Homewood Mountain Resort, which revealed last year that it would be gradually transitioning to a semi-private ski resort in order to remain financially viable, will be moving to lifetime family memberships instead of ski passes. The owners argue this is the same plan as last year, when it announced that the only people who would be allowed to buy passes were those who purchased a new Homewood residence or full-time residents in specific West Shore homeowner associations. While the ski resort affirms that a certain number of memberships will be publicly available, current Homewood passholders and West Shore residents expect that the cost will most likely exclude locals and deprive them of their neighborhood ski area, forcing them to fight heavy weekend traffic to get to larger and more crowded ski resorts. Public agencies do not yet know if this will trigger further review.
Private or semi-public?
Moonshine Ink interviewed JMA Ventures President Art Chapman last March (see Homewood Switches Gears) and he made no mention of lifetime memberships. Nonetheless, Chapman claims that the plan remains the same and nothing has changed. JMA has owned Homewood since 2006.
“We never proposed that we would be selling passes to locals, maybe I mixed up ‘passes’ and ‘memberships,’” he said. “It’s probably my fault for not really describing what I was talking about.”
The memberships will be lifetime vertical memberships, meaning that it includes an entire family — grandparents, parents and children — and guest passes will be available for a fee. Most likely people will sell the memberships when they sell their home, Chapman said, but it won’t be required.
“It’s not like buying a season pass for one person,” Chapman said. “It’s like getting a pass for an entire family for years and years and decades, so it’s not like spending $2,000 on yourself to ski at Alpine. It’s going to be more expensive than a normal season pass but will cover the whole family.”
(The priciest Ikon pass last spring ran $1,229.)
Chapman does not yet know how much the lifetime memberships will cost, nor how many will be made available to the general public. This depends on how much JMA spends on improving infrastructure. JMA plans on replacing the Madden Chair with a gondola at a price tag of an estimated $14 million, as well as building a mid-mountain lodge, which will require running utilities 1,000 feet up the mountain. There is currently no sewer, water, or fire suppression on the mountain.
“Over the last 10 years we have spent $10 million investing in Homewood, and we are going to have to invest tens of millions of dollars more just to keep Homewood sustainable,” Chapman said. “Its infrastructure is 50 to 60 years old and needs to be replaced.”
Because Homewood has been losing money over the past decade — pass and ticket sales are down 40%, according to the resort — Chapman says that making the resort a membership-based, semi-private ski area is the only way to keep it alive. In the last 10 years, according to Chapman, around 400 to 600 West Shore households have had Homewood passes, which is only 10% of what the resort needs to be financially viable. Commuter skiers are required for the other 90%, who unfortunately can no longer get to Homewood due to heavy weekend traffic.
“Homewood is no longer sustainable. There are not enough people, particularly when we have aging infrastructure,” he said. “It’s difficult for people to accept, but the reality is that older, smaller commuter ski areas are getting more and more difficult to sustain, particularly non-public ones.”
According to Chapman, Homewood will be restricted by its conditions of approval with Placer County to 1,000 people a day on the mountain due to the development’s number of parking spaces. Homewood plans on eliminating almost all surface parking for environmental reasons — the resort currently has 942 parking spaces accommodating 3,000 skiers, covering 7 acres of asphalt. Instead, underground parking will be built at a cost of $300,000 per space, with an average of two spaces per unit. This equates to “millions and millions of dollars,” Chapman said.
The parking situation, coupled with how many housing units JMA sells, will dictate how many non-residential memberships will be available to the public, Chapman said. The current Homewood development plan calls for approximately 180 units and a small boutique hotel with around 20 rooms.
“We can’t have these memberships and be open for skiing every day to the local community when we have a 1,000-person limit,” said Chapman. “Do you tell members they can’t ski? Or do you alienate the community? It would be a management nightmare.”
Placer County said Chapman’s assertion is not entirely true.
“There is a condition related to parking, however, there is not a condition of approval that specifically limits the number of skiers based on parking,” wrote Crystal Jacobsen, deputy director of Placer’s Community Development Resource Agency in Tahoe, in an email to Moonshine Ink.
But with limited space, Chapman wants to avoid skiers parking on neighborhood streets in the winter and blocking private driveways.
Chapman said there will be community ski days three times a month where the public will be able to buy day tickets, as well as philanthropy days three times a year where sales of day tickets will go to local nonprofits. Children’s ski teams will also continue, and there will be a small grocery store with around 30 surface parking spots open to the public.
“We don’t use the word ‘private’ because we are not selling part of the mountain, we are just changing the structure of the people who are going to ski here,” Chapman said.
An elite club or not?
Chapman balks at comparisons to the Yellowstone Club in Montana, one of the few private ski and golf resorts in the country. Membership is only open to homeowners. A 2014 New York Times article reported that homes started at $5 million, plus an initial fee of $300,000 as well as $36,000 a year for dues. Almost 10 years later, those numbers must certainly be higher.
“The Yellowstone Club is very, very high end, it’s for people in the entertainment and finance industry,” said Chapman. “That’s not what we are talking about. We hope the local community will buy these memberships for their families.”
An example of a less expensive private ski area, as shared by Chapman with Moonshine, is the Hermitage Club, which opened three years ago in Vermont. Members pay a one-time fee of $75,000 for the whole family, plus a $15,000 annual fee.
Michael Reitzell, president of Ski California, said that what Homewood is proposing is unheard-of and, in one aspect, stands in sharp contrast to the Yellowstone Club, which from the beginning was planned to be private.
“The Yellowstone Club and that community was intended to be created as its own community, the resort and homes that were built were meant to be by themselves,” he said. “Homewood is doing it in reverse.”
But one thing that Homewood does have in common with the Yellowstone Club is that both properties are owned by the Discovery Land Company, a real estate developer and operator of high-end private residential communities and resorts. According to Chapman, Discovery is conducting the sales and marketing for Homewood residences. The ski resort is already listed on Discovery’s website.
Locals are worried about the exclusivity that comes with a luxury-based company like Discovery, which caters to A-list celebrities, CEOs, and sports team owners. Discovery’s founder, Mike Meldman, is also a co-founder of Casamigos Tequila along with George Clooney and Rande Gerber, Cindy Crawford’s husband.
Adding to the air of Homewood’s exclusivity is the fact that Mohari Hospitality, a global investment company in luxury hospitality based in Cyprus, became the main equity investor in the Homewood redevelopment project in March 2022. Mohari’s website states that Homewood “will have a strong focus on sustainability, exclusivity and family-oriented programming.” Mohari’s founder, Canadian Mark Scheinberg, has a net worth of $5.3 billion, according to Forbes.
“They are going to really, really upset a lot of people about being even more exclusive,” said West Shore resident Jeanne Plumb.
Plumb, whose family has had Homewood passes for five years, says that lifetime memberships at Homewood will most likely be out of reach for most locals.
“I don’t think it sounds like a very viable option for most families living on the West Shore,” she said. “We are talking about mass sums of money. Given the cost of living up here in general and if you are lucky enough to stay here and own a home, it doesn’t sound like a feasible option.”
She also recoils at the thought of a semi-private resort in her neighborhood.
“The exclusivity of this development is totally contrary to the values of the West Shore community,” she said. “We enjoy outdoor activities that attract visitors, and we try to coexist nicely. Now we are being asked to share our community with visitors, yet they are planning to have visitors come here and exclude us.”
Like Plumb, West Shore Resident Allyson Schreiber and her family have both Ikon and Homewood passes, but value Homewood for its convenience and not having to battle weekend and holiday traffic. She said they were planning on buying Homewood passes only once their kids are no longer on the Palisades ski team.
“In the minds of all the people who go to Homewood, it’s our only local ski area and we consider it our backyard,” she said, noting that if Homewood becomes semi-private, “we would have to join in the traffic to Palisades or Northstar. You are taking what is not a commuter ski area and forcing locals to commute … It all seems very distressing, to be honest.”
Does this change the project’s approvals?
Many residents are wondering if Homewood’s switch to a semi-private resort, which was not part of the development plan that was approved in 2011, will trigger further review by the TRPA and Placer County. After the Friends of the West Shore and North Tahoe Preservation Alliance sent out an email in January erroneously stating that the TRPA was holding a meeting on the issue, the agency received more than 200 emails, according to TRPA spokesman Jeff Cowen.
However, both the TRPA and Placer County say that they have not received any formal proposal from Homewood, and are just beginning to explore if any requirements would force further review of the project.
“We are trying to determine what the process for this proposal would be,” said Cowen, noting the fact that Homewood is one of the only ski resorts on private property. “It’s going to take some digging on our part to get deep into the goals and policies as they relate to a change in use like this. It’s a rare circumstance. The first step is to evaluate what the process would be like.”
Both the TRPA and the county are in uncharted waters. Cowen, as Ski California’s Reitzell did, called the change from a public to semi-private resort “unprecedented.”
“I would say that if Homewood wanted to [privatize], they would need to have that discussion with the TRPA and Placer about whether or not that conforms with what was approved and we would need to accept that,” said Placer’s Jacobsen. “We have not seen any requests along those lines.”
However, in December, Placer County staff stated in an email to West Shore resident Renee Koijane, who asked what the county’s response would be to the “new privatized project,” that the 2011 project approval holds no restrictions on whether the resort is private or public.
Deputy County Executive Officer Stephanie Holloway wrote, “[The Community Development Resource Agency] and our legal counsel have been in conversation with Homewood regarding the ski resort operations and potential changes. The County has determined that the land use entitlement and conditions of approval do not dictate limits on the business model for the ski resort and therefore no entitlement/additional action are necessary for the concept they considered, which included privatizing the operation.”
When asked about above exchange for this article, Jacobsen responded, “The correspondence from December was based on a theoretical resort operational concept discussed unofficially between County staff and Homewood.” She said it was unclear what Koijane meant by “private ski area,” and emphasized that for the county to make a decision would require a formal request from Homewood.
Chambers Beach and Mountain Club President Kevin Foster organized a Zoom meeting yesterday with representatives from more than six West Shore homeowners associations. They unanimously disapproved of Homewood’s decision to become semi-private and believe the change should be viewed as a new project that would require new approvals and entitlements.
“[In 2011], Art Chapman, gained approval based on a win/win plan that would benefit JMA and also benefit the community,” wrote Foster in an email to Moonshine. “The changes he is discussing … are not acceptable and therefore the West Shore associations are banning together to insure the public has a say in any changes that are proposed to Placer County, TRPA and any other regulatory bodies.”
Chapman believes that local governing agencies will continue to scrutinize his project from a land use and environmental standpoint, but asserts that the TRPA and county do not get involved in the economics of a project.
“When they approve a hotel they don’t tell you how much to rent the room for or how much to sell a house for,” he said.
Homewood plans to go to membership-only in two years.