Leaving the trees for the mountaintop

And now for something completely different.

Having made a career out of newspaper reporting, forest stewardship, pet products, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area marketing, magazine writer, magazine editor and then (whew!) even more forest stewardship, Stacy Corless is going back to where she started.

That would be education.

Corless, 41, is a bona fide lover of Mammoth and the Eastern Sierra. She is moving from the Friends of the Inyo in July to become executive director of the Mammoth Mountain Community Foundation (MMCF).
“It’s a shift a away from environmental work, but it comes back to why I’m here,” said Corless, a Lancaster native who arrived here via Berkeley and whose first job here was teaching German at Cerro Coso Community College.

“I love Mammoth, I love the town,” she said. “The people kept me here and this foundation aims to help build Mammoth from the ground up, from kids.

“It’s the kids on the ski and snowboard teams; helping the elite athletes but also making sure that the Ski PE programs are funded in our local schools.”

No one is more enthusiastic about having Corless join the team than Mark Brownlie, the ski area’s overall head coach, director of summer activities and vice-president of the foundation.

“I think Stacy brings to the table a unique bunch of attributes,” he said. “She wants to write the Mammoth story and be immersed in that on a daily basis. That kind of involvement in your community is a priceless attribute.
“Combined with her communications expertise and her non-profit managerial expertise, she’s got a unique package for the Mammoth Mountain Community Foundation.”

Corless takes on much of the duties that for four years were handled by longtime Mammothite John Armstrong. Armstrong, said Brownlie, will continue to advise the foundation and be heavily involved—just not on a full-time basis.

“John has helped keep the ship on an even keel and has had to deal with a lot of pulls and tugs in different directions,” Brownlie said. “John has helped the foundation be what it is today, and all of us will look to him for guidance as we move into the next phase here.”

Corless said she is used to the pull and tug, having led the Friends of the Inyo for two years after taking over executive duties from the Friends’ former director Paul McFarland, for whom she worked as a communications specialist for her first two years there.

“My experience at working for the Friends of the Inyo was tremendous,” she said.

“You could never get one wink of sleep, thinking about everything that could be done to improve, to help save our public lands, from Death Valley to Mono Lake. There are always people coming at you to do this, do that, don’t do that—positive and negative.

“So a lot of it was about learning to prioritize projects, create new programs, find the ways to pay for them, get the kind of buy-in to be successful and realize that you just may talk about if for a couple of years.

“Eventually you’ll talk to the right person, you get another person and you get it done. At Friends of the Inyo, I learned how to be part of a collaborative effort in a coalition to get things done.”

Corless was the winner of a nationwide search for a director of the foundation, Brownlie said. He said he talked to 40 candidates from across the U.S., from New York, Seattle, Colorado and all points between.

Corless, however, brought a complete package to the table, and not just in management. For people who have been in Mammoth for any appreciable length of time, it seems as if she’s been here all along, doing one thing or another.

“In the end, it was an easy choice to make,” Brownlie said.

This project is in its infancy, Corless said, and therefore it will require creative thinking and demonstrable results.

Funded primarily by Los Angeles entrepreneur Austin Buetner with a vision supplied by both Brownlie and Mammoth Mountain CEO Rusty Gregory, the foundation’s overall mission is wide-open.

“Mammoth Mountain Community Foundation supports and motivates our youth through education, athletics and civic responsibility,” the organization says it its mission statement. “We do this by developing world-class athletic and academic programs for the kids of the greater Mammoth community, on and off snow, and by funding outstanding teachers and coaches to support these programs.”

Corless said that’s right up her alley.

“We’ll be looking toward expanding the independent learning center, a part of Mammoth High School, so that both the ski and snowboard team members from out of their areas have a place to continue their studies, while at the same time paying full attention to local kids.

“So many of these people love Mammoth and are so passionate about this place. They may not actually move here, but they want to tap into that.

“They’re giving money to the school district, supporting athletes and supplementing what the ski team is doing.

“I’m talking to a lot of people and getting ideas from parents of kids on the ski team, as well as students, and a lot of people.”

So far, so good.

“Stacy,” Brownlie said, “is already making a difference.”

As for her own point of view, Corless was adamant and forthright.

“I think Mammoth could use a unifying voice right now,” she said, “and one of the reasons I took this job was in the idea that the founders and board members have: That this could be it.”