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Mammoth Questions

November 15, 1998

Just after World War II, there was one man, one mountain and one rudimentary ski lift. Over the years, Dave McCoy built Mammoth Mountain into possibly the nation's best skiing mountain. The adjacent town of Mammoth Lakes remained a somewhat rustic, quiet village with no major resort hotels or focused town center. Most of Mammoth's visitors drove up from Southern California for weekends of skiing, fishing, camping or backpacking.

All that is changing, dramatically, at Mammoth Lakes and mountain resort towns throughout the West. Deep-pocket developers are transforming such areas into up-scale destination resorts appealing to the well-to-do. The attractions now extend to golf, tennis, mountain biking and other recreation pursuits. The goal is to fill hotels and restaurants throughout the week both in winter and summer, to bring customers into new luxury boutiques and to sell expensive second homes.

The danger at Mammoth and other resorts, as detailed last week by The Times' Frank Clifford, is that rampant development will harm the surrounding mountain environment and its wildlife, overwhelm local facilities such as schools and sewer and water systems and price local workers out of the housing market.

At Mammoth Lakes, the Canadian firm Intrawest has bought most of the McCoy family's interest in the ski area and all of its developable land in town. Intrawest and others are expected to invest from $500 million to $1 billion in the area over the next 10 years, some of it coming from a community redevelopment agency.

Must money and success destroy the natural amenities of Mammoth Lakes? Not necessarily. But the investors have a responsibility to work closely with the town and the environmental community to guard against unnecessary natural degradation, to provide affordable housing for resort workers and to participate in community education, arts and cultural programs.

Intrawest should strive to make its Mammoth project an example of how to do it right. If it does, the company, as well as a grateful community, will reap the benefit.

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