Wax On, Wax Off: Mammoth Mountain is a Northern Outpost of Southern California, Pt. 2

Wax On, Wax Off: Mammoth Mountain is a Northern Outpost of Southern California, Pt. 2
Wikimedia user Geographer

The Hero

Meanwhile, high above the valley and the raging battles below, a man named Dave McCoy, a true adventurer of California, was exploring the Sierra Nevada. A passionate outdoorsman and world-class skier, McCoy worked as a surveyor for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) during the 1930s, the very same organization that helped to engineer the hostile takeover of the Owens Valley. His job was to work as a hydrographer, surveying the area's water resources for the Southern California-based utility. But he was also a devoted member of the Eastern Sierra Ski Club, often daring long cross country skiing voyages through what was, at the time, largely uncharted and rugged terrain.

In his sporting adventures, the intrepid McCoy soon discovered that the large volcanic lava dome area known as Mammoth Mountain tended to hold better snow than the surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountains. In many parts of the Sierras, access was a problem, and the sheer rock faces of the mountains didn't hold the snow ideally. Mammoth became a favorite spot for McCoy, and he finally set up his famous rope tow, wound around the back wheel of a jacked-up pickup, at a site not far from what is now the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area. Althoug the exact location of the tow moved around a bit, the site most famously used was McGee Mountain, near McGee Creek off of the 395 freeway. Towing visitors up the slopes using the primitive rope tow became so popular that slowly, Mammoth as we know it today began to take shape.

Obtaining a lease from the US Forest Service, McCoy built a small warming hut, followed by a main ski lodge in 1953. By 1955, a more permanent ski lift had been installed, and Mammoth Mountain was born.

To this day, the well-known high altitude slope called "Dave's Run" is named for McCoy, who loved the steep, glacier-crowned run at the top of the mountain. Throughout the museums, resort buildings and restaurants of Mammoth Lakes are pictures of dark-tanned young McCoy skiing uncut powder, wearing his signature white t-shirt. In a day long before snowboarding existed, McCoy was truly an action sports enthusiast. His extremist attitude and risky sportsmanship would rival even the most badass snowboarders of today, and he was doing it at a time when very few would even dream of it...

Next time: The Expansion...The New War...Mammoth Today

For a great source that explores the story of Dave McCoy and the founding of the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, check out the film, Mammoth Dreams: The Story of Dave McCoy, released 2007 by Wildland Films.

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