June Mountain gloom

There is no shortage of gloom in June Lake.

When Mammoth Mountain Ski Area announced last week (June 21) that it would close down the June Mountain ski area at least until the end of the 2012-13 ski season, the reaction was swift and tense.
“I think it’s been pretty clear the entire eight years since I was elected that this is exactly what I have been working to avoid,” said June Lake’s county supervisor, Vikki Bauer.

She said she has had to fight local anti-development groups who tried to stop or slow the big, 90-acre, 780-unit Intrawest condominium development project called the Rodeo Grounds—a project she believed was critical to the long term success of June Mountain.

That project now appears to be dead after Mono County staff confirmed this week that Intrawest had asked for, and received, a refund for all the money it deposited toward the Rodeo Grounds plan in January of this year.

The same parcel of ground was also listed for sale for $2.9 million earlier this week, according to local realtors.

“With that said, I am still here now and starting to do what I can about it in the next six months,” said Bauer, who will lose her seat to supervisor-elect Tim Alpers in January.

“I spoke with (ski area manager) Carl Williams and Rusty (Gregory, CEO of Mammoth Mountain). I have called a special June Lake Community Advisory Committee meeting for July 10. Rusty will speak. I will work closely with the Inyo National Forest (June Mountain is on forest service land and is operated under a “special use permit” between the forest and MMSA) to review the lease and look at options.”

More fallout came from Alpers.

“It’s devastating,” he said. “This is a community that was already barely hanging on and this is going to be devastating.”

“If this goes through, June Lake could be a ghost town,” said Connie Black, longtime resident and Double Eagle Resort and Spa owner.

Dozens and dozens of similar comments made their way onto Internet social media sites and hundreds of emails and phone calls were exchanged as residents struggled to take in the news.

A week later, there is just as much fear and not much more understanding of what might happen next.
Gregory, who delivered the news to the general public via an email last Thursday, said the “door isn’t closed” on re-opening the mountain—but not this summer and winter.

Even if the mountain were to reopen next season, the impacts to June Lake might be irreversible.
A year—or more—is a long time to wait for a job that might not come back.

About 650 people live in June Lake, according to the 2010 Census. There are 13 full-time employees who work at June Mountain, with about 200 employees needed to keep the mountain running on a busy winter weekend, according to Gregory.

What makes the issue of what to do with June Mountain especially complicated is that the ski area, like MMSA, is on public land, not private land. The minute the federal government gets involved in business, things usually get both more intricate and more time consuming.

The ski area is on Inyo National Forest Service land under a “special use permit” that allows MMSA to run a ski area operation. The permit was granted to MMSA in 2006. It is a 50-year permit and can be revoked if the permit holder does not meet the terms of the permit (see accompanying story on p. 16).

Although MMSA has indicated that it will offer all of June Mountain’s fulltime employees jobs at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area this winter, it is the rest of the employees and the indirect impacts that the shuttering of the resort will have that worries local residents.

Making lemonade out of lemons

“I talked to some of my students when this happened and we realized that 30 percent of their parents are employed by June Mountain,” said Lee Vining Elementary School teacher Anna Strathmore. “Then we started adding up how many of their siblings and relatives worked for the resort, or worked in businesses that depend on the resort. We put a “J” by all the ones who work directly for the resort and an “H” or “R” by the names of everyone who works in the hotel or restaurant business. Pretty much every single one of them has family members who will be impacted by this.”

Her students, young as they are, understood immediately what could happen to them.
“My freezer is filled with dozens and dozens of cans of lemonade,” she said with a laugh. “They all are worried about their parents or their friends’ parents losing their jobs and the end of their little community, and they decided they were going to do a lemonade stand and give the proceeds to Rusty Gregory to help save June Mountain.”

The students said they know the money they make won’t alone save June Mountain, but they had to do something, she said, and that’s what they chose.

The lemonade sale will be next week in Mono City at Strathmore’s mother’s house.

The students, many of them members of the June Mountain race team, are also writing a letter to present to the Mono County Board of Supervisors next week at the board’s July 3 meeting (see breakout box).
“Many of them were angry,” she said. “But I reminded them, they still have to be respectful, they still have to be courteous.”

Black said this past week has been terrible for June Lake residents.

“We are still in shock, still trying to understand what our options might be,” she said. “I know Gregory has agreed to come to June Lake on July 10 to talk to the community, but that’s a long way away and we are still trying to find out more information about this.”

It could have been handled better, she said.

“It was just so abrupt to get information like this that will have profound impacts on June Lake,” she said.

She, too, is getting ready for the Tuesday Board of Supervisors meeting, where she and other June Lake residents and business owners intend to come out in force, putting pressure on the county to get involved.

“This affects June Lake, yes, but it also affects the county,” she said. “The county takes in a lot of revenue from the visitors that came to the mountain.”

(A preliminary study done by the June Lake Coalition a few years ago shows the county receives about $200,000 a year in transient occupancy tax from June, in a $59 million total county budget).

Can anyone else save June Mountain?

Then there is Jarrod Lear. Lear is a 10-year June Lake resident, who worked for June Mountain as a ticket taker. The closure of the mountain prompted Lear and a group that he said includes local groups, community members, and organizations like the Mono Lake Committee, to organize to fight the closure.
“We have investors ready to purchase June Mountain,” he said. He declined to name whom those investors might be. He said he recognizes there will be challenges to make June a functioning ski area again, given the long history the ski area has of operating in the red. But he said he believes the threat of closing the ski area will prompt a solution.

“We, as a town, are ready with a cooperative solution in place as soon as a decision is made by MMSA,” he said, while again declining more details. 

He also charged that June Mountain was never really given a chance to be successful.

“Mammoth has under-budgeted our resort for so long while making costly improvements to Mammoth Mountain,” he said. 

“We hope to reach a compromise with Mammoth to either release their permit or find a new plan sooner than this ski season. If that is not feasible, then we hope the general public will recognize what’s going on and make an extra effort to spend a little time in June Lake this winter and help increase our commerce.”

He said his group, which as of yet does not have a name, would be ready with a clear message and plan by the July 10 meeting with Gregory.

Black, Alpers and Bauer all said they are talking to potential investors and community members who might be interested in buying the ski area and/or forming a cooperative, should Mammoth Mountain decide not to re-open the mountain, but none of them could be more conclusive.