The new owner of Bear Mountain and Snow Summit has begun considering upgrades to Southern California's top local peaks, including plans to expand mountain biking trails and connect the two neighboring resorts.
Mammoth Resorts, the operator of Mammoth Mountain and June Mountain in the Sierra Nevada, completed the estimated $38-million deal over the weekend to acquire the two resorts in the San Bernardino Mountains, putting Mammoth Resorts in control of more than 4,000 acres of skiable land in California.
Mammoth Resorts Chief Executive Rusty Gregory said his company will hold off on making any major changes to Bear Mountain or Snow Summit until he and his staff have met with resort employees and neighbors. He expects to hold community meetings as soon as April.
"We have a lot to learn," he said in an interview. "There is no way we can, from our distant location, understand the opportunities there."
California's four-year drought has hit ski resorts hard, with ski visits dropping as much as 45% at some mountains last year. Gregory said he hopes to expand summer activities in the Southern California resorts by adding biking and hiking trails and zip line courses to make up for the drop in visitors in the dry years and to draw people in during the summer months.
Snow Summit uses two lifts to carry mountain bikes and riders to the top during warmer months.
Gregory said he would also like to add new ski and snowboard trails that would run between Bear Mountain and Snow Summit, which are separated by about one mile of forestland.
"I think we have a good opportunity to connect the two mountains," Gregory said. The company already is selling an annual pass that gives snow enthusiasts access to all four resorts.
The acquisition is significant for Southern California skiers, who represent 85% of the visitors to Mammoth Mountain, a resort with 3,500 acres of skiable terrain and 28 lifts. Mammoth Resorts also owns the smaller operation at neighboring June Mountain.
Snow Summit and Bear Mountain are two of the most popular day-trip ski destinations in Southern California.
By putting them under the control of Mammoth Resorts, the company is expected to host about 2 million visitors a year, nearly all from Southern California. That would surpass the total annual visitors of Canada's Whistler-Blackcomb, North America's most popular ski resort.
The move reflects a larger consolidation trend in the ski industry and the slow demise of mom-and-pop resorts over the last several years.
Snow Summit bought out its neighbor and biggest competitor, Big Bear Resorts, in 2002. Snow Summit announced in June 2013 that it had hired international banking firm Houlihan Lokey to look for buyers because several shareholders wanted to liquidate their interests.
Mammoth Resorts won the bid to acquire Snow Summit and Bear Mountain.
"Mammoth, by acquiring Bear Mountain and Snow Summit, protects the L.A. market for itself," said Bob Roberts, executive director of the California Ski Industry Assn., a trade group for the industry.
Roberts said neighbors in Big Bear should not worry that Mammoth Resorts will force unwanted changes on the community.
He noted that Gregory has been in previous debates with neighbors over the future of local communities at the base of Mammoth Mountain and June Mountain. "From that experience, he is sensitive to the folks at Big Bear," Roberts said.
As part of the acquisition, Mammoth Resorts has also purchased about 130 acres at the base of the resorts, occupied by parking lots and a golf course.
Gregory said he is not sure what type of development his company will propose for that land.
"We are coming to the community to see how they view their future," he said.