June Lake, California-A Community Threatening to Become Extinct by Robert Hardin

6 Jul 2012


On June 21st, the day before June Mountain was set to open for summer operations, I received a text message from one of my avid snowboarding friends.  When I checked it, it contained a link to June Mountain’s website with this message:

“June 21, 2012 MAMMOTH LAKES, CA – Rusty Gregory, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area Chairman and CEO, announced today the company will not operate June Mountain this summer and for the upcoming 2012-13 winter season.”

By the time I got home, the news was spreading like wildfire. Within 72 hours of the news there was a “Save June Mountain” Facebook page with hundreds of people watching, a petition on Change.org with signatures flying in, a rally/walk being held, and posters on poles as far as 300 miles away in Los Angeles. The first rally for June Mountain was held, families and supporters came out, and the whole town was deafened by the honking of horns in support – including local law enforcement, fire department, ambulances, delivery trucks, local businesses, Forest Service employees, and even Mammoth Mountain employees in company vehicles. The community that was being affected by this so-called business decision was obviously upset and up in arms.

To understand June, you must understand Mammoth. When Dave McCoy built the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area (MMSA) that is in existence today, there was no town of Mammoth Lakes. He set up a tow rope in 1942 and, after WWII and some donations, was able to acquire some “Weasels” (military amphibious vehicles) at an auction. He slowly built his “mammoth” of a resort from nothing, in the middle of nowhere. The town of Mammoth Lakes grew with it. The McCoy family is partially responsible for the local fire department, hospital, and schools including a community college, and many other developments in the area.

Mammoth Mountain, while still under the ownership of Dave McCoy, acquired June Mountain (approximately 20 miles north of Mammoth Lakes) in 1986. Dave had a dream of someday connecting the two mountains, but that was never realized. June was never really a financial success, but the locals loved it and the community of June Lake was growing around it just as Mammoth Lakes had with Mammoth Mountain. In January 1996, Intrawest Corporation and Mammoth Mountain Ski Area announced that 33% of Mammoth and June Mountain ski operations, as well as all of the developable real estate owned by MMSA, had been purchased by Intrawest Corporation. In 1998, Intrawest increased their partnership interest to 58%. In 2005 Dave sold the remaining majority ownership of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area (including June Mountain) to Starwood Capitol Group for $365 million and left Rusty Gregory in charge as CEO.

Since then, numerous “mom and pop” shops have been torn down and turned into a parking lot, a huge Westin hotel, and the empty eyesore called “The Village”. The income that is coming into town is no longer up for grabs in a stable, fair, and healthy economy. The economic balance has shifted to everything MMSA. If a person comes into town, they can book their entire trip (ticket, rental, lodging, lessons, meals, retail) with Mammoth and chances are that the local businesses and the town of Mammoth Lakes will see very little, if any, of that money. Intrawest attempted to develop some real estate at the base of June Mountain known as the “Rodeo Grounds,” but was successfully shut down by the local community. Since June Lake defeated the development, it still has that diverse, stable, fair, and healthy economy. Now that June Mountain is closed, everyone is forced to go to Mammoth, and the chances of MMSA getting more of every visitor’s dollar is that much higher since the only MMSA-related business in June Lake is June Mountain.

As I stated before, June has never really been financially successful. In an interview with local radio station KRHV/KMMT the day after the closure announcement, CEO Rusty Gregory claimed, “We have been operating at approximately a 1.5 million dollar a year deficit.” There are a couple factors to this. For one, June Mountain has been known as the “gem” of the Sierras and has been kept a “tight secret” both by locals and the fact that MMSA has hardly advertised its sister resort. Second, the majority of June Mountain visitors are Mammoth season pass holders (tickets are good at both resorts) that spend most of their season at June. That being said, it would be interesting to know if the income that is generated from Mammoth pass sales is properly allocated to June Mountain.

It certainly appears to me that MMSA is following the footsteps of Vail and other huge resort towns that have been corporately swept up. They make June Mountain look bad, close it down, and force everyone into the Mammoth funnel. Unfortunately the community of June Lake is just a bug in their way that will be squashed and soon dry up and blow away.

There are approximately 50 businesses in the town of June Lake, and only 10 of these businesses are summer-only oriented; the rest are mixed or winter-only and depend on June Mountain operating. At a recent town council meeting, Ralph Lockhart, co-owner of Double Eagle Resort and Spa in June Lake, brought some numbers into the equation: “The Double Eagle has 32 rentable units,” he said. “During the shortened ski season at June we lost $182,000 in lodging and $42,000 in spa.” More than $30,000 was also lost in the restaurant at the resort. Lockhart equated these numbers to a $22,000 loss in TOT revenue and another $5,700 loss in sales tax in the county. That was just one shorted season and one business in June Lake. It is obvious the impact that the loss of June Mountain will have on June Lake and the surrounding community.

It has been in recent times that things got very interesting. In March of 2011 Rusty Gregory held a benefit dinner for U.S. Congressman Buck McKeon. Almost exactly a year later MMSA successfully acquired a long-time goal of a 21-acre land swap with the Forest Service to renovate their Main Lodge. There has been speculation that the closure of June was to better position Mammoth to be put on the market. When asked if this move is about selling MMSA in an interview for Sierra Wave TV a few days after the June closure announcement, Rusty claims that, “We are in good standing, we are paying our loans.” In September of 2011 MMSA announced a $20 million improvement plan including a replacement of chair 5 and the largest RFID (electronic ticket scanning gates) system at a ski resort in North America to date. With the longest lift lines in history and with large renovations planned, it does appear that MMSA is doing just fine.

Here’s the twist: in April of 2012 MMSA made the decision to lay off 75 permanent employees (representing 21% of its permanent workforce) claiming economic hardships. Now the closure of June Mountain with the same excuse. I think I just got a heavy whiff of hypocrisy. There is no debating that the economy is in the tank, that the 2011/12 season was dry, and that both of these combined pack a powerful punch to the ski industry.

There is no debating that 2010-11’s 661-inch season was record breaking. The fact remains that June Mountain and the town of June Lake have survived and thrived for over 50 years and Mammoth for 60 years despite droughts and tough economic times. It is obvious that cuts sometimes have to be made, but why is it always in the back of the communities and people who helped build that business first? What has happened to responsibility?

Robert Hardin is a 28-year resident of Bishop, California, who grew up riding Mammoth and June starting in 1996.  He has worked for MMSA as a race photographer and mechanic.

June Lake Citizen Advisory Committee Meeting Recap by Karrah Spitznagel (with Video), July 10, 2012



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