Skiing & Riding

Sun Valley helps inspire Mammoth Mountain

A visit to Sun Valley changed Dave McCoy’s life—and it had a big impact on the lives of millions more.

Dave McCoy is best known as the founder of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area in California’s Eastern Sierra. Mammoth Mountain opened some 17 years after Sun Valley and has become one of the largest and most popular resorts in the country, hosting more than a millions skier days per season. But it might never have existed if it weren’t for Sun Valley.

“Oh gosh, I know that country well,” Dave said recently during an interview for a fishing book project I’m working on. “There’s good fishing up there, too, right by the ski area. I fished and skied up there a bit. You bet.”

Dave and Roma McCoy

Despite recently celebrating his 100th birthday, Dave is still as sharp as a freshly tuned ski edge and still fondly recalls his youthful visits to America’s original ski resort. Growing up in both Washington and the Golden State, Dave became California’s state skiing champion when he was 22. But his dream of opening a ski area in his beloved Eastern Sierra really took flight when he did, during his first visit to Sun Valley.

“I came up to ski the single chair and it had a jump by the lift,” Dave recalled with the youthful enthusiasm for life he still has in spades. “I got off a little bit on it and I couldn’t believe it, I was flying through the air. It was heaven.”

Dave would return to California inspired. In 1938 he got a permit to operate a ski lift on public lands. That first spot, on McGee Mountain, had a good location along Highway 395, but the snow and pitch weren’t ideal. McCoy eventually found the best snow in the region at Mammoth Mountain, where he moved his homemade rope tow in 1941 before World War II put a halt to skiing for a while.

The McCoy family fishing

In 1953, Dave McCoy opened Mammoth Mountain Ski Area in California’s High Sierra after he got the claim by default from the Forest Service, since no one else bid on it. Mammoth was said to be too high, too remote and too snowy to be successful, but that didn’t stop Dave. He had the same feeling about Mammoth that Count Schaffgotsch had about Sun Valley a couple decades before. Both men turned out to be right.  
Today, Mammoth Mountain has almost 30 lifts and is usually in the top three nationally for skier days each season. And it might not have happened it weren’t for Sun Valley.

“I really like Sun Valley,” said Dave, who came back up many more times to ski, fish and help Sun Valley Resort work on a few projects. “I learned a lot about skiing there.”

Mammoth Mountain 1950s

(Photos courtesy of Dave McCoy.)

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