Mammoth Lakes has a large variety of condominiums and most were conceived and developed as vacation homes and weekend getaway homes.
A large percentage of these condos are still owned and used for this purpose. Many are increasingly becoming a more permanent (or semi-permanent) lifestyle housing component for retiring baby boomers. There are approximately 8,000 condominiums in Mammoth Lakes in nearly 100 separate homeowners associations (HOAs). Potential buyers have an array of floor-plans, bedroom and bathroom configurations, locations, architectural styles, amenities and features to choose from.
Many potential buyers have rented (over time on a nightly basis) a mixture of units to “test drive” the different options. And while most condominium projects have remained resort/vacation homes in nature, the affordability of condominiums (versus single-family) has driven many local residents into condo ownership. Condominium (in California) is a legal form of ownership and “townhome” and condo and condo hotel are different styles of condominium units.
Mammoth Condos are an Extremely Valuable Segment of the Local Real Estate Market
Because of the restrictions on nightly rentals in most of the single-family neighborhoods, the condos provide a significant portion of Mammoth’s rentable bed base, and hence a significant portion of the bed tax (known in Mammoth as TOT – transient occupancy tax). TOT provides more than half of the Town’s revenue which in turn insures the snow removal and maintenance of roads, law enforcement, etc.
The nightly rental or “reservation” business is substantial and very competitive in Mammoth. The reservation business has evolved from many mom-and-pop businesses run by the resident onsite condo managers to professionally run “offsite” reservation programs. Some onsite programs remain and are often owned by the HOA. The internet has radically changed the business model but it remains a labor intensive business.
Condo owners are free to choose which company represents them, even units in the condo hotel properties. The rise of website services like VRBO (VacationRentalsByOwner.com) and others have allowed owners to be more involved and keep more of the revenue. Ultimately, there are many different arrangements owners can utilize to generate revenue.
The History of Condominium Projects and Builders in Mammoth Dates Back to the mid-1960’s
Some of the very early projects were collaborations of contractors that eventually became separate developers of their own condo projects. The basic styles of units that were built in the 60’s are essentially the same as today, just larger and more modern. The two styles could be described as “stacked” and “townhome.” Projects like Sierra Manors (on Old Mammoth Road) and Mountain Shadows are some of the original stacked type properties.
They were designed and constructed with very little storage, no washer dryer hook-ups, and some of the upstairs units often had weird (and substandard) lofts accessed with ladders and ladder/stairs with no windows, etc. They were designed with relatively full-sized kitchens and bathrooms and of course fireplaces or free standing wood burning appliances that sometimes looked like space ships.
These condominiums were really conceived as just weekend getaway spots; pack the station wagon for the weekend and come ski at Mr. McCoy’s mountain!
The townhome style units of that era are often the “Chateau” units found primarily up Chateau Road (and built by Ross Mather who in 2014 was still alive and living in Mammoth). These town home units (including some with garages) shared walls side-to-side but did not have units above and below like the stacked units. They typically feature larger rooms and great rooms, washer/dryer areas, walk-in closets and extra storage closets, separate and private decks, and the “park-in-front amenity” (which people discover is quite convenient during snowstorm).
One of the most famous old real estate brokers in Mammoth described these units as “oldies but goodies” (I can’t take credit for that one). Many of these projects were developed with less density than today’s projects.
The late 1970’s and 1980 period was a boom time in Mammoth. Real estate values were some of the highest compared to other ski resorts in North America. Numerous “modern” projects were built in scattered locations throughout town, often identified by their original tongue-and-groove cedar siding. Most have been well maintained over the years and still have that natural siding. They include Snowflower, Sunrise, MeadowRidge, Mountainback, Woodlands, etc.
The Most Prolific Condominium Builder in Mammoth was Tom Dempsey
In the early 1970’s he was responsible for many of the “Dempsey projects” including all of the “Four” projects (Discovery Four, Seasons Four, Horizons Four, Sunshine Village, Viewpoint, etc.) which all have similar floor-plans that are stacked on top of each other; the 1-bedroom+lofts were on top of the 1-bedroom units and the 2-bedroom+loft units are on top of the 2-bedroom units.
These projects were very “resort” in character in that they had central common areas that featured check-in offices (today’s “front desk”), pools, spas, saunas, recreation rooms, laundry, etc. and even some tennis courts. These projects were specifically designed for owners who wanted to generate rental income alongside their regular owner usage.
Dempsey purchased the 355 acres in the Meadow in the late 1970’s and began the Snowcreek Master Plan. He developed well into Phase 5 before his passing. The Mammoth Creek creekside setting in Phases 1, 2 and 3 is one of the finest in all of Mammoth. These phases feature a combination of 1-bedroom stacked units and 2-bedroom+loft and 3-bedroom+loft townhomes. The projects are low density but unlike the previous developments, the rental operations and the recreation amenities (except the spas) were centralized to the Snowcreek Athletic Club and the Snowcreek rental office.
Phase 4 of Snowcreek was developed in the mid-1980’s and featured the first project with propane forced-air gas heating. There are also deluxe townhomes with 2-car garages. Phase 5, also known as The Fairway Homes, on the far side of the Snowcreek golf course features more of the deluxe 2-car garage townhomes and was originally featuring 8-plex buildings with 2-bedroom+loft units stacked on top of 2-bedroom units.
In the early 1990’s the Town changed the building codes (I was on the Planning Commission at the time) and required all condos to have garages or covered parking. After that Dempsey began building the very popular and prolific 4-plex buildings with 3-bedroom 3-bath 1-car garage townhome units on the outside and 2-bedroom 2-bath 1-car garage townhome units on the inside.
Intrawest and a New Era of Condominium Development and Real Estate Sales
Condominium development in Mammoth remained rather stagnant until the arrival of Intrawest in 1996. They almost immediately proposed a condo hotel project at Chair 15 (Eagle Base). This was a new concept in Mammoth Lakes and controversial (property was being down-zoned from hotel zoning to condo zoning). As a member of the Planning Commission at the time I was involved with the education of the community. The first project was ultimately approved and Juniper Springs Lodge moved forward.
Intrawest brought their own style of pre-selling (“launching”) properties. The properties functioned as a condominium project but “walked and talked” like a hotel. Intrawest later developed the Village condo hotel units at Lincoln House, White Mountain Lodge, Grand Sierra Lodge and The Monache (Westin). Intrawest also developed a collection of other condo projects; Eagle Run on the Eagle Base ski run, Mammoth Green, The Timbers, The Cabins, and Solstice on the Sierra Star golf course.
The advent of the Mammoth Value Pass in the early 2000’s put over 30,000 season ski passes into the hands Mammoth regulars. The demand for property ownership (and longer term rentals) increased significantly as those pass holders now needed a more regular place to stay. The demand for low-end condos exploded and era of “crashpad” condos began (I can take credit for that one!).
The demand remains strong even today. These owners simply want a modest place to sleep, eat, and store their equipment. And come and go as they please (the new MVP era also coincided with better internet based weather reporting so the new pass holders were anxious to time the powder days).
Deed Restricted Condos
There have been an odd assortment of other condo projects built over the decades. Included are some of the “deed restricted” units originally built by Mammoth Housing as developer exactions in the 2000’s. These units were originally deed restricted (for local residents and employees) but many have been lifted allowing non-restricted ownership.
Mammoth’s condominium stock continues to fulfill as many needs and personalities as possible. Baby Boomer demographics drives the “duality” trend where many retiring boomers desire residences in two or more locations (mountains/desert, mountains/tropics, etc.). Some owners are looking for supplemental income to offset expenses. Some are “planning” for their retirement. Others simply want a “crash pad” so they can maximize their time outdoors in the mountains.
Meanwhile there is a seemingly endless variety of Mammoth condos to match the desires and needs. Quality guidance is valuable in finding the “right” property.