As for the town's municipal bankruptcy, it was officially dismissed Nov. 16, and out-of-towners are unlikely to spot any signs of it. Though the number of police in town could be cut from 17 to as few as 10, the Town Council (knowing that local government gets most of its income from taxes paid by tourists) is so far leaving hotel tax rates the same (about 13%) and continuing to pay for the free shuttle buses that carry visitors around Mammoth Lakes. Management at Mammoth Mountain continues to bankroll the shuttle buses that carry skiers and boarders four miles up the road from the town to the ski area's main lodge.
I was surprised to hear that last summer, while the Town Council was struggling with a bankruptcy and settlement plan, many of the innkeepers and restaurateurs of Mammoth were doing pretty well, enjoying a long season of sales.
Stuart Need, owner of the Lakanuki bar, said his summer income was up about 12% over the year before. John Urdi, executive director of Mammoth Lakes Tourism, reports that the town's hotel tax revenue from June through September hit an all-time high this year, up 6.5% from the summer before.
"The events were packed, and you couldn't find a place to park. It was great. And it was a long summer," said George Shirk, news editor of the Mammoth Times. Among local entrepreneurs, Shirk said, "Nobody's complaining about the summer."
Meanwhile, 20 miles north in June Lake, this winter looks daunting, whether snow comes or not. With about 800 residents in a community surrounded by four scenic lakes, June gets many summer fishermen and families. But for decades its winters have been dominated by June Mountain, the ski area (on U.S. Forest Service land) that has been owned by the Mammoth Mountain resort company since the 1980s.
In June, when Mammoth Mountain was struggling with the red ink from the previous low-snow winter, management decided to shut June Mountain for this winter, leaving the community's eateries and lodgings with plenty of gorgeous scenery but no tourism centerpiece.
The embattled community responded by creating a series of homespun special events, including a village-lighting ceremony Dec. 15, a February winter-sports triathlon and a March snowmobile rally (for details, go to visitjune.com.
At June Lake's Double Eagle Resort & Spa, owner Connie Black has cut her prevailing winter rental rates by $100 — from $369 to $269 a night for a two-bedroom cabin. At the Sierra Inn Restaurant, owner Candy Logue said she would drop prices about 15% and open only for winter weekends and holiday weeks, not regular week days. Ernie's Tackle & Ski Shop will cut back its hours similarly.
Many in the community took comfort in Mammoth Mountain management's vow (made in early November by Chief Executive Rusty Gregory) to reopen the June Mountain ski operation in the winter of 2013-14. But there's no denying a difficult winter is ahead.
"Everyone's working together to make this winter as good as we can make it," Black said, but "there's a fine line between optimism and hallucination."