December 6, 2022


The Tour And Travel Enthusiasts

A Tahoe ski resort is considering becoming a private club. Is this the future of skiing?

6 min read
A Tahoe ski resort is considering becoming a private club. Is this the future of skiing?

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Could one of Lake Tahoe’s ski resorts be turned into a private, members-only club?

That question has taken off like wildfire with the leak of a promotional document promising to transform the folksy, 60-year-old Homewood Mountain Resort on the West Shore into Tahoe’s “most luxurious and exclusive family lifestyle community to date.”

The 37-page slide deck bears the logo of JMA Ventures, the San Francisco real estate investment firm that has owned Homewood for 16 years and long planned to revamp the modest ski area as part of a proposal to build 185 new ski-in, ski-out homes and condos, a boutique hotel and grocery store on the West Shore. JMA won permit approvals for such a project in 2011 but has yet to break ground, in part because of a pair of lawsuits over its environmental impact that the company settled in 2014 and 2016.

Tahoe residents hadn’t heard much about the project recently until a local real estate agency unceremoniously posted the slide deck to its website earlier this year. It appears to expand on JMA’s master plan, promising home buyers “exclusive year-round use, allowing its members to use the amenities without restrictions — a luxury not enjoyed by other ski and lake resorts in the area.”

Such an alteration would be a departure from the way Tahoe’s 11 major ski areas have historically functioned — selling season passes to loyal patrons as well as day tickets to walk-up visitors — and has kicked up a wave of confusion and outrage from residents who don’t want to see their home hill converted into a private playground for wealthy second homeowners.

A Tahoe area news outlet first published the details of the slide deck last month. But JMA Ventures founder and Chairman Art Chapman says such changes may be necessary for the small resort to survive in the rapidly shifting ski industry.

“Everyone is shocked. Everyone is concerned,” said Silver Hartman, who has lived on the West Shore for 22 years and who was married at Homewood. She said she participated in Placer County’s approvals process 12 years ago and thought the company’s redevelopment plan was fair. But now it appears that the nature of the project has changed, and she worries that JMA might cut access to Homewood.

“It seems obvious they’ve decided to make changes without informing the community, and I think people have the right to know what their intention is,” Hartman said.

Chapman said his phone hasn’t stopped ringing in the past two weeks.

Concerns that Homewood will become completely walled off from public use are overblown, he said. The promotional slide deck was drawn up by JMA’s marketing partner, Discovery Land Co., and is merely conceptual, not set in stone. It should never have been published, he said.

“It hasn’t been finalized. It is a sample of what could be, but we haven’t proposed it to anybody, and it’s not in design review,” said Chapman, who lives in Truckee. “It came out early, and that’s unfortunate.”

JMA isn’t trying to be secretive, Chapman said. However, he offers no guarantees that Homewood will not be converted into a private resort in the years to come. Around the country, changes within the ski industry have forced many smaller ski areas to close down or sell out to corporate conglomerates. Homewood is in decline and desperately needs retooling, Chapman said.

“One thing I can assure you is, it will change,” he said. “Nothing is set in concrete with this project.”

A group of snowboarders ride the Old Homewood Express while enjoying a sunny spring day at Homewood Mountain Resort.

A group of snowboarders ride the Old Homewood Express while enjoying a sunny spring day at Homewood Mountain Resort.

Brian Walker/Special to The Chronicle

Skier visits at Homewood have been in decline for the past decade: down from 101,799 in 2012-13 to 64,169 in 2020-21, according to Chapman. Pass sales also dropped from 2,828 to 1,853 during that period.

Chapman attributes the downturn to two main factors: the rise of multi-resort ski passes like the Epic and Ikon, which are coaxing people away from small and independent ski areas, and traffic gridlock.

On busy winter weekends, traffic into Tahoe from the Bay Area and Central Valley backs up outside of major ski areas along Interstate 80 and Highway 50 — several of which are on the Epic and Ikon passes — essentially blocking access to Homewood, Chapman said. That has left Homewood to make ends meet by catering primarily to West Shore neighborhood skiers, Chapman said, and it hasn’t been going well.

One day last month, Homewood sold only a single walk-up ticket, Chapman said. A week later, the resort sold zero day tickets. “We want to get out of the day skier business,” he said.

Complicating the issue are Homewood’s aging ski lifts and infrastructure, which some locals call decrepit. A lift broke down last winter, stranding skiers for several hours.

“We need a new business model,” Chapman said. “Right now, Homewood isn’t sustainable. It just isn’t.”

Most ski areas operate on federal land under leases from the U.S. Forest Service that carry stipulations about maintaining public access and limiting development. But Homewood is rare in that almost all of the ski area’s 1,260 acres are privately owned by JMA. That gives Chapman and his associates a wider range of possibilities for the resort’s future.