“We look so angry, and we are, but we don’t want to fight, we want it to work.”
That’s what June Lake homeowner Michael Bogash told Mammoth Mountain Ski Area Vice-Presidents Jim Smith and Ron Cohen during Tuesday evening’s June Lake Citizens Advisory Committee meeting, which was also a special meeting of the Mono County Board of Supervisors.
Cohen and Smith attended the meeting as members of the Peer Resort Tour that took place in February. Members of the tour group, which included June Lake residents and business owners, gave a presentation on what they saw and some of the strategies and frameworks they had developed from the experience. The Peer Resort Tour’s goal was to visit resorts in Vermont in order to generate ideas for the development of a new identity for June Mountain.
The June Lake Community Center was packed with residents on Tuesday, many of them skeptical of MMSA and the tour, wondering how it could help June Mountain and the June Lake community.
What the evening boiled down to was a lack of trust, which even Mono County Supervisor Fred Stump admitting to feeling.
“I see this as chapter one in the story with chapter two coming next week,” Stump said, referring to the expected presentation by MMSA CEO Rusty Gregory at the Tuesday, April 9 Board of Supervisors meeting in Bridgeport. “I have a skeptical side and I am waiting to see what’s going to happen,” he added in regard to the future of June Mountain.
Much of what was reported in the Peer Resort presentation included the specifics of each resort visited such as skier visits and how the resorts were marketed.
“We visited small, family resorts in competitive environments,” explained June Mountain General Manager Carl Williams, who planned the trip, in response to audience questions about why no west coast and/or co-op resorts were included. The four resorts that the group visited were: Bromley, Smugglers Notch, Waterville Valley and Okemo.
Bromley: Started by Fred Pabst (creator of PBR beer), Bromley is near the bigger Stratton Mountain, but stays competitive by pricing its tickets 25% less than Stratton. Sees approximately 160,000 skier visits per year (versus June Mountain’s average of 60,000). Big emphasis on summer activities.
Smugglers Notch: An all-inclusive resort that also has more activity in the summer than in the winter. Marketed as “America’s Family Resort” even though transitioning from beginner to intermediate terrain at Smuggs is a challenge. June Lake resident and Peer Resort attendee Ralph Lockhart also pointed out that Smugglers has a big base lodge with a timeshare program and 2800 pillows available per night versus June’s 1800 pillows per night.
Waterville: Lots of after-ski activities. Waterville has developed a resort association that works similarly to a Tourism Business Improvement where the fee received from the District allows the community to offer venues for free and then the proceeds from the fees collected are distributed back to each venue based on usage.
Okemo: Seems to be struggling. Okemo has summer and winter activities galore but seems to lack clear market positioning. Okemo served as a reminder that success as a family resort is not about the shiny bright new facilities and lifts, but rather about the programming and the image of the area amounting to a family-centric brand.
*For more about the peer resort tour, read Brandon Sheaffer’s firsthand account at www.thesheetnews.com/archives/17527
The ski seasons at the four resorts were similar to June Mountain’s season, running on average from Thanksgiving through Easter.
Two items, however, that the audience did not find in sync with June Mountain were snowmaking and ownership.
All of the resorts relied heavily on snowmaking. According to Williams, however, this is typical on the east coast where snowmaking is a more vital piece of running a resort. On June Mountain, snow can only be made on the run Mambo, according to Williams.
The second issue, which Bogash pointed out, was that all of the resorts in the tour were really trying to compete in the market, and they were able to do so because they were independently owned from the resort they were competing against.
For example, Bromley is close to Stratton and competes with the larger resort for skier visits, but the two are not owned by the same entity.
“We are owned by MMSA,” Bogash said. “There is plenty of money for Mammoth and none for us. You’re asking us to work together but you own us. Why can you spend money there and not here?”
“It’s about ROI (return on investment) for us. MMSA is bigger and brings in more,” Smith said.
“This is a two-part process,” Smith continued in regard to the strategic plan developed during the Peer Resort Tour. “The Peer Resort group needed a holistic approach. The community and the Mountain go hand in hand. You have expectations from the Mountain but we have expectations from you, too.”
“The community has stepped up, now it’s MMSA’s turn,” Bogash said.
“We are stepping up,” Cohen said. “We announced that June was reopening and sent it out in our pass emails. We had discussed making June a separate pass like Tamarack, but decided against it, feeling it was better to include it in the Mammoth pass for no extra charge.”
One audience member, however, pointed out that there was no mention of June on any of MMSA’s marketing such as signs and ads.
“Why not add the word June to all MMSA marketing? It wouldn’t cost any extra but it would go a long way,” Bogash said.
Note: On Wednesday evening, MMSA sent over a revised MVP pass ad, which includes language about June Mountain.
“A reasonably priced ticket would get people here [June Mountain] but MMSA won’t do it,” added June Lake CAC member Rob Morgan.
Audience members suggested reinstating $10 Wednesdays such as June had implemented in previous years, noting that the program had drawn a large crowd from Tahoe. Williams, who said he determines the ticket pricing each year, didn’t think that was a good idea.
“We’re trying to get people to stay in town, not just come to ski and then [go] home,” he said.
Williams added that June Mountain would be open for weddings and the June Lake Triathlon dinner this summer, but not for daily lunches.
The Board of Supervisors then began to summarize the evening.
“June Mountain will benefit MMSA,” said Supervisor Byng Hunt. “Families can learn at June and then go to MMSA when they are ready for a bigger mountain.”
“Sometimes opportunity comes disguised in work clothes,” said Supervisor Tim Alpers. “We need to get past being angry and focus on a positive future. Let’s put our work clothes on and get on with it.”
“We’re going to have some good questions for Rusty Gregory next week, I have a hunch,” said Supervisor Larry Johnston. “We’ve gotten off our keisters.”
“This is your opportunity to do something really great,” added Supervisor Tim Fesko.
“I have five communities in my district and all five of them can’t compete with the interest shown here tonight,” said Supervisor Stump. “I am impressed by the amount of people here.”
One last piece of the pie that is still looming for June Lake is the Rodeo Grounds property. According to Dan Scidmore, a member of the brokerage team at Daum Commercial retained by Intrawest to sell the property, MMSA allowed its right of first refusal to expire on March 15.
MMSA VP of Real Estate Jim Smith confirmed this to The Sheet.
“It had a sunset date and it just expired,” Smith said. “There were certain circumstances that were suppose to happen in the agreement with Intrawest, but things didn’t move forward.”
The lost right of first refusal means that MMSA no longer has the option to match or pay more than any offer that is made on the Rodeo Grounds.