Striders give MLPD a big 10-4
The High Sierra Striders would like to publicly thank the Mammoth Lakes Police Department for their continued support. For the past 8 years, the MLPD has provided traffic control for our events to ensure the safety of each and every racer. The logistics are sometimes packed into a tight timeframe, as in the Footloose Freedom Mile, or take up many streets as the runners tour through town, such as in the Charthouse/Footloose 5K & 10K.
The High Sierra Striders are grateful to have this dedicated department to work with each year.
High Sierra Striders
Fundamental transformational journalism: a downhill slide
Reading the recent “Summits and Valleys” column appearing in the Mammoth Times, an eloquent and well calibrated example of “fifth column-ist” writing, celebrated investigative journalism — sort of.
But heck, “lowering the bar” to tout Michael Hastings for the Pulitzer Prize would be comparable to awarding President Obama the Nobel Peace Prize for “potential.” (Please disregard the 2010 Afghan surge, stepped up drone attacks, and GITMO, but consider support for the Cordoba Mosque in New York City. )
My suggested candidates for Pulitzer Prize recognition left out of this creative writing exercise would include: Liberation Theology as practiced by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright; Andy Stern and the mission statement of Service Employees International Union; and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and their role in the “great recession” … or as Progressives like to say, “the last eight years of failed Bush policies.”
Yet I digress, since when is it fashionable to be a “Vichy French” elitist? Apply [neo-Marxist] Saul Alinsky’s rule 4: “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules. You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity.” (From “Rules for Radicals”)
Point the elephant downhill
The time has come to plan for a new downtown Mammoth. Our competition, other ski resorts, has been constantly upgrading over the past twenty years. Mammoth hasn’t kept up. In fairness, though, it is good to understand how we came to be what we are before we go on to try to become something better.
Mammoth, starting in earnest in the ‘60s and going largely up to the present, was created by Southern Californians, not developers or businesspeople from other ski towns. In creating Mammoth, they did so in the image of the place they came from, and that was mostly Valley towns with strip malls and apron-style parking lots as their principal features. Meanwhile, the visitors, both winter and summer, also came from Southern California and almost universally in their cars, and a few buses. Mammoth was primed to replicate the Southern California experience off the hill, and, for people driving up for the weekend, there was no reason to see any shortcoming in that.
Today, that weekend traffic of Southern California locals is simply not enough to sustain Mammoth Mountain or the Town of Mammoth Lakes as successful business entities for the long-term. For that matter, without destination visitor traffic, even the short-term isn’t so hot. What we have found is that the destination visitor, both winter and summer, makes the best use of our mid-week days, and of our existing facilities and capacity. In return, we get to enjoy a much more vibrant economy without having to increase our physical plant or the total number of employees working in Mammoth. Instead, the physical plant simply gets more steady use and the employees get more steady work and consistently improved income. Ditto for merchants and restaurant owners.
However, in order to attract significant numbers of destination visitors, we can no longer be complacent and depend on the Mountain to do all the work. The town must become an attraction, in and of itself. Today’s destination visitor has their pick of ski areas and ski towns across the west, all within a day’s flight/drive of the visitor’s home. While the Mountain may have the finest lift facilities in our market, just that doesn’t cut it any more with the highly mobile, highly discretionary skier. For the summer, lift facilities aren’t even part of the equation.
What will it take for the town to become an attraction? First, we have to ask the question, what does the destination visitor want when he/she/they get to Mammoth? The short answer might be great shopping, great restaurants, and great lodging, but I think that kind of misses the point. Assuming we upgraded all our shopping/restaurants/lodging to be the exact equal of Vail or Aspen tomorrow, would it really make a difference? All that would do is price most of our visitors out. What do our visitors really want that we are not providing? Given our present four lanes of highway called Main St., four lanes of frontage road and apron-style parking lots, we are not giving them any sense of people on vacation gathering together to have fun. We’re not giving them a party. What do people want when they finish skiing for a day or hiking or fishing or whatever, they want to congregate, socialize, share. Shopping, eating, and lodging are all part of that experience, but they are not the experience itself. You can drive up to a restaurant, get out, eat dinner and get back in your car and drive back to the condo. You can do the same with shopping. People on vacation, when their day is largely done, want to walk around, take the air, stop and look through a store, have a drink or an ice-cream, socialize with other similarly situated people on vacation. For a weekend visitor who arrives late Friday night, skis all day Saturday, grabs a bite, falls into bed, gets up and skis Sunday and then takes off for L.A., what I’m describing is hardly essential. And that’s not the ski-area mountain town experience that you get at other successful places that get written up constantly in the media. But the destination visitor is a whole different ball of wax. They’re here for a week, not a week-end and they want to experience the town.
What do we need to do to convert ourselves to a destination locale? One approach is the grand plan that starts from scratch. That can happen if some enormous corporate entity would like to buy the whole thing and start over. Many of us might be happy to sell right now. But, truth be told, that’s about as likely as four feet of fresh pow in August.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t have grand plans or a big vision; if you don’t know where you want to go, it’s not likely you will ever get there. On the other hand, for a grand plan costing a great deal of money, getting the plan off the dime is a little like trying to drag an elephant uphill. It meets so much resistance from those afraid of the cost involved, when they are being asked to take the benefit on faith, that you end up having more people pulling the elephant downhill than up.
The sensible approach is to start small and inexpensively while trying to execute certain aspects of the grand plan. While in some ways it may not be as efficient as doing it all at once, the cost is very manageable. This goes a long way to shortcut the endless bickering over what to do and how to do it. And then you can reflect, as each phase is implemented, what was a benefit and what was not.
Demonstrating a financial advantage to Main St. stakeholders definitely sets the stage for a willingness on their part to expend some money on the next phase. When money is tight, as it is now and will be for the foreseeable future, demonstrating a financial success, albeit small, becomes critical to gaining public and private support for more ambitious efforts in the future.
What can we do in downtown Mammoth Lakes that will be a small, low-cost step, a demonstration project, if you will? The easiest and most effective choice would likely be to have Town Planners work up a redesign of the two frontage lanes on the south side of Main St. into a single lane of traffic, with a dedicated area, to the extent possible, for walk-around, small events. However, this is not as simple as it sounds. Not every owner or merchant on the south side of the Main agrees that a one-way frontage road is the solution. It may be that sections of the frontage road need to be one-way or blocked off instead. Inasmuch as the final Main St. may not have a one-way frontage road or no-traffic sections, then our spending must be conservative for something that may be temporary. A small version of the one-way concept that we tried last summer, however, was successful.
Responding to the concerns of people opposed to this approach is as important or more important than executing this approach for people who like it. This should be a collaborative, consensual deal.
With a successful trial next summer, we can start considering what it would take to preserve the walk-around fun during the winter. If this all works, perhaps there will be a groundswell of support for doing the same thing on the north side of Main St., and then, if that is successful, we can persuade CalTrans into making some changes in the four lanes of Main Street to feed into what we have accomplished to that point, and to put the grand visionary plan into real execution.
Putting aside all the rhetoric about the planning process, when the job is done, at least in the short-term, what is it that we really get? You could say we get a better-looking Mammoth, a more functional Mammoth, but what you really get is a more fun Mammoth. That’s what will make Mammoth Lakes an attraction in and of itself. We have to be the right combination of cost to the consumer, fun per dollar spent, and overall good time had by the whole family. Remodeling the downtown to give the visitor that experience is the simplest, most economical way to get there. Without it, we are a one-note samba to everybody else’s full-on orchestra.
Let me suggest a little example of what I’m trying to get across about where we are and where we need to go. Imagine for a moment beautiful Las Vegas. Now imagine Las Vegas, Mammoth-style. First in MLV (Mammoth-Las Vegas) the gambling is just as good or better than gambling anywhere in the country but it is only allowed from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Then, you can’t stay in a four-star hotel. There is only one and it’s small. You stay in condos. The condos don’t have restaurants, or gambling, or shopping, or entertainment. You have to go someplace else for that. There are restaurants, but not many. There is no big-time entertainment, just a few lounge acts around town and not in your condo! The shopping is also pretty limited, no big malls. Now imagine what people have to say about the “new” Mammoth-style Las Vegas. Could it be “borrrringgg!?” You respond, “but we have some of the best gambling in the country” and the response comes back something on the order of “so what!” While I’m an old guy content to curl up with a good book and my pretty wife at night, that darned destination visitor wants to get out and shake a tail feather.
So, for sure, we have to meet the competition, but we have to do it without destroying the experience of the people that live here. Second homeowners may look at it as just more difficulty getting a table in a restaurant, but that’s not the long view. In point of fact, the more successful we are midweek, the more choices the locals and second homeowners will have, whether it’s for jobs, restaurants, places to shop, etc. The good part is we can do the same thing midweek as we do on the weekends without having to increase the footprint of the town. No more buildings required, no new beds, no more restaurant seats; we just make better use of what we already have. This is far more environmentally sound than increasing the size of our physical plant.