The window of opportunity for opening June Mountain this winter is closed, and June residents now must decide how they will use $100,000 in “bridge” money that the county supervisors agreed to give to help the town weather the coming winter.
That was the conclusion Tuesday at the Mono County Board of Supervisors meeting this week, when the supervisors voted unanimously to allocate the money to help June make it through the winter.
At the same meeting, Ralph Lockhart, the son and partner of Double Eagle Resort and Spa owner Connie Black (who is spearheading some of the June Lake community’s effort to survive the winter), told the board he had assurances from Mammoth Mountain CEO Rusty Gregory that June Mountain would open next winter.
“Now, our plan is about how to entice people to come to June for the winter,” he said. “If we close our stores and lodging down this winter, it could take people four or five years to come back even if the mountain is open,” he said.
County officials noted that conversations with Gregory indicated MMSA would be willing to help with providing a shuttle to June Mountain and with other requests.
“I talked to Rusty yesterday and the door is open, he is open to providing a shuttle, three times a day for workers and skiers and boarders,” said Alicia Vennos, Mono County tourism director. “He also agreed to provide special discount tickets to lodging people in a package and have MMSA sell them on its 1-800 reservation system” (maybe only this winter, she said).
The supervisors voted unanimously to put the money from the county’s emergency contingency fund under the control of the county’s tourism commission—in cooperation with June Lake residents and its Chamber of Commerce and Citizen’s Advisory Committee.
But as with the last few meetings on this issue, it was clear not all the supervisors were on the exact same page with how the money should be spent—even as they all agreed to spend it—nor were the residents themselves fully in agreement as to how it should be spent.
“I’m worried about timing,” said Supervisor Hap Hazard at the beginning of the discussion.
“The time we have is too short to get some of this done. How are we going to get this done in a timely enough manner to make it work? I have big concerns about ice skating on June Lake (one of the ideas advanced to bring people to June was ice skating), I’m worried about liability and the forest service too, will have big problem with this. I’m not willing to throw money at the wall and see if it sticks.”
Supervisor Tim Hansen was also concerned.
There are a lot of things about this I don’t like, meddling with private enterprise, for example,” he said. “I hear from my constituents—what about them if they need help? But these are extraordinary times and for us not to be responsible would be like a knife in the back to you.”
Vennos said marketing events is much easier to do at the last minute due to social media.
“Our drive up market doesn’t need a long lead time, they need something to do next weekend,” she said. “The big issue, though, is figuring out what the story is that June wants to tell people.”
There is no way to market given such a negative event, unless a good story narrative is created, she said.
In the meantime, June residents put forth some of the ideas they have for bringing visitors this winter. These included creating a snow play area, creating at least a few kilometers of cross country skiing and snow shoeing within the community, creating an ice skating area, adding Christmas lights to the community retail areas, and creating an Oktoberfest event.
All of these take time, and, require participation and permits from the Inyo National Forest, but Vennos said conversations with the forest were promising.
After the meeting, supervisor Vikki Bauer said that while June Lake residents are committed to creating a vibrant winter scene to attract visitors, it’s still going to be difficult to get everyone to agree how to do that.
“We had a chamber meeting and it was a difficult one,” she said. “There are a lot of different ideas out there.”
She is worried that the community will lose sight of the big picture and not continue to focus on getting the mountain back on line.
“I think we could lose sight of the ball,” she said.