When you attend a meeting where Mammoth Mountain CEO Rusty Gregory is discussing the fate of June Mountain, you know you’re in for the long haul and possibly even some shouting and some tears. Tuesday’s Mono County Board of Supervisors meeting, however, saw a refreshing take on the situation.
Following Gregory’s initial speech where he laid out his three-point plan for June Mountain, which included installing snowmaking and a new lift up the face, some members of the audience actually crossed talking points off their list and commended Gregory on listening to at least some of what they had said in the past year.
Gregory began by reviewing why he’d had to close June Mountain last year.
“We had to produce an operating budget to satisfy our lenders,” the CEO said. “Cutting employees was not enough for the banks during the worst performance in 15 years.” The reason for the bad performance: drought; the reason for the continued bad performance: no publicity letting people know the snow was back and in good condition.
Then Gregory dove right into what he called his “three-point plan for June Mountain.”
Point One — to reopen June Mountain this summer for group events (such as weddings and the June Lake Triathlon dinner) and then reopen the mountain for winter at its normal time in December, seven days a week. Gregory said the reopening would begin the reposition of June Mountain as an entry-level resort for families.
“Prior strategies from the ‘80s of using June as overflow for Mammoth and as a possible linked resort to Mammoth aren’t working,” Gregory said. “So we’ll be trying to reposition winter visitation with programming and animation.”
He added that this year, MMSA would be putting $500,000-$700,000 into June Mountain to ramp it back up for reopening.
Point Two — Install snowmaking and a new lift up the face of June Mountain to the tune of $5 million and $6 million, respectively. Gregory explained that he hoped to have these items in place by the 2015/16 winter season.
Gregory explained that the Mountain would review several different chair options for the face including a chondola (part chair, part enclosed gondola) and a gondola, but that a detachable quad with a safety bar similar to MMSA’s Chair 11, plus some luggage capacity “would likely be the right lift, but we’ll have to submit it to the Forest Service.”
He admitted that the timeline was tight but stated “if we do our work correctly, plans should be expeditiously approved.”
Forest Service Deputy District Ranger Sarah Tomsky added, “As long as we receive things in a timely manner, we’ll work as quickly as possible.”
Point Three — Community development planning to create a local economy in June Lake. Gregory said June Lake needs 1,000 additional rooms (or 2,000 beds) to be able to put enough people in June to stay awhile.
“We hope to participate in this planning with the community, but we’re just a part of the discussion,” Gregory said.
He added that points one and two were not reliant on point three.
Because MMSA has been having a good year (1.1 million to 1.5 million skier visits), Gregory said he doesn’t have to clear plans with the bank, since they don’t have a seat at the table when things are good.
Gregory said that in addition to looing at how to create an entry-level family resort at June Mountain, MMSA would also review the snowboard park that June has had in the past.
“You can’t do everything for everyone, so we’ll have to see if it still fits,” he explained.
As for discounted lift tickets at June, Gregory said it was “important to get people to try skiing [especially in light of the industry slowly dying off] and you have to give them a discount to get them to try.”
In terms of marketing, Gregory said he expected June to still act as some overflow for Mammoth. “If Mammoth is doing well, then June is too,” he said, but added “part of what we’re doing is to look at separate marketing aspects.”
He said the marketing plans were in the process of being developed and promised to share marketing strategies with the June Lake community in the idea phases.
“We’re in the early stages of the marketing plan,” he explained. “The low hanging fruit is the MVP pass and other passholders. We’re also looking at an aggressive bring a friend campaign, and we’ll work closely with local operators on lift and lodging packages.”
He added that marketing isn’t Mammoth’s strong point, it’s more about production, but they were working on it by hiring some outside vendors.
While some members of the audience, as mentioned before, commended Gregory on his plans, others were still unconvinced of the intentions of the CEO and MMSA.
“We hope the rebranding will come, but given the track record [of MMSA], we need to verify it will happen,” said Alice Suszynski, member of the Committee for a Viable June Mountain. “MMSA should hire an unbiased mediator to hammer out a plan with the community. And the Board of Supervisors should write a letter in opposition to MMSA’s land trade until all of this happens.”
Others still, while happy with the plan, asked Gregory what he would do now, besides reopening, to win back the community’s trust.
“What will we see to convince us you’re committed to June?” asked Kirk Maes.
“Nothing I can say today will earn your trust,” Gregory said. “And I’m not asking for it today. We’ll have to perform actions to earn trust.”
As for what tangible items would be put in place now to help convince the community he was serious, Gregory referred to the maintenance capital that would be dumped into June to get it open again.
“It will be unseen things like phone lines,” he explained. “Otherwise we need to put money into the most important things [rebranding, snowmaking, lift]. I won’t put things in to convince you that we’re doing things.”
When pressed again by Double Eagle owner Connie Black, Gregory said the community would have to tell him what it wanted to see. He even offered to show the community Mammoth Mountain’s financials.
“I’m sorry it doesn’t feel good [having to wait until 2015/16 to see big change], but I’m not sure what else we can do,” Gregory said. “It would be like us saying, ‘We’re MMSA, and we’re gonna put money where we see investment. So what is the community going to do to show us ROI?’”
“If there are things you want to do, tell us and we’ll work it in,” he added. “I don’t just want to do token things for political reasons. Trust is good, but what I really want is more customers, for all of us.”
Gregory committed to keeping June open in the coming years leading up to the snowmaking and new lift installations. He also commended the community on what it had done this past winter to keep itself going.
“If we didn’t see the effort [by the community], we wouldn’t be making this decision.”
At next week’s Board of Supervisors meeting, June Mountain will be on the agenda once more as a last opportunity for new information to come forward, explained Supervisor Tim Alpers, in the name of fair public hearings.
“Then I will review all the information and bring forward recommendations to the Board in the coming weeks,” Alpers said.
“What really matters is action,” Gregory concluded. “June operating is advantageous for us in a host of ways.”