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Consultants to Airport Commission: Think Big: 'What do you want to be when you grow up?'

March 2, 2012

The view from an Alaska Airlines flight inbound to MMH Airport from LAX. Photo/Jesse Barlet

As dichotomies go, the Mammoth Lakes Airport Commission faced a big one this past week.

In a season when visitor numbers are down and the number of flights may have to be cut in the short term, two airport consultants advised the town to think big and damn the torpedoes.
 
“If everything goes forward here, it (the passenger terminal) needs to be expanded in the future, and that’s the rub,” said David Dietz, a Santa Rosa consultant with Mead & Hunt, hired on a contract basis by the town to examine the airport’s layout plan and its passenger terminal projections.
 
“All the players have to come to an agreement,” Dietz said. “You have to decide what you want to do. What do you want to be when you grow up?”
 
The comments by Dietz, along with those by Jeff Hartz, from the same firm but working out of Dallas, came just moments after John Urdi, executive director of Mammoth Lakes Tourism, delivered a short but dire warning about this season.
 
The two presentations could not have been more different, both in tone and substance.
 
While Urdi delivered caution, Mead & Hunt delivered optimism, based on a peer review of similar resort communities.
 
The firm took a look at Aspen, Eagle (Vail), Yampa Valley (Steamboat), Montrose (Telluride), Sun Valley and Kalispell, Mont., the gateway to Glacier National Park.
 
The study included looking at 2010 enplanements, population, enplanements per population, skier days, first-quarter (ski season) traffic, and average fares.
 
“You need to look aggressively, or at least a reasonably aggressive future,” Dietz said. “Within that context, that’s different than a five-year plan.”
 
Hartz, meanwhile, took up the issues of peer resorts, claiming that Mammoth is in a perfect position.
 
“Aspen and Eagle are markets that have very large regional products with 15-25 trips a day, and that’s not unreasonable to expect at Mammoth, assuming that it is successful the initial next few rounds because it’s hard to tell the current success of this year.
 
“This is a gateway to the Eastern Sierra and into Yosemite. It will start expanding. It does take time and it does take marketing and it takes awareness, trying to promote the area as a year-round destination.
 
“Aspen has done that a lot, and it has invested a lot of marketing dollars in that. And there are other communities.
 
“When you look at a Jackson Hole, Kalispell and some of the other ones who have skiing, you guys are the back door to one of the largest visited national park in the country. It’s either the largest or second largest.
 
“When you compare that to the backyard for Kalispell, and even the Aspen area and Eagle area, and what they do during the summer, there’s not a lot to do in Aspen except for mountains. The mountain biking, the general demographics that you have here, it’s not unreasonable to be aggressive.”

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