Gregory steps into Mammoth's political quagmire

Always a big player but consistently in the background of Mammoth’s increasingly tumultuous town politics, Mammoth Mountain CEO Rusty Gregory declared this week a startling change of face.

The Mountain, and Gregory in particular, is about to take a central—and more public—role in town government.

“I'm not appointing myself a leader of anything,” he said in a wide-ranging interview this week, “but I think the Mountain can be dramatically more cooperative and a much better partner with the lodging community, the restaurant community and with other recreational providers in town, so that we can go out and tackle the market opportunities together, not as individuals.”

He said he is aware his vision for Mammoth crosses deeply into the “idiosyncratic” political fabric of the Town of Mammoth Lakes. He acknowledged that he is reversing decades of a standoff approach between the town’s biggest economic engine—Mammoth Mountain Ski Area—and the Town of Mammoth Lakes, which currently is wrestling with a $29.5 million, 23-year legal settlement with Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition.

To that end, he said he would address the Town Council at its meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 7, on the eve of the opening of the 2012-13 ski season. The meeting is at 6 p.m. in the Council Chambers above the Minaret Cinema.

“I think that we as a community are often our own worst enemies,” he said. “We want to do things our own way. Our politics as a community reflects that sort of individualistic, radically idiosyncratic approach to things where it's a very hard community to lead.

“We complain a lot about our leaders, but I think if we look at ourselves, particularly those of us who have been around a long time, and see how we get in the way of coming to consensus and pulling the community together—starting with me—we can make some changes to improve that, and achieve a proverbial ‘Phoenix out of the Ashes.’”

He said he would wait for Wednesday’s council meeting to be more specific about his ideas.

He said, however, that he has opinions over proposed new taxes, cohesive marketing schemes and wide-ranging growth incentives.

However, he spoke on the record in the area of marketing, saying he and Tourism Director John Urdi have had numerous conversations about the best way to gather more money into the town’s general fund.

“We have some ideas in common in figuring out how we can market ourselves under one brand—and that the Mountain needs to fall underneath that brand along with other people in the community, and not stand alone, separate from the community so that we're not not marketing ourselves as Mammoth Mountain and the Westin Hotel and the Sierra Nevada Inn or this restaurant, or that lodging reservation service.

“We need to fold ourselves and the experience for our guests all underneath one common effort and work through the politics to do that.

“We have an opportunity to re-think how we run our resort, starting with Mammoth Mountain but also throughout the community, in a way that allows us to go to the market better and to attract more people here and provide them a much better experience. I'm pretty excited about talking about that.

“John Urdi and I have talked a lot, and I think he's headed in a great direction that's very complementary about some of the ideas that I'll be talking in the days and weeks to come.”

Given that, Gregory was asked if were ready to assume the reins of leadership.

“Mostly I have ideas after a lot of self-reflection this summer, that the Mountain can play a pivotal role in cooperating as part of a group rather than just by ourselves, better than we have. I think that's the way we can provide leadership, for example, how we market.”