With its creaky, two-seater chair lifts, ramshackle lodge buildings and awe-inspiring Lake Tahoe views, Homewood Mountain is one of the last of an old breed of rustic, family-friendly ski resorts in California’s Tahoe region.
But developers have introduced a plan that some residents fear will shut down much of the public access to the mountain and turn it into a members-only luxury resort for the super-rich.
A property development company that owns the ski area, JMA Ventures, LLC, has partnered with a company that has been building ultra-pricey vacation home developments catering to celebrities and billionaires. Their plan is to build about 180 homes which would come with exclusive memberships to the ski area, newly named the Homewood Mountain & Lake Club.
The plan is being developed in collaboration with Discovery Land Company, which operates 27 luxurious golf communities in North America and the Caribbean.
Its Yellowstone Club in Montana, which bills itself as “the world’s only private ski and golf community”, is said to have attracted such famous members as Tom Brady, Paris Hilton, Bill Gates, Jennifer Garner, Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake – with one route to membership believed to be the purchase of a $22m condo which can require getting on a waitlist, according to reporting by the San Francisco Standard.
That article quoted an anonymous club member saying that more members of the club are top business leaders than celebrities, because “it’s just too expensive”. The Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, investor Warren Buffett and Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, are reportedly among them.
Some local Tahoe home and business owners have organized a group called Keep Homewood Public to fight the plan to turn Homewood into such a club. Residents fear that, along the super-crowded lake shores, most of which are already privately owned and closed off to the public, this may be only the beginning of a trend of open-to-the-public resorts converting to exclusive private clubs.
“The logical end result is that only the richest people will be able to enjoy any of Lake Tahoe if this continues,” said Kathy Astromoff, a longtime Homewood skier and organizer for the residents’ group. She said many here are livid that the company tried to substitute this plan for a 2011 master plan developed with the support of the community, which would have included a large hotel and improved ski facilities open to the public.
JMA Ventures, which bought Homewood in 2006, says a new economic model is needed to keep the resort open in the face of competition from “mega resort operators” including the conglomerates who own nearby Palisades and Northstar ski areas.
The company’s chairman said, in a February letter to Tahoe’s planning agency, that skier attendance at Homewood was way down and traffic jams caused by the major ski areas were making it nearly impossible for out-of-town skiers to even reach the mountain, which is tucked along the west shore of Lake Tahoe, 20 traffic-clogged miles from the nearest major highway.
“Homewood is not sustainable as a commuter and locals, day-ticket ski area,” said Art Chapman, JMA Ventures chairman. “Unless an alternative business model is developed, the Tahoe basin and the West Shore community will lose this iconic part of our history.”
The company says it will offer sales of the memberships, which have been described as lifetime passes for three generations of each member’s family, to at least some members of the public. The resort will allow all skiers to buy single-day passes to the mountain every two weeks on special weekdays. JMA Ventures makes no mention of how much the memberships will cost.
The public relations firm representing Homewood Mountain released a statement saying that the developers are planning to “further engage with the community, sharing a plan in greater alignment with the original master plan and vision.”
The plan is to make sure the development “preserves the mountain as a key gathering area for Lake Tahoe’s West Shore”, the statement said, adding it will include a new community general store, an amphitheater that will offer outdoor summer concerts and seasonal pop-ups including a winter ice rink.
The statement, which appeared to contradict the description of the plan provided to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency in a February letter by Chapman, said the redeveloped resort would offer “all-year community and recreational access to the mountain including community season passes and daily ski access”.
“The Homewood Mountain Resort development project does not privatize the mountain nor include ‘members-only’ access,” said the statement.
Other vacation home communities affiliated with the Discovery Land Company don’t disclose their full membership costs, but a 2018 flyer on the Yellowstone Club website lists an initial residential membership deposit of $300,000 and club dues of $41,500 per year, which are on top of the costs of buying homes in the developments.
The Discovery Land Company website advertises the Homewood project with a photo of a lone skier on a vast empty slope overlooking the lake, describing the planned development as a “quiet, secluded community”, offering “year-round splendor”.
“Homewood embodies the perfect pace of life, where you can spend the morning with a trainer in the fitness center while your kids learn to paddleboard with the outdoor pursuits team on the lake,” says the ad.
Chapman has said that Homewood won’t be as geared for the super-wealthy as the Yellowstone Club, but wrote that a new kind of economics will be needed to keep the resort open in a rapidly-evolving ski industry.
“While people were disappointed that they would no longer have open access to ski Homewood at a very affordable price any time they wanted to, those who actually skied at Homewood admitted that the ski area was in need of substantial upgrading,” Chapman wrote to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) in a November 2022 letter, describing the reaction the plan received from the public at a recent meeting.
The response from hundreds of local residents and skiers, who have sent letters to the development agency and spoken to the local press in protest of the plan, seemed far more vitriolic.
“It’s more lifestyles of the rich and famous and eking out people from public places,” said Renee Koijane, resident and Homewood ski pass holder, according to Moonshine Ink, a Tahoe community news magazine.
The planning agency has said no approval of the plan will be given without further input from the public. While a few of the homes are already being built under a previously approved plan, Chapman told Moonshine Ink the development will roll out over several years and the membership and pricing changes won’t happen for two years.
“TRPA has received many emails that show how much the Homewood resort means to the community,” says a note on the agency’s website.