Mammoth Mountain CEO Rusty Gregory said it was time to make a decision on June Mountain. The small ski area, he said, continued to lose $1.5 million per year with a drop in skier visits. Gregory’s efforts to create some development in the past to boost the ski town had fallen to community criticism and other factors. Last Thursday, Gregory announced closure of June Mountain immediately and through next winter season.
The CEO made it clear there are no plans to sell June Mountain. He said the work now is to put the smaller mountain in a position “to support itself.” Gregory said June used to host up to 100,000 skier visits per year. The business downturn, higher demand for Mammoth Mountain and other factors have led to no more than 45,000 skier visits in a season. He said the last six or seven years have seen deficits at June.
Pressed for his plans at this point, Gregory said his intention is to be accountable to the employees and then “figure out a sustainable vision.” He said it would take the Mountain, the community and the Forest Service to figure out what that is.
When news of June’s closure came out Thursday, immediate reaction in many parts was to find a buyer for June Mountain. Asked if he would sell, Gregory said, “No. Not really.” He added that rumors that Mammoth is for sale are not true. “We are in good standing,” he said. “We’re paying our loans.” Gregory added that it is a difficult time for the ski industry generally. He said last season saw 61 million skier visits nationwide. That number fell to 50 million this season. “We’ve never seen this kind of national market malaise,” said Gregory.
The CEO said if any mistake were made regarding June it might have been that he didn’t see the need to close it down earlier. Even so, he’s not open to selling it. The CEO said he wants to find an alternative for a resort-oriented community and vision for the future. He described the process as working with the Forest Service and others to get approvals for a new plan, find the financing and make it happen.
Gregory pointed to the fact that no one else could run June Mountain under the current scenario. “We’re probably in the best position to execute any plan,” he said. How long will planning and action take? Gregory said, “It will take as long as it takes.”
A chronic problem for June Lake – a lack of bed base to bring in the needed number of visitors. Gregory said the original two reasons for the purchase of June Mountain under Dave McCoy were the fact that Mammoth Mountain was overcrowded in the mid-80s and that there was a vision of linking the two ski areas. Those two reasons no longer exist.
What about the deep economic devastation to the June Lake community as a result of the June Mountain closure? “It’s an awful decision to have to make,” said Gregory. “I’m a member of the Mammoth and Owens Valley community and have been for 34 years. I had to look at it as a businessman who runs a large company here, but I’m a member of the community as well.”
At that point, Gregory shared the personal side of the hard business times and continued personal attacks over his decisions. He said there are “blogs and letters – we’re hearing in spades from people about this decision.” Gregory discussed the personal impacts of often mean comments about him and his work. He said his family has suffered from the ongoing and negative responses on the layoffs and other past decisions. Gregory said he and his wife Bonnie have separated. He said for one thing she does not want to engage in the rough life of corporate decisions, and he still does. “We have an empty nest at home,” he said. “We’re going in different directions. The environment is taking us away from each other.” He said that he does accept that pressures from the community go with his job.
And, to the community he will go with a Town Hall meeting in early July in June Lake. It appears the June Lake Community Advisory Committee will meet and Gregory will speak July 10. Meanwhile, the Forest Service is trying to catch up with the sudden news about June Mountain. Public Information Officer Nancy Upham said this:
“The Forest Service does not take this decision by Mammoth Mtn. Ski Area lightly and we will work with MMSA officials regarding the terms of their permit. We are interested in a long-term sustainable operation, and right now we have more questions than answers, which may be the case across the board. District Ranger Jon Regelbrugge is out of town right now and is expected back next Wednesday. When he returns he will be sitting down with Rusty Gregory and others from MMSA to begin to address the ramifications and the decision that MMSA has made to take some time for future planning for June Mtn. Ski Area.”