Ski Area restores some hours, pay in wake of snow.
Mammoth Mountain Ski Area CEO Rusty Gregory announced in an all-employee memo on February 18 that all salaried employees will be restored to full pay and hourly employees “will return to schedules that are appropriate to handle workloads and guest demand” as of February 28.
This announcement came a month after Gregory reduced salaries by 15 percent and limited hourly employees to 30 hours a week.
“The month of February finally produced a snow storm that significantly improved conditions at both Mammoth and June Mountains,” the memo stated. Gregory also reported a strong President’s weekend, with more than 14,000 skier visits both Saturday and Sunday, and higher mid-week demand this week. Plus, “cooler temperatures and moisture are in the forecast so there is still some basis to hope for a change in the weather,” Gregory said.
Good news fort salaried employees: Gregory notedthat “We wouldn’t have lifted the pay reduction if we thought we were going to re-impose it.”
Mammoth’s TOT numbers reflect a winter not as good as some, but at least better than last winter. Mammoth Lakes Tourism Executive Director John Urdi reported that July to December, TOT was roughly $250,000 ahead of last year and $100,000 ahead of budget, helping soften the blow of being about $30,000 short of the $1.83 million projected for December. But even that roughly $1.8 million is about $184,000 more than the Town collected in TOT for December, 2013.
In the meantime, January TOT was above budget, coming in at about $1.55 million rather than the projected $1.52 million. That’s a growth of about $272,000 from the January before.
Turns out a little snow at the right time goes a long way.
A brief survey of businesses around town reflected an upward trend from last winter, as many businesses reported a busy Christmas holiday and a decent President’s Week.
Jeff Guillory, General Manager of the Westin Monache Resort, said “We are actually doing significantly better than last year. I think that’s due in large part because we had snow in December [that] fueled and solidified the holiday season and got us through January.”
The storm the weekend before President’s day, and the storm last Sunday also boosted business, as the Westin “did not get the cancellations we had been seeing in January,” Guillory continued. “We’ve seen a significant uptick in reservations. It’s automatic, the minute we get over six inches of snow we see an increase in reservations.”
Specific marketing from Visit Mammoth, Mammoth Mountain and the Westin around snowfall also helped, Guillory said.
He added that the Westin hasn’t had any staff reductions yet and doesn’t plan on any in March as “we just got snow and there should be more on the way.”
The Westin was 99 percent occupied over the President’s holiday, but “from an occupancy perspective, our summer is busier than winter anyways,” he said. The Westin reported the highest occupancy in the seven-year history of the hotel in July and August of 2014.
By diversifying business and promoting Mammoth as a four-season resort, Guillory was optimistic about the future of the Westin. “Look, we would all like a 500 inch winter, but certainly there is so much else to do in Mammoth.”
Matt Hammer, owner of Black Velvet Coffee, agreed. “People are beginning to figure out that Mammoth is rad all the time. We’re a full season resort, and not just a ski resort anymore.”
Opened the first year of the drought in 2011, Black Velvet is currently the busiest it’s ever been. It has the largest staff it’s ever had and “we’re understaffed,” Hammer said. “It’s been busy. Is it because it’s been so bad for so long that every time it snows people want to be here? Maybe once they get here they aren’t on the hill as much, which definitely helps us.”
If the drought persists over the next few years, Hammer also didn’t seem worried. “I figure if we can continue io improve our vibe, our product, our service, we’ll be fine. We want to make this the best place for people to hang out, in town” he said, “Even if there are less people in town, I hope to have the same numbers of people in here.”
Stellar Brew owner Andrea Walker agreed that this season has been surprisingly kind to business. “Interestingly enough, I thought I was going to have to lay people off, I thought it was going to get slow, but it hasn’t yet,” she said. “We’re still seeing new people, and still being discovered. For us, business is on the rise.”
Good Life Café also reported a growth in business from last season to this one. “I think overall, we’re definitely up in numbers by about 10-15 percent,” said Manager Sandy Graves. Christmas, New Years, and President’s Day were up as well.
“We’ve been able to maintain our schedule with about the same amount of staff as last year,” Graves said. “I think we’re in pretty good shape.”
Roberto’s Manager Tammie Gurley agreed that “Business is actually really good.” She said Roberto’s had record days over the Christmas and New Years holiday, and that days have remained steady through the winter, while nights “are great … We’ve cut [staff hours] a little bit, but not really much,” she added.
Base Camp Café Manager Ashley Mull said Base Camp also saw a better Christmas this year than last year, and continues to receive steady business—much of it local. “I would say business has definitely dropped, but we’ve gotten away with just reducing hours, thankfully,” she said.
Staff are currently cut to two days of work, but Mull said they have been understanding. “They’re all locals and have been through this before,” she said.
Andrea Colasardo, co-owner of Footloose Sports, said Footloose has also cut some staff hours and reduced store hours, “But we’re still trying to keep everybody working,” she said.
Footloose is doing better this year than last—although still not as well as in years before the drought. “Christmas and New Years were amazing,” Colosardo said. “It was the busiest we’ve been in years. That’s helping us with our season’s numbers.”
She argued that the surge in business over the holidays in December “validated the fact that when we do have snow, people do want to come ski.”
As for President’s Day weekend, “We didn’t break any records, but we were pleasantly surprised, considering the snow.”
When asked what Footloose will do if the drought continues through next year, or the next, Colosardo said, “We’re looking at perhaps a new business model, so that our expectations are not so high in the winter months.”
Meanwhile Tonik has not cut hours but hired another employee, after a 22 percent increase in business in January this year from last year. However, Tonik owner Kristi Rowley said “It’s a hard comparison to make, because we just moved. We should be having increases as more and more people are finding their way to us.”
Rowley did say that she already executed one strategy to cope with the drought when she discontinued carrying technical outerwear. Not only is technical outerwear expensive, but it must be purchased far in advance of the season.
“In the fashion industry, it’s a quicker turn, and you can be so much closer to the season, so you can react much more quickly, rather than take huge risks,” she said.
Asked what her strategy would be if the drought persists, Rowley said she is “taking it one season at a time … I don’t know what to think about what next year will bring.”
At the end of his memo, Gregory admitted, “While hope is essential to get through a winter like this, it’s not a business strategy.” He expressed concern about lower visitation and revenue in the coming months and “as such, Management will continue to make the appropriate adjustments.”
Time will tell what the weather brings.