Mammoth Mountain Ski Area opens 2012-13 season; winter returns, just in time

The snow fell, the wind blew, the temperatures dropped and the chairlifts ran.

Mammoth Mountain opened its new ski season yesterday (Thursday) with modest enthusiasm on the wind-blown ski hill and with cautious enthusiasm in the executive suites at Main Lodge.

“The most important thing,” said CEO Rusty Gregory, when asked about the new season, “is snow. It’s snow and the return of enthusiasm on the part of our Southern California marketplace to visit it because of it.

“That’s the most important thing; we’re counting on last year being an aberration, not a trend, both in the weather and in market demand.”

Gregory, who laid off 75 full-time employees earlier this year in the wake of a near-disastrous snow season, said it is not just Mammoth that is nervous about the season.

“I think it’s accurate to say that the West probably got hit very hard,” he said. “I don’t know about the hardest, but across the country, everyone was down except for a couple of resorts way up high in the Northwest close to Canada. Everybody else was way, way off.

“Those of us who are regional resorts, with shorter-stay visitors, not destination resorts like Colorado, got hit the hardest.”

Even so, he said he is optimistic, but not blindly optimistic.

“If you go back, and I can give you the statistics, and look at the last six years, the industry had the four biggest years in its history in the last six years.

“It’s been growing very steadily for the last 10 years, and with a few ups and downs, but in the 60-plus million visits range.

“Companies have done a good job marketing and we as an industry, despite the economy, have experienced a very solid growth pattern.”

Whether or not yesterday’s sudden onset of wintry weather was a harbinger of a good season is impossible to guess. Last year, the ski hill had good snowfall in October, a terrific Opening Day and was coming off two of its biggest winters, in terms of snowfall, ever.

The bottom began to fall out immediately afterward.

But at least for one day—and snow was in the forecast for today, too—there were many whoo-hoos in the air, enough to drown out the leftover wails of last season, anyway.