Several weeks ago I made a public records request relating to the special-use permit granted by the United States Forest Service for the operation of June Mountain Ski Area.
The permit holder is Mammoth Mountain.
I asked for the site development schedule as well as a copy of the 2011-2012 Operating Plan.
What I received is a copy of the Draft Master Development Plan dated July 2008. A consultant hired by Mammoth Mountain, Ecosign Mountain Resort Planners, wrote the Draft MDP.
I can only assume that annual Operating Plans, though referenced in the permit, were probably never submitted.
Perhaps the Draft MDP was supposed to act as the de facto operating plan, but clearly, the Forest Service never pushed Mammoth Mountain to incorporate any of the suggested changes.
The Draft MDP is a fairly interesting document, as it reflects the limitations of June Mountain and what improvements are needed to make better use of the area. In short, the report tells us what we already intuitively know, and makes one wonder what’s really to blame for June’s continued failure. Is it really the bed base (or lack thereof) issue oft-cited by MMSA CEO Rusty Gregory, or is the aging and woefully inadequate ski area infrastructure more to blame for June’s woeful skier numbers?
One can argue (and Ecosign does) that with the current equipment (particularly the J1 chair) and the tiny base lodge (limiting food service capacity), June has little chance to be successful.
The #1 listed goal and objective prescribed by Ecosign is to improve mountain access. “The old low capacity lift (J1) is a bottleneck and lowers the skier’s initial impression of the area. This is a low quality experience and lowers the likelihood of return visits on busy days and is likely limiting business levels.”
As Ecosign points out, the J1 lift has a mere capacity of 645 skiers/hour. Double chairs of this type have a loading efficiency of about 90%. And normally, skiers are “staged” up the mountain within a 2 to 2.5 hour period in the morning.
Doing the math, Ecosign calculates June Mountain can comfortably stage just 1,161-1,451 skiers a day.
Even with opening an hour earlier to lengthen the typical staging time, you can really only get to 1,742.
The fact that June did 2,750 skiers during one day in 2005/2006 is simply amazing, albeit with two-hour lines.
Then there’s the 342-seat indoor capacity at mid-chalet. Assuming four turns for each seat over the lunch period, June could serve a maximum of 1,376 people on any given day – if the weather precluded using the outdoor seating.
Meanwhile, the mountain has, according to Ecosign, the trail capacity for 6,740 skiers and an overall lift capacity of 4,410 skiers.
Which is why you loved June – the trails were always destined to be relatively empty even when the mountain was “full” because J1 assured that “full” was never full.
So, this is where the old “chicken-and-egg” argument comes into play.
On the one hand, you don’t want to invest in your infrastructure if you don’t think you’ll draw the skiers, but you’re not gonna draw the skiers unless you can effectively serve them.
The report estimated that as configured at the time (a Village-type development with five buildings and 572 units), the Rodeo Grounds would produce approximately 1,600 skiers/day on peak days.
But clearly, the same company that owns the mountain better own the Rodeo Grounds and vice versa, because one without the guarantee of the other would appear to be madness.
And the report states that you’ve got to do more than just build a new base lodge (locating skier services below so you can free up seating capacity at mid-chalet for food service) and replace J1 with an eight-passenger gondola. The report also states you’ve also got to invest heavily in snowmaking equipment and even develop a new lift (9) “on the upper western edge of the existing ski area. The top terminal will be located adjacent to the top terminal of Lift 7 and the bottom terminal will be located approx. 1,700 feet west of the bottom of Lift 7.” This would add desperately needed intermediate and high intermediate terrain.
“The purpose of this new Master Development Plan is to guide the development of skiing and year-round recreational facilities at June Mountain to meet the steadily growing need for quality recreational facilities at the resort. This plan will outline how the facilities at June Mountain will be expanded and improved.”
And then the Great Recession came along and the Rodeo Grounds project disappeared and despite the consultant’s assertion that “a master plan is also a flexible responsive business plan which … can respond to a variety of market scenarios,” it did not envision this market scenario.
So here we sit today … no Rodeo Grounds project and now no Mountain operations. But could this outcome have been avoided? As Supervisor Hap Hazard said on Tuesday, “The domino effect of all of this started six year’s ago. I feel like I’m in Mr. Peabody’s time machine and I’ve gone back to 2006/07.”
And indeed some things that occurred (or in this case, did not occur), may have helped tip those first dominos. Back in 2006/07 when June Mountain was under a similar attack, Mono County briefly looked into applying for CDBG grant money to improve access to the Mountain (i.e. J1), according to Community Development Director Scott Burns.
At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting, at the prompting of Supervisor Vikki Bauer, Burns explained that six years ago, the County contacted CDBG to see what the likelihood would be that the County could be awarded grant funding that could be used for improved access. Recently, the County has contacted CDBG once again to ask the same question.
“Initially, discussions have been favorable both times,” Burns explained.
So why didn’t the County, in 2006, go after these funds that would have helped provide the infrastructure that Ecosign stated was so important for June Mountain’s future survival?
“The Mountain [MMSA] wasn’t interested in having public money last time,” Burns said. While he wasn’t sure why, exactly, Burns speculated that it was most likely because MMSA did not want to deal with the strings attached to public funding. Strings include frequent reporting on things such as finances.
“The Mountain just wasn’t ready for government involvement,” Burns said.
“Have things changed,” Bauer asked June Mountain General Manager Carl Williams, who was present at Tuesday’s meeting.
“Lots of things have changed,” Williams replied.
Burns recalled that the amount of funding they were looking at back in 2006 was somewhere between $1 million and $1.5 million.