poaching and the ability to ski in an area where snowmachines aren’t regularly ripping by the base at 50mph.

        As for out-of-towners. MRA isn’t looking for “memberships”. They’re looking for investors. The only way this would get built is with heavy outside investment. There simply aren’t enough people in Alaska to fund such a project. The hard sell to outsiders is solely for the purpose of drumming up investors.

    • In this comment you mention that the project should be financed by the local communities. Later you mention that the only way it could be financed is by out of towners. How about a happy medium, where both Alaskans and the rest of the world finance it together?

  2. I would say there’s a big difference between snowmobiles and helicopters buzzing skiers, and low impact surface lifts.

  3. Based on WFinley’s comments and the Facebook Keep Manitoba Free page, it seems like the issue is more territorial than anything. I’d be interested to know if these folks are all born and raised in Alaska, and if not, were they accepted when they chose to move to the Last Frontier.

  4. Much appreciation to all of you who are contributing to this discussion. I share concerns about snowmobiles, helicopters, noise, and any impact on this iconic area. I do believe however, that a few surface lifts accessing backcountry terrain, and the frontside becoming available and affordable for families is reasonable progress. My sense is Alyeska (Alaska’s only ski resort) will benefit, as this project would attract visitors and stimulate the winter economy a bit. Perhaps the misunderstood aspect is this effort is as a ski “area” not a resort. No hotels..restaurants..no carbon footprint. It’s a minimalistic approach with sustainable operation. Wind power would run the surface lifts. Not sure what kind of financial support would be required, but a combination of local and outside investment has to be the formula.

  5. Wind power would run the lifts? Really? Southcentral Alaska has yet to see a viable wind farm. Fire Island is on track – but it’s a long ways away from completion and will only provide a tiny portion of energy (less than 4%) to the Anchorage area. Claiming that renewable energy will power the lifts is just plain wrong. Alaska’s push for renewable energy may eventually result in renewable energy – but that energy might come at the expense of areas like Watana Canyon which would be completely destroyed by the proposed hydro-dam. Please be realistic. MRA’s continual hard sell of this project frequently makes such claims as you have – yet they are completely false and totally unrealistic.

  6. Pingback: Ski Areas: Lost and Found | Kim Kircher

  7. Writing as somebody familiar with the situation but not affiliated with either side, I have a few thoughts I’d like to share. As a lifelong skier, wilderness advocate, student of public lands policy and one who seeks to gain understanding of how my activities influence the landscape (chainsaw user and human-powered adventurer), I have come to realize that for better or worse, industrialized society is part of the landscape. If we want it to be for better, we must make that choice. As such, in cases of new land use, when a voice of opposition does not support their argument with sound reasoning, it is usually indicative of a NIMBY mentality, where that opposition draws premature conclusions based on misconceptions that don’t account for the big picture. It’s a knee-jerk reaction that comes from the fear of unknown parties spoiling territory at best, at worst it’s just not wanting to share public lands with others.

    Can we have a discussion here, or is this territorial protection? Let’s take a step back here and examine the items that add up to the big picture.

    Manitoba is not pristine wilderness. It was a ski area before, and it sits on the side of the road. Building surface lifts can be done in a way that doesn’t convert the land forever, or fragment the land in any way. If a person were to, say, start an organic farm, that farmer both converts and fragments the land. Is that bad? not if the benefits of local produce outweigh the negative effects of land development. We all have to eat, right?

    Has the final plan been submitted? I don’t think it has, so concerned parties with local knowledge still have a voice in how a proposed project would play out. Despite the MRA being ‘outsiders’ (which I don’t understand, I thought we’re all one), I doubt they want to force themselves on the local population. That’s what big mining companies do, so it’s understandable that Alaskans might be skittish about the prospect.

    Can I see a link to the 2006 federal review? There needs to be a little more context for what that review accomplished, and under what definitions.

    Outside investment is not a bad thing, if it provides a venue for grassroots local investment. If the MRA brings in outside capital so that Kenai residents may engage in localized value-added activity, that localized activity tends to stay on the Kenai, creating a multiplier effect. Alaska is built on outside investment, and is our country’s welfare state. Any localized wealth creation benefits citizens and government alike. Attracting and retaining outside money is what builds an economy like Alaska’s. Until Alaska starts printing its own money, its economy will be based on consumptive tourism (cruise ships) and natural resource exploitation.

    wfinley gives the impression that he’s against commercializing our public wildlands, but in looking at his websites, that is how he apparently makes his living. You can’t have it both ways.

    Property taxes rise as a function of either rising property values or additional infrastructure needs. If Manitoba Mountain uses existing infrastructure, and isn’t a real estate development scheme (which would raise property values) like the MRA claims, then it should not directly cause property taxes to rise.

    We skiers are all a bunch of hypocrites thinking that we’re somehow more in line with nature than anybody else. Sure, we place less direct impacts than motorsports, but we are no strangers to petroleum. Does this mean we should quit skiing? No. Will the Manitoba project make some mistakes along the way? YES. We have got to start making the right mistakes to get closer to reconciling our impact with nature. In obstructing any and all attempts at setting a new example for our sport, we merely perpetuate our old, wrong mistakes.

    • Thanks for the quips touting my hypocrisy. It’s easy to make such claims when hiding behind an anonymous posting. How can you claim to be “affiliated” when you don’t leave your name?

      The Federal Review is here:
      http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:RBN8I8boOfIJ:www.fs.fed.us/outernet/r10/chugach/news_releases/kenai_workshop/kenai_index.html+http://www.fs.fed.us/r10/chugach/news_releases/kenai_workshop/kenai_index.html&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=firefox-a&source=www.google.com
      Note that the USFS isn’t so good at keeping info so you’ll have to hunt for the documents yourself.

      As for Manitoba… It’s quite pristine. All that’s left of the area is a piece of metal in a field. The hundreds of skiers who go there all winter have never seen it. There is no existing infrastructure – not even a viable access road. True it “sits on the side of a road” (actually it sits over a mile away from the road) but most of Alaska’s accessible back-country skiing sits “on the side of a road” – which is nice considering we have all of 4 hours of light in December so we can’t get too far from the road.

      You seem to be missing the major point… Manitoba see hundreds of skiers every winter and has been seeing a steady stream of backcountry skiers since the 60s. The ski area operated for 19 years whereas it has been a backcountry ski area for over 50 years. In short… it’s a well established backcountry ski area and hundreds of Alaskan skiers like it the way it is.

      • The last time I check, Alaska had many mountains and only a few residents. Seems kinda absurd that people would be so up in arms over sharing one of their precious mountains with some downhill skiers.

      • w, as long as the comment gives the option of whether to leave a name, I’m allowed to make that choice. I try to limit my internet presence to keep a lid on people putting a name to all the stupid things I say. Besides, I’m nobody of importance. Just for you though, I’ll sign off at the end. Even if I were directly affiliated with this project, it’s just my viewpoint, which in the end is just another a-hole’s opinion. I didn’t say I’m unbiased, I’m not unbiased. None of us are.

        So yes, I’m acquainted with the MRA but not affiliated. I like the concept but have no attachment to the project. Sliding on snow is my favorite thing in the world, and I’m disgusted with how most mechanized skiing is accomplished, so I’d like to see proactive change. Maybe I could contribute to that change, even. So if the project were to pass, I’d probably go skiing there; maybe we could take a run together.

        Differences in opinion are just that, nothing more. Along those lines, the intention behind my commentary on your chosen web presence wasn’t claiming hypocrisy, and if I came off that way I am very sorry. I just meant to illustrate the contradictions that surround us, and that none of us lives up to our ideals entirely. My hypocrisy: I hate snowmobiles until I’m at the throttle, or getting towed at 45 mph. I sure aint perfect, but neither is the world we live in. I know that some day my time on snow will be over, so I want to enjoy it while I can and not take myself too seriously. Hopefully that way I can give others a little leeway.

        There is pristine and there is a return to a natural state. Anything that we from the USA have developed before won’t be pristine again until long after we’re gone. But I don’t want to split hairs, as much as to point out that coastal Alaska has the ability to self-repair better than drier areas, so it can buffer human impacts that are approached responsibly.

        Thanks for the link, by the way, I’ll take a good look at the content. My guess is it was geared towards snowmachines, but I’m probably wrong. All I ask is that you or other readers might consider the possibility -just the possibility- that three surface lifts servicing 10,000-plus acres could distribute skiers, who are already going to be limited in numbers because of the proposed area’s attributes, so that the skiing wouldn’t be ruined. Possibly, just possibly, a responsibly-planned ski area carried out with local input could grant access so that the four hours of daylight could accommodate a relatively full day of skiing to a reasonable number of people with no crowding, especially for the hard boys and girls with local knowledge who really get out there. I’m not saying it will be so, but could it be possible?

        Oh goodness I have written another too-long editorial. Bye now!

        Marshall Tucker

  8. The economy has picked up and there’s more interest in people buying and selling these days. This seems to be the trend in Calgary. Like this site. Looking for ideas for my website to improve it myself.

  9. Nothing more entertaining than loosing the NIMBY hounds on a naive proposal such as this. No doubt the defenders of this “pristine wilderness” will be gone from Alaska in a year or two when they find out they have to grow up and get a job. Of course in the meantime they will burn fossil fuels and use a major highway through millions of acres of wilderness to satisfy their egocentric urges. Some advice for MRA too: The USFS will humor you forever until they see you as a threat to their kingdom and then use every covert trick in the book to undermine you and waste your time while they draw a six-figure government salary. As far as your eco-friendly philosophy goes – more evidence of the generational brain-washing that started in the 60’s. Here’s a clue for you: if miners hadn’t mined this area in the early 1900’s, there would be no highway and no one would enjoy the skiing here. Don’t sleep with the enemy.

  10. Pingback: Can the Future of Ski Resorts be GREEN? | Or Are We Just Dreaming? | SnowBrains.com

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