June Lake community bemoans April 7 closure
June Mountain closed last Sunday, April 7. Last year, the mountain closed April 8.
In the past Mammoth Mountain Ski Area (MMSA) has closed the mountain on or around Easter Weekend.
Easter comes late this year— on April 21. Last year, Easter landed on April 1.
MMSA is not closing because its special use permit with the U.S. Forest Service set April 7 as the last day of the season.
Section III.B. titled Period of Use stipulates that MMSA use the land for a minimum of 100 days per season. “Failure of the holder to exercise this minimum use may result in revocation of this permit under clause VII.A.” (Clause VII.A. states that the National forest can revoke or suspend the permit “for noncompliance with the terms and conditions of this permit.”)
Deb Schweitzer, Public Affairs Officer for Inyo National Forest, told The Sheet “Our permit authorizes use on forest service lands consistent with the US Forest Service mission (safety, resources issues, experience, etc.), but does not oversee the permittee’s business model. Again, that is true if it’s a ski resort or an outfitter/ guide or any other business that operates on the forest that provides a service to visitors.”
This season, June Mountain opened on December 15, putting the total number of days for the season at 117.
On Monday, April 1, the June Lake Loop Chamber of Commerce (JLLCOC) met with MMSA to try and convince it to keep the mountain open longer. MMSA did not agree to the chamber’s suggestions.
According to a chamber recap of the meeting, Julie Brown, Senior Director of June Mountain, explained that less skiers visit in April than other months.
MMSA Chief Operating Officer Mark Brownlie told The Sheet that the closure is based on historical data. In 2010-2011, another big snow year, Brownlie said June was kept open longer and experienced increased skier visitation “in the tens.”
Ridership at Mammoth this week, said Brownlie, has been trending at 75% of what MMSA had budgeted. If Mammoth isn’t making its number, then it’s safe to say the overflow mountain wouldn’t make numbers either.
Historically, MMSA has operated June Mountain at a loss. At least that’s what former June Mountain G.M. Carl Williams told Powder Magazine not too long ago.
This year, however, is differen according to JLLCOC. There’s more snow and Easter falls late. To the Chamber that means that there are visitors willing to come and June Lake is going to miss two weeks of skiers and snowboarders with snow on the mountain.
At that April 1 meeting, JLCOC asked June Mountain to stay open only on the weekends.
Answer: For staffing reasons, MMSA said it can’t.
JLLCOC offered closing two lifts J6 and J4 on the left side of the mountain.
JLLCOC asked if June Mountain planned to expand its summer operations beyond the weddings it holds at mid-chalet.
Answer: June Mountain will focus on the weddings and a few other events like Party on June it throws during the summer.
The chamber and MMSA remain in discussions and will hold a marketing workshop in the fall to discuss ways to promote the mountain.
The JLLCOC stated, “We feel that by closing on April 7 2019 under these circumstances is doing an extreme dis-service to June Lake’s business community.”
Vice-President of the chamber Jamie Schectman cited that June Mountain’s parking lot was full on closing day as evidence that there is still demand to visit June for snow.
“June Mountain is doing a disservice to local business when there is pent up demand, so much snow and Easter Sunday comes late,” he told The Sheet.
“I feel that June Mountain is the anchor tenant of the June Lake Loop. The rest of the businesses thrive or are affected by what the mountain is doing.”
Don Morton runs June Lake Accommodations with his wife Lynn. He said that year to date the company is up 26% from last year. He understands that his numbers should be up because last year 217 inches fell compared to this year’s 353 inches.
Morton said that now the mountain is closed, they have no properties rented, and that they amended their 30 day cancellation policy to allow customers to back-out for free.
Morton believes this is a missed opportunity.
But June’s economy is driven even more by visitation in the summer. The fishing opener is the final Saturday of the month, April 27. If the mountain had extended June’s operations until Easter Sunday on April 21, June would have something going every weekend.
Karen O’Keefe manager of Heidelberg Inn enjoys having downtime between the end of the ski season and the beginning of fishing season. The break gives Heidelberg time to hire employees. The winter ones leave to be replaced by the summer seasonals. There’s time to clear snow and break ice on the lakes to get them ready for the rush of the opener. She told The Sheet that Heidelberg is at about 50% occupancy.
Barring some sort of big promotion to attract people for spring skiing, O’Keefe said, she didn’t think it be worth it.
The Boulder Lodge said it was in the middle of transitioning between winter employees and that it was at 0% occupancy.
Brownlie noted that MMSA had scheduled June’s closing well before the season even started. Schectman thought that by February, MMSA should have known that there was enough snow to extend the snow a couple weeks.
In 2013 when MMSA closed June Mountain, it told the community that it needed more beds before MMSA invested in the mountain. MMSA CEO Rusty Gregory was quoted as saying they needed about 1,000 more beds.
The Sheet asked Schectman about what should come first: community investment or MMSA investment.
Schectman said the idea that the Loop lacks accommodations is false and the idea that most of those beds are low quality is also false. June has lifted a countywide moratorium on short-term rentals. “There are a ton of Airbnb’s and a wide range of hotels.”
To him the lack of investment in June Mountain shows that MMSA runs it as its overflow mountain—MMSA calls it its ‘family’ mountain—and not a for-profit business, which is unfair to the rest of businesses in the community.