Saturday, November 17, 2018



Summer Storm Clouds Over Mammoth Mountain
  • Most people don't talk much about global warming. Don't really think much about the altered texture of their lives caused by increasingly erratic weather. Bigger storms. Longer more severe droughts. Higher temperatures. With the mercury hitting triple digits across much of the state this summer Mammoth saw an influx of heat wave escapees. Temperatures in Mammoth were in the pleasant 70's and low 80's most of the summer cooling to the 40's and 50's at night. Urbanites, miserable with the prospect of rendering down hot footing it across bubbling expanses of asphalt, bolted to the mountains in droves. Our mountains.
Minaret Lake and the Minarets Before a Thunderstorm
  • After all, it's almost always a grand time to be here. This year the upper reaches held snow into August and streams continue to flow even now.  Take a hike and you'll encounter vestiges of lupin, Indian paintbrush and asters scattered among the first turning leaves of fall.
The Lakes Basin at Dusk
  •  In Mammoth the wilderness is just outside your door. Recently, my wife and I, pent up from hours prepping for winter, painting railings and staining decks, drove to the Emerald Lake trail head  (4 miles) and hiked/bushwhacked the TJ Lake loop trail. It was so quiet we caught ourselves whispering. 4 miles and a couple blissful hours later we were ready to get back to our chores.

One Local taking the Retaining Wall Express to Twin Lakes
  •  We weren't the only ones enjoying a pleasant hike.  Critters of all kinds are preparing for winter. Fattening up and stashing food. Deer have been pruning neighborhood landscaping and squirrels are busy caching pine cones in forgettable hideouts.

Bright Dot Lake and Mount Baldwin

The Meadow Above Mildred Lake

Convict Canyon

Wednesday, June 27, 2018


The the strong Mammoth Lakes real estate market of 2017 continued through the first quarter of 2018 with a nearly 10% jump in the number of condo units sold over the first quarter of last year. The median price of sold condos surged ahead 17% to $380,000. While the total value of condos sold in the first quarter spiked by 28% to nearly 38 million dollars.  Condo listing inventories over the last 18 months have been constrained, hovering near historic lows.

Home sales volume was nearly unchanged from the first quarter of 2017. 17 homes changed hands this first quarter compared to last year's 19. But, the median price bounced up to $850,000, a 21% increase over last year's $700,000 median.  The small number of homes listed for sale during 2017 and into 2018 confounded many home buyers limiting the number of transactions. We see inventories of available condos and homes increasing into the summer.

Sunday, December 31, 2017


Ten years after the fact it's easy to forget about The Great Recession. The sub prime mortgage crisis that led, in 2008, to the collapse of investment houses, Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns. The shuttering of banking giants IndyMac, Countrywide, and Washington Mutual and hundreds of smaller banks. The near panic that prompted the Troubled Asset Relief Program and bailouts of financial institutions, the auto industry and insurance companies. The tens of thousands of homes sold in foreclosure. The millions of jobs lost. The slip slide of real estate and the stock market. The Great Recession of 2008 was like being grazed by a gigantic life ending asteroid.

It took 7 years for most of the country's real estate values to fully recover. But in May of 2015 median home prices in the United States topped pre-recession highs. The trend since 2015 has been mostly upward. Some premium markets—including San Francisco/Silicon Valley, and Southern California beach cities—have even entered what some are calling "bubble" territory. 

Mammoth's real estate recovery has been on a much slower trajectory. Property values in Mammoth began to decline after peaking in late 2005. By 2012 most condominiums had lost over 40% of their value.  It wasn't until 2015 that real estate prices showed a clear move upward and not until the Fall of 2016 that listing inventories started to tighten. 

Today there are just 64 condos and 31 homes listed in Mammoth. By contrast during the summer of 2016 condo listings topped 150; homes, topped 80. Now listings are being snapped up faster than they can be replaced.

Strong demand last year pushed condo sales to 386 units—an increase of 30%  over the number of condos sold in 2016.  The median condo price in Mammoth Lakes jumped 17% to $350,000. Single family residential sales, bedeviled by even tighter inventories, climbed 3% from the previous year to 91 homes, while the median home price reached $770,000, a 7% increase from 2016. Although property values have recovered in the last 2 years they are still 20-30% below 2005 peaks.

No single factor is responsible for our real estate market's recovery. Pent up demand; a record breaking, drought breaking winter; the strengthening economy; pure, runaway exhilaration at the prospect of making America truly "great again".  Okay, maybe not that last one.

 The acquisition last July of Mammoth Resorts by KSL Capital Partners and Aspen Skiing Company added another catalyst. Visions of vast inflows of cash, massive capital improvements, and exciting new commercial developments may be premature, but someone saw big value in Mammoth Resorts and parted with a reported $850 million to buy them. 

Monday, July 31, 2017


Today Aspen Skiing Company and KSL Capital Partners, a private equity firm, announced the completion of the purchase of Mammoth Resorts. Rusty Gregory, CEO of Mammoth Mountain for 21 years and investor in the new company, is stepping aside to become a senior strategic advisor. Mark Brownlie, chief operating officer of Mammoth Resorts will continue as COO and has also been named president.

This transaction along with the completion of the purchase of Intrawest's ski holdings combines 12 ski areas that range from Stratton Mountain in Vermont to Mount Tremblant in Quebec to Steamboat and Winter Park in Colorado to Mammoth and Squaw Valley in California. 

No terms of the Mammoth Resorts deal were disclosed in today's news release.

Sunday, May 7, 2017


In a deal that was reportedly negotiated over the course of a year, Aspen Ski Company and KSL Partners, a private equity firm, agreed to acquire Mammoth Resorts for a sum rumored to be worth   $500-$800 billion.  The partnership, in a separate transaction, acquired Intrawest and it's ski resorts for $1.5 billion. The Mammoth purchase, subject to regulatory review, is expected to close in the third quarter of this year and, when completed, will create a consortium of 15 ski resorts.

Rusty Gregory, Mammoth's Chief Executive Officer, addressed a group of about 100 locals on Monday, April 24th to address the ramifications of the deal. He plans to remain CEO at Mammoth for now he said.  But, as a 63 year old divorced man sitting on, potentially millions of dollars, he wants to explore his options.

The most anticipated consequence of the transaction for Mammoth will be an infusion of capital into the Mountain. Over the next 10 years Mammoth plans to invest $100 million in lift and gondola improvements according to Gregory. On top of that many millions will be sought for a new base facility at Eagle Run to replace the existing sprung structure and, for a new Main Lodge and renovated Canyon Lodge.

 Amidst these rosy expectations, some observers have begun to question where the cash will come from. When Starwood Capital bought Mammoth Mountain for $365 million in 2005 it saddled the ski area with debt and an interest burden reported to be over $20 million per year. Having just ponied up at least $2 billion for recent acquisitions, how much borrowing power does Aspen-KSL have?  With 15 resorts crying for attention like baby birds, how likely is it for Mammoth to get the worm?

The effects on real estate so far are hard to sort out. Real estate inventories this winter were already tight. Recently there were only 31 homes and 83 condos listed in Mammoth. Well priced properties coming on market are being snapped up quickly. Sierra Escrow reported opening 100 escrows last month. If inventories continue to be constrained as the ski season winds down—a period of historically expanding listings—then values should rise.

Thursday, February 16, 2017


A Neighbor's Driveway
So much for not having storms like the old days. Back when we'd get 3, or 4, or even 5 feet in a cycle. Looking for winter's Noah now.  Looking for Snoah.

All the roof shovelers are driving new pickups and popping into real estate offices. While the contract snow services that get a fixed amount at the beginning of the year for a season's snow removal, are queued up for small business loans. Too many 13 hour days that start at 3:00 am. Too many days in a row. Payrolls looking like a small country's.

January just kept ripping. 245.5 inches of snowfall at the Main Lodge. That doesn't account for the precip that fell as rain. Water content of the snow pack in our section of the Sierras is running close to 200% of normal for this time of the year. 82 more inches have fallen so far in February bringing the season total at the Main Lodge to 432". The forty year season average through  2010-11 was 343 inches.

The comedians at the Weather Channel are predicting another snowy week ahead. Still, there have been breaks. The Mountain is in fabulous shape and the Town has gotten cleaned up.  Plan a trip. This winter is not to be missed.

Monday, August 15, 2016


Wouldn't it be nice to have a condo in Mammoth. A winter retreat for skiing; and a summer refuge for biking, fishing and hiking.  And wouldn't it be great if other people would help you pay for it.

"Will my rents cover the cost of ownership?" I've heard that a lot selling Mammoth real estate for more than 36 years. Until recently, I was quick to caution that rentals would help defray some of the costs of ownership but would rarely, and only in cash transactions, cover all expenses.

The reason was simple, traditional condo reservation companies charge 35% to over 50% of the gross rental receipts. These charges include towel, linen and maid services, advertising, rental bookings and key pickup. It's easy to see how $24,000 -$50,000 in gross receipts could be whittled down to as little as $12,000 -$25,000 by fees.

With the growth of the internet that calculus has has tipped in condo owners favor.  Popular sites like Airbnb charge owners a modest 6% processing fee. Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO) levys a once per year listing fee starting at $349. Renters pay the cleaning and taxes. Local representatives—required by the Town—will shoot photos, post property listings, maintain calendars and troubleshoot problems for as little as 10% of rental revenue.

Today the answer to the rental question is yes, you should be able to cover your expenses, and depending on the size of your mortgage, put  money in your pocket.

Years ago my company did a rental computation and concluded that the average condo owner could expect between 85 and 110 nights of bookings in an average snow year provided owners made their properties available on key holidays. With today's internet marketing sites, and with owners committed to maximizing their properties rental potential, both rental nights and rental revenue have climbed.

Thursday, May 5, 2016


It's snowing. Lumpy grapple. Some local forecasters are predicting up to 15 inches of accumulation on the upper reaches of Mammoth Mountain by the end of  Mother's Day weekend. Any new precipitation, any delay in the Spring melt, is welcome.

Mammoth Mountain Ski Area had it's best year in over 4 years in both revenue (details to come) and snowfall (358 inches and counting).  As 2016 began it seemed local real estate markets were responding. Especially the condo market. Inventories were trimmed back from more than 200 listings last summer to just over 150 by New Years Day. There was the giddy sense that, after an unusually long delay, we would follow the big price recoveries in real estate 'down south'.  Like our market (almost) always has. Well, not so fast.

Here are the numbers: 67 condos sold in the 2016 first quarter, compared with 66 during the same period in 2015. While the median price nudged up to $300,000 from $294,500 in 2015, the average price dropped 3.47% to $352,314 from $364,558. Condos listed for sale remain at a slim 156.

HOMES                                                     CONDOS
On the residential side, 16 homes sold in the first three months of this year compared with 18 in the first three of last year. The median price slipped 5% to $862,000; the average price declined by 27.5% to $927,285. Just 43 homes are offered for sale in Mammoth, a 4 year low.

Despite the climate change denialists, including one local weatherman, it appears that resort real estate shoppers are hedging their bets. What if Senator Jim Inhoffe is wrong. What if there's more than a snowball's chance that humans are largely responsible for global warming. 

Snow levels will rise and skiing will be affected. Happily Mammoth, with a summit of 11,053', is in the best position of any California ski area to weather that storm.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016


Some people were expecting more. Alright, I was expecting more. Wasn't this supposed to be the biggest El Niño ever. Bigger even than the 1997-98 monster that brought more than 30 inches of rain to California's coast and 451 inches of snow to Mammoth Mountain. Someone at NASA even called the current El Niño a "Godzilla" as it was building back in the fall.

We may not be getting the big dumps that California needs but things could be worse. The Mountain reported 237 inches of snowfall at the Main Lodge through January. That's nearly 140% of average (170.5 inches) for snowfall for that date over the last 43 years. Great start.

Heck, through February the 43 year average snowfall has been just 244 inches and with the storm last week our season total has plumped up to 257 inches. But, February usually sees 73 1/2 inches of snow, it's 55 degrees out and we're looking at clear skies and warm temps for the rest of the month.
Curiously, folks at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, are still predicting normal to above normal precipitation for the rest of the season.

Photo NOAA
Skiing is great and I guess we should be happy for what we've got. It's just,
you don't load up on popcorn to go to the petting zoo.
MARCH 4 UPDATE: A strong weather system is taking aim at the Sierra Nevada this weekend. The Mountain could see as much as 3 feet of snow. Prospects for continued precipitation throughout the week have diminished somewhat in updated forecasts but the situation remains fluid. Stay tuned.