In the mid-1930s, the iconic Mammoth Mountain all started with a rope tow built by Dave McCoy and his friends during his first winter in the Eastern Sierras. A rope tied to a tree and rigged to the back end of a jacked-up Ford Model A would eventually spark the idea that would grow into the business now known as a Mammoth Mountain, a resort that attracted about 1.21 million visitors in 2018.
McCoy charged fifty cents per skier to ride that rope tow amongst many other him and his friends built. As a hydrographer for the city of Los Angeles, McCoy knew where the snow was and wasn’t afraid to put in the work to go and get it. When he first started out in the town of Mammoth Lakes, only six people lived within its borders. In 1953, McCoy secured a permit from the U.S. Forest Service to build Chair Lift One. The lift opened on the slopes of the dormant volcano on Thanksgiving of 1955, and the rest is history. Mammoth Lakes would go on to grow “like a good weed” as McCoy once said.
A dedicated ski racer, McCoy fought hard to come back from a devastating injury in a 1942 downhill – an injury that shattered his femur and almost cost him his leg. But the young man was determined to keep at ski racing. And he did, eventually going on to win the title of California State Slalom Champion in 1949, continuing on throughout his life and racing well on into his seventies as a competitive Master’s skier.
During his years of dedication to the sport, McCoy coached a myriad of ski competitors and young racers, some of which who went on to make the U.S. Ski Team and the Olympics. Skiers like Charlotte Zumstein, Jill Kinmont, Linda Meyers, and his two of his six children, Penny McCoy and Dennis McCoy. Penny would go on to win a bronze medal in the 1966 World Championships while Dennis was ranked in the top ten downhillers in the world from 1966 to 1972. According to his U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame tribute (an honor which he was awarded in 1967), Jean Saubert, a two-time medalist in the 1964 Winter Olympic attributed McCoy to be the best coach she ever had.
In the wake of McCoy’s passing, Bob Roberts, a spokesman for the California Ski Industry Association, described McCoy as a “visionary who was pivotal in the development of the sport in the West.” Even in his old age, McCoy could still be seen ripping around the Eastern Sierras on skis or on his motorcycles, taking photographs of the landscape he worked so tediously to call home in his 20s and 30s.
Since that winter in 1935, Mammoth Mountain has grown into a goliath on the West Coast, boasting over 3,5000 acres of skiable trails, and 25 operable lifts.
“That was probably the best thing that people said, ‘you can’t do this Dave,’ or ‘you can’t do that Dave,” remembered McCoy in a video interview at age 98. “But by god, somebody came along and said, ‘we can do it.’ I didn’t look to have fun, the fun was having fun.”