One thing will always be certain, Mammoth locals froth for powder days like Hyde Lounge loves a good-sized queue. And speaking of long lines, last weekend Mammoth Mountain ski area witnessed some of the best powder days of the season.Of course, when the storm finally cleared, the combination of bluebird skies, an untracked upper mountain and swarming holiday crowds left Mammoth skiers and snowboarders in an all-too familiar battle for the freshies.
However, last Sunday the guests who were patiently waiting in line at McCoy Station were less than thrilled with MMSA’s latest steep-and-deep antihero, the Black Pass, or so they thought.
But before we get into that, let’s get some facts in order for the uninitiated. The all-access Black Pass debuted this year and starts at $10,000 a pop. It features a cornucopia of enticing perks like preferred parking, free demos and a complimentary concierge. But most important (and controversial), this ultimate season pass comes with the almighty power to cut lift lines … even on a powder day.
We all know that a typical powder day can become a high stress/strategic race to the goods, and like a twisted Oreo, only one cookie gets the sought-after white stuff. As predicted by many, it was only a matter of time before the diehard powder hounds and the Black Pass holders would eventually face off. That’s what happened last Sunday.
As anyone who was out on the hill last weekend will tell you, the snow was amazing and the hill was swarming. That being said, it’s understandable that there was a huge line from McCoy that stretched almost all the way back to Chair 3.
People never seem to mind a long wait if it means a chance at fresh tracks. But the frustration set in when they glanced over at Climax and saw a group of skiers hot doggin’ down the face. When the group walked past the snaking line (along with MMSA CEO Rusty Gregory) and got back on the gondola for another lap, murmurs spread through the line and people started getting the crazy eye twitch.
To make matters worse, people in line were not psyched about the large groups of private lessons also cutting to the front (Side note: Mammoth Mountain policy states that ski school, along with Black Pass holders must alternate with guests in the main queue).
Meanwhile, as others were waiting close to two hours at McCoy, a middle-aged guy had a plan to hop on the bottom gondola with the hopes that while riding up, the upper gondy would get the green light to the top. But the top wasn’t open to the public yet. When he reached McCoy, he was asked to exit the gondola. Stepping out, he saw the massive line, and et his frustration for the Black Pass be known to all and shouted, “F*ck the Black Pass!” A mixture of cheers and boos appropriately followed.
One witness told the Sheet that Ski Patrol immediately rushed over and tried to settle everyone down. “I thought people were going to tear the roof down, people were pissed.”
Now I love heckling as much as anyone but the problem with angry guy’s well-timed “F bomb” is that the lucky skiers cutting in line weren’t Black Pass holders. In fact, they were the winners of a charity item from last year’s Mammoth Invitational. It turns out they won a day of first track skiing. Unfortunately, angry guy didn’t know this.
“Hey! Come over here a sec!” shouted MMSA CEO Rusty Gregory. Rusty and the guy go talk privately off to the side. “I’ve been here 35 years,” he vents to the Man in Black. “It just pisses me off that the Black Pass holders get to ride up early.”
Letting the guy cool down for a second, Rusty invited him for a ride up the gondy. “After talking for a bit, I found out he was a Mammoth High School graduate. So I explained to him that 100% of the proceeds from the Mammoth Invitational go to the Mammoth Mountain Community Foundation, which benefits our schools.” But what the guy also didn’t know is that the Mammoth Invitational isn’t the only thing that raises money for local schools, so does the Black Pass. Every time someone purchases a Black Pass, $1,000 goes to MUSD.
I talked to Rusty via phone last Wednesday, “But Rusty, did they have to ski right down the face? Right in front of that huge lift line? Couldn’t they have picked a better run?” I asked. “Nah, they picked the best run.” I couldn’t find a reason to disagree with that.
“I understand people’s frustration with the Black Pass,” said Rusty. “But what some people might not know is that the benefits that come with it like the parking, the concierge, line cutting, these are things we’ve always offered to our guests. Now they’re just bundled together.”
There’s no denying that since the Black Pass’s inception there has been a heavy distaste from the local sector targeted at the pricey new product. So to say it’s been parodied and ridiculed is an understatement. Over the past 3 and a half months Mammoth Lakes has seen the birth of a ton of Black Pass jokes, the viral bumper sticker sporting the slogan, “Kiss My Black Pass” and now a newly formed Facebook group entitled “BanBlackPass Mammoth Mountain.”
None of this is news to Rusty, so I asked him how he felt about people reacting so passionately about skiing here in Mammoth, “Well, I suppose it’s a good problem to have.”