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Rusty Gregory says he knows what one of Mammothâ€™s problem is, and that it is he himself.
In a carefully crafted speech in front of the Town Council on Wednesday night, the CEO of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area made good on his promise, made early in the week, to step into the murky, tempestuous waters of town politics.
He also promised to throw the weight of the Eastern Sierraâ€™s biggest economic engineâ€”the ski areaâ€”into the townâ€™s effort to survive its daunting, short-term financial obstacles, creating in the end a solid growth cycle.
Gregory, often glib in public settings, appeared to be dead-on serious this time.
â€śI am an impediment to the growth and prosperity of our resort community,â€ť he began.
Twelve minutes later, at the end of the speech, Gregory intoned, â€śWe have to fundamentally change, and the Mountain will fundamentally change, I promise you that.â€ť
With those two statements acting as bookends, Gregory castigated the Town Council as well as Mammothâ€™s townspeople, arguing that it in the townâ€™s characterâ€”its â€śgene pool,â€ť as he put itâ€” that has put the town in a cycle of economic stagnation.
â€śI came here 34 years ago to learn how to ski. Like many, I stayed around, maybe too long, and I stay because Mammoth was a place that I could do what I wanted, when I wanted, how I wanted, for the purposes that I wanted.
â€śWe have a gene pool thatâ€™s made up of a lot of those kinds of people, which is what makes Mammoth a very interesting place to live. It also makes it a very difficult community to lead because youâ€™re full of a gene pool that wants to do things when they want to do it and how they want to do it, and they have very strong opinions.
â€śThere are a lot of people who stay where they grew up, not that theyâ€™re followersâ€”they do radically idiosyncratic things as wellâ€”but to come to a difficult, harsh environment like Mammoth, do your business, raise your kids, try to build institutions that are strong and stable, thatâ€™s one hell of a challenge.
â€śThe kind of people it takes to do that are people like us, who have very strong opinions. But I can tell you that as Iâ€™ve gotten older and have more responsibilityâ€”I came here to have fun and to pay for it by being a lift operatorâ€”and I am where I am today, rightly or wrongly, but I still hold to those basic ideas. Holding to that is part of what has contributed â€¦ to the circumstances of Mammoth Lakes today.â€ť
The only way out of the townâ€™s $29.5 million, 23-year judgment against it, he said, is to grow as a cohesive community, with a shared vision, and to put aside the individualistic habits that Mammoth has fostered since its beginning.
â€śWhen you have a significant obligation thatâ€™s going to last for a long time [the judgment], one that probably doesnâ€™t make sense to pay off early if you do the time/value of money calculations, from a finance standpoint, that obligation is only going to feel like a lesser obligation if we can create the resources to minimize it,â€ť Gregory said.
â€śThe only way to create the resources to minimize it is to bring more people to the town of Mammoth Lakes, because whether we like it or not, whether we want to diversify or not, the business of the Town of Mammoth Lakes, the economics of Town of Mammoth Lakes, are dramatically influenced by tourism.
â€śIâ€™m not sure how many of us here just want to survive. Just surviving is no small feat here, given what weâ€™ve faced the last several years. I donâ€™t think thatâ€™s our objective, even though that may seem out of reach to many of us these days.
â€śAfter a few years of drought, after financial meltdowns, and after all of the things that weâ€™ve faced, survival seems like a pretty lofty goal at this point.
â€śBut the way Iâ€™m thinking, and the way that Iâ€™ve acted and the way that Iâ€™ve been running the company, has been an impediment to the very things that we need to do to fix the problem, which is to grow.â€ť
Using resorts such as Vail and Northstar (Tahoe) as examples, Gregory rhetorically asked,
â€śWhy do other places have the things that they do, and we still seem to be working on making our flush toilets work?
â€śI donâ€™t know what it is, but I can tell you that Iâ€™m part of that problem. Itâ€™s because I want to do it my way, when I want to do it, how I want to do it. And now I run a big company and I have a lot of clout to back up that attitude, and I need to change that attitude, and I covet to you tonight in front of the Town Council and the community, Iâ€™ll do that in a very big way and Iâ€™ll talk about that in ways that I think other people can get behind.â€ť
Gregory declined to get into specifics, saying the timing isnâ€™t right, given the townâ€™s current re-structuring efforts to meet the first wave of settlement payments.
Rather, he painted in broad brushstrokes a future that is sustainable and cooperative.
â€śI know that if I think about it differently, we can figure out a way to pool our vision by creating it together and really working through it. Thereâ€™s not going to be a free lunch. Weâ€™re going to have to argue through the politics and without having the government as a proxy for doing it, and then beating them up for doing it, when we canâ€™t figure out how to do it as a group.â€ť
In ending, Gregory laid out some big promises.
â€śThe Mountain will be different, and I mean very different. We wonâ€™t compete with the rest of you. We will follow behind the collective â€¦ vision, with commitment, with resources committed to it.â€ť