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The privatization of ski areas isn’t just trending in Utah. Around the country, developers are turning to exclusive models to make the most out of an industry that already caters to the well-to-do.
But can a resort that’s traditionally been public suddenly go private and cater only to the wealthy?
It may well depend on your neighbors — and your legislators — as developers of one California destination recently learned.
Homewood Mountain Resort has one of the most glorious views of Lake Tahoe of any of the ski areas around the lake. It’s also one of the smallest, lowest in elevation and most difficult to get to. Though it’s situated midway between Tahoe City and South Lake Tahoe, the highway from South Lake can close when there is heavy snow, and skiers from the north pass no fewer than six other resorts along the way.
To keep it profitable, owner JMA Ventures and developer Discovery Land Company last year moved toward privatizing the resort. In November, they submitted a letter to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency stating that they planned to sell memberships and season passes while discontinuing daily ticket sales. The memberships and passes would be tied to ownership of homes at Homewood and within scant other homeowner associations.
Obligated to open the resort to the public by its 2011 master plan — which also provided for the construction of a hotel, condos and employee housing — however, Homewood’s caretakers said in the letter that they would allow public access for a few days each month. None of those days would be weekends or holidays.
Local residents and business owners revolted.
In addition, the regional planning agency rejected the notion that privatizing the resort fell within the bounds of the 2011 master plan. The central tenet of that plan is to “restore Homewood as a key gathering center for Lake Tahoe’s West Shore and to maintain the heritage of a ski resort that can be enjoyed equally by local residents and visitors.”
Making it a private resort, regional planning agency spokesperson Jeff Cowen told local publication Moon Shine Ink, would require a revision and reapproval of the 2011 master plan.
So now the developers are walking back their plans.
Earlier this month they said they will instead seek to create a hybrid model that includes both the sale of memberships and the sale of season passes and day tickets. That is similar to the model employed at Powder Mountain, where homeowners get priority access to season passes but passes and tickets are still available in limited numbers to the public. Powder’s general manager Kevin Mitchell held the same position at Homewood until moving to the Eden area last year.
“Clearly, there has to be a membership component because of the costs of replacing infrastructure,” JMA president Art Chapman told Moon Shine, “and we can’t rely on a small commuter ski area particularly because of the inability to get there.”
Leaders of the grassroots organization Keep Homewood Public, which formed earlier this year to fight the privatization of the resort, are dubious of those promises, though. They point to projects in other countries that they say Discovery pushed through quickly and without public comment. According to KHP, by the time people pushed back, the projects had too much construction and momentum behind them to reverse course.
That playbook may sound familiar to the people of Morgan County.
Construction of Wasatch Peaks Ranch, the ultraluxe ski area and golf course being built near Peterson, began immediately after the county council approved new zoning in 2019 — zoning that was challenged by local residents. Confusion has existed ever since about which zoning ordinance is valid, and the case is headed for the Utah Supreme Court.
If the new zoning is overturned, Wasatch Peaks Ranch could suffer considerable financial losses. Still, construction there continues.
This season Wasatch Peaks is expected to have three ski lifts and several houses completed.
Wasatch Peaks Ranch is modeled after Montana’s Yellowstone Club. The developer of the Yellowstone Club was none other than Discovery Land Company.