June Mountain Reopening is a Family Affair
It was fitting that the first two chairlift riders of the 2013-14 ski season at June Mountain Friday morning were children. After being closed for 364 days to reassess where the ski area in the Eastern Sierras belongs in the multi-billion-dollar snow sports industry, Mammoth powers that be decided the focus needs to be on kids (and their credit card-carrying parents).
That's Mammoth with a capital "M" because the world-class Mammoth Mountain resort 20 or so miles south off U.S. 395 share the same ownership as the smaller, more rustic June Mountain ski area. The recession, low-snowfall years and the (here we go again) mammoth popularity of you-know-where in comparison to June led to taking last ski season off, which wasn't exactly popular with workers nor the June Lake community.
Mammoth CEO Rusty Gregory, who took the brunt of the local criticism for closing June and laying off 75 workers at his flagship resort last season, explained moments before a Champagne toast to reopen June that the off year was spent touring similar ski operations around the world.
"We hadn't done June justice," confided Gregory, who announced before this season began that he will not run day-to-day operations at either ski property. "You can't do stuff the same old way and expect different results."
The Mammoth brass eventually realized that June should not try to be all things to all skiers (like ... well ... you know).
"Why try to compete with Mammoth?" Carl Williams, June's general manager, asked rhetorically before Gregory had spoken. "It didn't make sense."
Neither did it make sense to tear a page from Big Bear Lake, where Snow Summit is the resort destination (ala Mammoth, only much smaller) and Bear Mountain is geared toward snowboarders. Tim LeRoy, whose Lyman Public Relations does PR work for the Mammoth properties, explained on a chair ride up to the slope something SoCal shredders will read as blasphemous: snowboarding is on the decline as fat stubby skis do everything boards can and are better in deep powder than previous generations of skis.
What the head honchos who pay LeRoy found does make sense is playing up June's natural beauty and strength as a winter destination for families with thin wallets and young children. "June is a lot less intimidating," Gregory explained. "At Mammoth you can get on the wrong lift or the wrong trail and end up nine miles away with no way back."
To send a message to ticket buyers and the ski-resort business that June is serious about sewing up the young family market, kids will ski free there through the foreseeable future, something Gregory couched as "a no-strings-attached, no corporate B.S.," available-every-open-day-of-the-season deal.
Another example of that commitment is June having, as Williams put it, "blown up" its ski instruction program, focusing on ensuring that children and others who check in for the first lesson of their lives in the morning are riding the chairlift to the bunny slopes by the afternoon.
June will still have the groomed runs for all abilities and open back country that parents (and non-parents) can hit after dropping the kiddies off at ski school. But to hear Williams tell it, he and his staff are approaching the season as an open canvas, waiting for feedback of customers to dictate what direction June Mountain will follow in the future.
When it comes to goals, Gregory looks at the entire Eastern Sierra Mountains region and hopes to have 2 million winter visitors, which would break down to 1.7 million at Mammoth and 300,000 at June. But Williams said earlier he will not measure success by a set number of visitors but the right kind: young families.
Of course, ever the realist, Williams added, "It will be a successful year if it snows." That hasn't happened enough in recent years to generate the kind of revenue stream needed to re-invest into the ski area, he confided.