For a moment it seemed Mammoth would not close at all this year. But the global warming reasserted itself and, with the snow melting faster than expected, the closure date was set to August 6th marking it the second longest season in the entire history of the mountain.
The 2016/2017 was a truly exceptional winter (and spring, and summer): the level of snowfall surpassed only once since 1970 and we skied and snowboarded not only on Memorial Day but also on the Fourth of July. With the bike park opening on June 23, Mammoth may be the only American resort where you can bike and ski at the same time on the same mountain.
The epic snow brought more people than the small ski town could accomodate and now some of the visitors turned away in the winter vow to avoid the repeat and are looking to buy their own place. The current owners, hoping to get a good price, are more than happy to oblige - the for sale signs abound.
Some of the more enthusiastic buyers may be in for a rude awakening when they realize that the town of Mammoth Lakes restricts short-term rentals to multi-family condominium buildings. Renting out a spare bedroom or letting out the ski house on alternate weekends is not an option to cope with the mortgage.
Is short-term renting to visitors a boon or bane for local population? A lot of digital ink has been spilled over this question in San Francisco, New York and similar big cities but I didn’t expect to find a small resort town smack dab in the middle of the debate.
The data supports both sides: short-term rentals do and don’t significantly impact housing supply or affordability.
Opponents complain about noise and inconvenience caused by visitors in quiet residential neighborhoods. Proponents quote the property rights and additional funds: the town of Mammoth Lakes collects 13% transient occupancy tax which accounts for around two-thirds of its gross revenue.
Short-term rentals are supposedly causing housing shortages because hosting to visitors is believed to be significantly more lucrative that having long-term tenants. Regularly living for 6 to 12 months in vacation destinations I’ve heard this argument more times that I care to recall when negotiating with property owners.
It’s true that during the peak season houses can be rented out every night for the price far exceeding what people will pay to live there full time. But off-season houses stay virtually empty generating no income at all. Average it over the entire year and factor in expense, risk and time associated with dealing with tens or sometimes hundreds of actual and potential renters, and the yearly income ends up very much the same whether the house is rented short or long-term.
While the short and long-term rental prices move in lock-step one is not the ultimate cause of the other; the housing supply driven by zoning regulations is. Introducing renting restrictions as New York and Mammoth Lakes did or may temporarily slow down the process but the real solution requires facilitating construction of more houses. In a country with growing population and affluence, more people will want to spend their free time skiing. Residents of Mammoth Lakes would do themselves a favor to realize that instead of clinging to a dream of a quiet ski town of the bygone era.
Condos and houses are not the only properties to change hands this summer - the ski resort itself is under agreement. It may be good news for season pass holders as the new owner competes with Vail Resorts, the company behing the popular Epic Pass that costs significantly less than the typical pass and covers multiple mountains. The lower season pass price will bring more visitors and put more pressure on Mammoth Lakes owners to open houses to visitors. It may be time to rethink the Measure Z and return the power to change zoning regulations to the town hall.