California ski industry pioneer Dave McCoy, founder of Mammoth Mountain, dies at 104
Dave McCoy, a towering pioneer of the California ski industry, who with vision, hard work and a knack for the mechanical transformed a remote Sierra peak into the storied Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, has died. He was 104.
A notice of McCoy’s death posted Sunday afternoon on the Mammoth Mountain website simply said, “Thank you, Dave McCoy, for everything.” No other details were given.
The mountain, about 300 miles north of Los Angeles, off of Highway 395, was the hub of McCoy’s life for more than six decades. In his hands, it grew from a downhill depot for friends to a profitable, debt-free operation of 3,000 workers and 4,000 acres of ski trails and lifts at Mammoth and June mountains, a mecca for generations of skiers and boarders.
Mammoth was one of the three most visited ski resorts in 2018, drawing about 1.21 million skiers and boarders, most of whom drove there on weekends from Southern California.
“McCoy was part of a post-World War II cohort of pioneers who had an extraordinary sense of what they could do, which is why we have a place like Mammoth Mountain today,” said Hal Clifford, executive editor of Orion, a nature and culture magazine. “It’s a unique creation that wasn’t hatched in corporate planning room, or a focus group.”
Bob Roberts, spokesman for the California Ski Industry Association, described McCoy as a “visionary who was pivotal in the development of the sport in the West.”
“McCoy’s passion literally grew out of the snow,” Roberts said.
Born Aug. 24, 1915 in El Segundo, Calif., in the Los Angeles area, McCoy was the son of a nomadic paving contractor with a passion for machinery. His parents separated when he was in his teens.
Shortly after graduating from high school, he moved to Independence, an eastern Sierra hamlet where they still talk about his speeding along Highway 395 on a brown and yellow Harley Davidson with a red bandana tied around his head.
Lashed to the side of that motorcycle were skis he carved from ash wood.
McCoy bent the tips with steam from a boiler at a mine where his grandfather worked. He strapped them to his logging boots with strips of inner tube.
As a young man, McCoy picked grapes, tended pigs, sold firewood and tied flies for fishermen. Judging from photographs taken of McCoy at the time, he enjoyed skiing in T-shirts and jeans, or even shirtless.
McCoy was working as a soda jerk at a restaurant in Independence when he first laid eyes on his future wife, Roma.
“She was in a group of cheerleaders, and they’d stopped to get sodas,” he recalled in an interview in early 2005. “I knew right then and there, she was the right girl for me. They don’t make them like her anymore.”
In the late 1930s, McCoy landed work as a snow surveyor for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. As a city hydrographer, he concluded that skiing didn’t come any better than on the massive extinct volcano with steep chutes on all sides that caught storms like a sail.
In 1937, he parked his Model A Ford on a slope where snow fell early and hard on Mammoth Mountain. He jacked up the rear of the car and lashed one end of a rope to the back wheel and the other to a tree.