Gregory maps new life for June’s ski area

Promises snowmaking, replacement lift for J1

Mammoth Mountain CEO Rusty Gregory this past week promised big changes at June Mountain Ski Area after it re-opens for the next ski season.

Gregory, appearing at a jam-packed Mono County Board of Supervisors meeting in Bridgeport on Tuesday, April 9, made three major promises: to open June Mountain next ski season and keep it open until Easter, weather permitting; to build a new lift to replace the antiquated J1 up the face of the mountain, and to commit to snowmaking, including drilling new wells, if needed.

He gave dates and numbers—open this coming summer for some pre-scheduled events only and to market and re-brand the ski area; in 2014, update the master plan and do site work in summer in preparation for snowmaking, get approval by the end of 2014; in 2015, begin construction on lift, and in 2015-16, open with the new lift and snowmaking.

He added that this coming winter, some elemental capital improvements were on the table, such as a day care center at the base of the mountain and a bar.

But first, he addressed the elephant in the room—the issue of trust and responsibility.

“My decision has created a tremendous amount of hardship,” he said, referring to the closure of June Mountain Ski Area this winter. “I don’t want to go through it again. People think I have a thick skin. I don’t. I have a very thin skin.

“I don’t ever want to repeat what happened last June again. I think about this a lot. I do not expect your trust, just because I say something. Nothing is real until we do it.

“I am not asking for your trust, before I do this. I will do it whether you trust me or not. Trust will come from our actions. I think we have a real plan, and it’s a rational plan.

“I won’t offer you tokens, things that we don’t think will work in the long run, or are cost effective, just to win your trust or make a political statement,” he said, in response to an audience member who asked what MMSA might do to gain the community’s trust, given construction on the lift and snowmaking is years out. 

“I will commit to listening, to involving the community in all we do.”

Then, he added more details; saying that his vision was to create June Mountain anew, as a family-oriented resort, with programming and facilities, such as day care, proper marketing and more—an investment of time, money and capital that he said would ensure the success of the ski area.

“I was hoping you would come in here with a big wad of money,” said one audience member, who was clearly hoping that things would change faster than Gregory’s development plans indicated.

“Some have called you a slumlord, that you put all your money into MMSA and leave none for June.”

“I looked for it before I headed over here,” Gregory said with a laugh. “I couldn’t find it.”

He added some background to why MMSA was not in a position to throw money around; he said the worldwide financial crisis hit MMSA hard; he said the abrupt, industry-wide decline in skier visits last year after a low snow start to the winter was devastating and he gave details about the new world that MMSA’s investors live in.

The climate under which a ski area operates has changed, he said. It’s imperative that an already risky business, like a ski hill, operates with the consent of surrounding communities.

“We need unanimity to convince our lenders,” he said.

To that end, there are some things he believes are critical, but he said that getting the community to agree to them in advance is not a condition of moving ahead on his three main priorities.

“We do believe we have to have more of a bed base,” he said, referring to his previous stand on developing a contentious project proposed for a parcel of private land near the ski area. “I know there are a lot of different views on this, but to be clear, it will be years before that is even an option.”

In response to some audience members who said he believed Gregory and MMSA thought of June Mountain as a competitor, Gregory said no.

“You have something here that Mammoth does not,” he said.

And he praised June Lake residents for the way they dealt with this past winter.

“You didn’t back down in the face of adversity,” he said. “To be honest, without all that work, we wouldn’t probably be here, committing to this today,” he said.

He said to bring business back to June Mountain after this past winter, he has hired a new staff to market and rebrand the community and ski area, with a sharp emphasis on marketing through the MVP pass.

“We’re going to have an aggressive ‘Bring your friends’ campaign,” he said, “linking MMSA to June Mountain and offering packages and other incentives.”

By the time the two-hour meeting was over, the mood of the room had visibly changed.

“I wouldn’t say it was a homerun,” said Ralph Lockhart, who has played a prominent role in keeping June Lake alive this winter. “But it was close.”

Others agreed.

“I was skeptical last week, I’m less skeptical this week,” said Mono County Supervisor Fred Stump. “I am reminded of how volatile the ski industry is; I see Big Bear is for sale again for the second time in two years.”

“That is the Rusty I have come to respect,” said Tim Alpers, after the meeting. “Not the one who showed up last June.”