Shiny baubles, new technologies are far less important than making visitors feel welcome
Fourteen Mono County movers and shakers returned this week after a five-day “peer resort” tour of four family-oriented Vermont ski resorts.
What was the takeaway from the trip?
“It’s the chicken. It’s always been the chicken,” said Mono County Supervisor Larry Johnston about whether ski resorts need amenities or great customer service.
Both amenities (eggs) and customer care (chickens), of course, are critical to any resort.
“Which is why I say it’s the chicken,” said Johnston. “There were resorts without the latest amenities, even with outdated facilities and yet, it was the way they treated the customer, like family friends, that brought people back again and again. One even had a [questionable] chair and instead of making that a liability, they turned it into an adventure. We could do that. June Mountain could do that.”
When Mammoth Mountain Ski Area CEO Rusty Gregory announced last June that he would not open June Mountain this winter, long-time general manager for the ski area Carl Williams was out of a job for the season, along with a lot of June Lake residents.
Williams, Johnston, two Mono County tourism officials, several other June Lake residents and business owners (including Double Eagle Resort owner Ralph Lockhart), and several MMSA officials were invited to attend a “peer resort” tour in an attempt to generate ideas about how to make June Mountain a viable ski area.
Like Johnston, Williams was also struck by the affection that visitors to some of the resorts—the 300,000 skier-visits-per-year Smuggler’s Notch in particular—seemed to feel for the place.
“They loved it,” he said. “And it was because it was a complete experience, everything was taken care of.”
“Everything” didn’t translate into five-star restaurants or valet parking either.
“It was something as simple as providing a nursing mother a place to nurse her child, then child care while she skied,” said Johnston.
“They thought of everything and it didn’t necessarily take a huge amount of money.”
The takeaway from the five-day tour is still trickling in for all the participants, Johnston said. In the next few weeks and months, he and other members of the group will be taking what they learned to the rest of the county—to residents, to politicians, to planners, and to business owners.
The goal, he said, is to take the best ideas from each resort that might work for June Mountain, but with the premise that June Mountain is suited as a mid-level family ski area, not as a high-end MMSA-type resort.