Ski Area has San Francisco in its crosshairs

San Francisco, look out. The Mammoth Mountain Ski Area’s marketing team is about to descend on The City in a big-time way in about two weeks, promoting the ski hill and this season’s flights to and from San Francisco International.

Howard Pickett, MMSA’s marketing chief, said final plans have not yet been set, but his team is in the final stages of a series of planned efforts, including some kind of public relations “stunt.”

The team is working with Lyman Public Relations, a Sonoma County (Napa) firm.

Last year, Pickett’s crew threw Woolly (the mascot) into San Jose International’s lobbies, surprising and delighting passengers who, by season’s end, exceeded Mesa’s expectations for carries.

Some of the options are to put Woolly at SFO, one or more of San Francisco’s many parks, and possibly, to put him (her?) on a couple of BART runs.

Other options include promotions involving a chairlift, and even bringing in snow as a PR stunt.

Pickett outlined the public relations plans on Wednesday, shortly before he presented to the Mammoth Lakes Town Council a detailed vision statement for Mammoth air service, both short-term and long-term.

He said advance bookings are through the roof, 27 percent ahead of last season. In addition, He said advance bookings from Los Angeles International are running two percent ahead of last season, even with double the capacity.

Pickett’s council presentation wasn’t all roses, however.

First of all, he said, “the community needs a consistent understanding of why air service is important and how to think about our investments.

“The economic benefits are huge, and investments must be considered in context.”

He said his research shows that airline visitors spend an average $1,600 per visit to Mammoth, and he estimated that the economic impact to the Town is about $18.4 million during the winter season and $4.4 million in the summer.

But does the community really get that?

Probably not, he said.

“Broad public outreach to key constituencies has to be a part of the process to ensure its success,” he told the council.

He said in the long range (10 years), the airport should serve San Diego, Orange County, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Denver and Salt Lake City, but that probably won’t happen unless the airport makes some big changes.

At the top of the list is the issue of terminal expansion.

“We’re already over capacity at the terminal we have, and given lead times, we need to move forward immediately with work to secure funding to expand the terminal,” he said.

Second, “the runway needs to be lengthened.”

“Lengthening the runway (from 7,000 to 9,000 feet) will be necessary to support summer service and to support larger aircraft,” he said.

Pickett said there are plans to hold a public workshop this winter to show work being done by airport consultants and architects, to hold another public workshop in the spring, to show plans and address issues as they unfold.

In the meantime, there is San Francisco.

United Airlines, with its subsidiary Sky West, has signed just a one-year deal with Mammoth, so Pickett said it is critical that the Northern California market be happy, but also knowledgeable from the start.

Hence the marketing team, including Woolly, is ready to jump in the next two weeks.