This past weekend, I had a couple of friends come visit, one from Bend, Ore., the other from White Plains, N.Y.
Like me, they currently reside in that gray area between over the hill and immediate life insurance risk.
Fortunately, age has not dimmed our capacity for occasional bouts of calculated recklessness.
My friend from Bend, Chris Farrens, has an app on his Android phone (Sports Tracker) which will tell you how fast you’re going.
So we took a run off the top, down Roadrunner and then hooked a left off the back and ultimately down to Chair 14.
The app said we topped 70 mph.
After his return trip to Bend, Farrens wrote the following:
“Yesterday, I got pretty bored after several hours in the car. My mind was drifting back to skiing, and I decided to perform a test. When I stopped to fill up, I grabbed my helmet and goggles from the back of the car. I don’t know if you noticed, but that car has a huge sunroof.
Anyhow, I set the cruise control at 70, opened the roof and kneeled on the seat. I stuck my head out of the roof. The wind noise AND feel was just like that last, fast run down the backside, so I’d say the 70 is about right.”
Which is funny, ‘cause if you’d asked me prior to this past weekend what my top speed might be on skis, I’d have told you maybe 50 mph. I had no idea.
Note: This part of the column was by no means sponsored by Mammoth Hospital.
While he was here, Farrens also spoke glowingly of Bend’s marketing organization, VisitBend, so I called Doug LaPlaca, VisitBend’s Director, this week.
LaPlaca and Mammoth Lakes Tourism’s Executive Director, John Urdi, both used to work together at American Skiing.
LaPlaca said VisitBend’s current operating budget is $1.3 million annually, but that the city wishes to add $600,000 to that budget by increasing its room tax rate (T.O.T.) from 9 to 11%.
Bend has just experienced back-to-back record years of T.O.T. collection, and since 2003-2004, has increased TOT revenue by 29%. During that same period, Mammoth’s TOT revenue growth has increased approximately 15%. And Mammoth’s TOT rate has been 3 to 4 points higher during that entire period.
Now Bend doesn’t compare with Mammoth in terms of numbers; In 2011-2012, Bend generated $3.5 million in T.O.T. versus Mammoth’s approximate $9.85 million.
But Bend is a different sort of town, with 80,000 permanent residents and a far more diversified economy.
What both towns do share in common is rapidly growing summer business. And both towns are rightly enamored of the opportunities presented by the Bay Area market.
“Northern California isn’t just rebounding strongly,” said LaPlaca. “It’s booming. And we’re trying to tap into whatever we can get.”
LaPlaca, however, lamented the recent loss of a daily flight to Los Angeles. “Your drive market is one of the wealthiest in the world,” he said with envy. “That market could feed us for an eternity.”
But here are some of LaPlaca’s advantages.
1.) He doesn’t pay an air subsidy. The nearest airport to Bend is just 20 minutes away, in Redmond. It has six direct flight markets, but not all operate daily.
2.) Bend has no sales tax, and property taxes are significantly less than 1% of valuation. “This is the cheapest place I’ve ever lived,” he said.
3.) LaPlaca does a lot of traditional marketing, with the bulk of that media buy in Portland, some three hours distant. Portland is not L.A. “Marketing in Southern California is very expensive.”
Here are soime of the areas where LaPlaca sees opportunity for Mammoth.
1.) In regard to revenue enhancement, LaPlaca said he believes Mammoth has “threshold remaining” in regard to Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) rates. 13% puts Mammoth in about the middle of communities Bend studied when debating whether or not to increase its room tax rate. Some notables included in the survey were Santa Barbara (12%), South Lake Tahoe (15%) and Sunriver Resort outside Bend (a whopping 23%).
2.) Cerro Coso. Bend is in the process of finalizing a deal with Oregon State University to make the local OSU-Cascades a four-year college. LaPlaca says it’s a no-brainer for Mammoth to aspire to the same ultimate goal. “Who wouldn’t want to spend four years in Mammoth?”
3.) Events. Bend has positioned itself as a sporting event mecca, and hosts events ranging from the U.S. Cycling National Championships to the U.S. National Snowshoe Championships. The challenge is for Mammoth to continue to grow existing events and build new ones.
Chuck’s price hike
ABC News reported Thursday that the price for “Two-Buck Chuck” has soared into “Two-and-a-Half Buck” territory.
“The price change for Charles Shaw wines is only happening in California, no other states are affected,” said Alison Mochizuki, director of public relations for Trader Joe’s, in a statement. The price increase, which went from $1.99 to $2.49, took effect on January 16.
Trader Joe’s statement noted that the $1.99 retail price had been held for 11 years.
ABC reported that when the news first broke, wine fans of the product started re-thinking the name. “Up Chuck” was one of the suggestions.