Mammoth Mountain. Photo/Jesse Barlet
No matter what you may have heard about the layoffs at Mammoth Mountain this week, it was worse than that.
Of the 359 full-time employees at the Eastern Sierra’s biggest employer, 75 were let go on Wednesday—20.8 percent.
These weren’t just low-level layoffs, either.
Two vice-presidents were let go, along with one employee who had been at Mammoth Mountain for 45 years and one who worked there for 40 years.
“We simply don’t have the money,” said MMSA Chief Executive Officer Rusty Gregory.
“We can’t spend it like we were spending before, and it’s not just us. This is a national malaise.”
Gregory said the ski area would continue to operate at a full level of customer service.
“We can’t put our heads in the sand,” Gregory said. “We want to make sure we’re still delivering a great customer experience.”
Many who were laid off were working in positions such as IT (information technology), sales and other administrative staff positions.
“There were a lot of highly-paid and senior staff whom we had to let go, too.”
In addition to the layoffs, those who are left took 10 percent salary cuts. Gregory said that he himself took a 15 percent cut.
The layoffs prevented the company from defaulting on its loans from banks, Gregory said.
“We already are breaching covenants with our banks, but a default means they can come in and run your company.”
The cause of the layoffs are multi-tiered, but all have to do with an exceptionally bad snow year, and not only here.
“This,” said Gregory, “was an abberrationally bad year, all across the board. Nobody had snow, and many resorts began these types of layoffs back in January. But the ski season just never happened, not here nor anywhere else.
“You’d turn on the nightly news, and there’s Brian Williams (of NBC Nightly News) asking ‘Whatever happened to winter?’
“They’d show Central Park from last year, then line it up with this year, with people in bikinis and so on. So the winter was out-of-sight-out-of mind.”
There were blips in the season, such as Presidents’ Day Weekend, Gregory said, “but right after that, everybody left and didn’t come back.”
In a memo sent to the affected employees on Wednesday, Gregory said skier visits were down 33 percent below budget this year, and revenue fell by 29 percent.
“Fifty-five inches of snow came by mid-January, but so did 80-degree temperatures in Southern California,” he said. “Skiers and riders returned, but not in the numbers we needed. Simply put, the company is not bringing in enough money to pay the wages for the number of people we currently employ.
“Nothing I can say will change today’s harsh reality and the action I am compelled to take.”
In an interview Thursday, Gregory said, “It’s heart-breaking. I shed a lot of tears over this. We’re a huge company in a small town. We live with each other. We are each other’s friends. Our children go to school together. This isn’t like a layoff in a big city.
“As difficult as it is on me, it’s a thousand times more difficult for those who have lost their jobs.”
As for the bad snow year, Gregory said, “I’ve said this many times: Mother Nature owns the place. We just rent it.”
By early Tuesday, employees in the company were spreading concern across social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter, making pleas for jobs or suddenly planning early vacations.
The axe officially fell on Wednesday, recalling the infamous “Black Monday” of 1991, when the newly named CEO (Gregory) laid off 150 employees in a single day.
If there is any kind of a silver lining in any of this, Gregory said, it is that “a significant number of those employees came back to work for the company, at the same level of salary and benefits.”
Though he did not reference “Black Monday” specifically in his memo of Wednesday, Gregory said, “I intend to do what I can in an attempt to lighten the load.
“You are eligible to receive the insurance benefits you and your family currently receive, paid by the company for up to 18 months as determined by years of service.
“We will rehire you in a seasonal position if you are interested and able. You are departing the company as an employee in good standing. We will provide recommendations, references and help with resumes to assist you in the search for new employment. We will assist you in filing for unemployment benefits. We will inform you of new positions when the company has the money to increase staff.
“We will help you in any other way we are able.”
In the meantime, Gregory said the ski area is in an alert type of situation.
“We need to stay focused on what we need to do to keep the mountain open,” he said.