by Penny Griego
While Malibu is famous for its warm sandy beaches, plenty of residents in the “Bu” spend cold winter days on the slopes of Mammoth Mountain. In August, the man who built that ski area is turning 100. Dave McCoy defied his critics who said the mountain was too remote, too cold, and too alpine to ever be home to a popular ski resort. But, with the help of a small group who believed in his vision, McCoy turned Mammoth into one of the top skiing destinations in the country. McCoy says the people in the Eastern Sierra “are resourceful, dedicated and adventure loving. It makes waking up every day a new experience.”
And what experiences Dave McCoy has had. In the 1930′s, he was working as an LA DWP hydrographer, measuring snowfall in the Eastern Sierra. The job also allowed him to scope out the best places to ski. He spent every free moment on the slopes, but he and friends were frustrated by the amount of time wasted climbing the mountain to take their runs. So, he built a rope tow using parts from an old Model A Ford. McCoy used the same ingenuity to build the first chair lifts after the Forest Service gave him the permit to develop Mammoth Mountain in 1955, and later surprised European engineers when he built gondolas where they said it couldn’t be done.
McCoy left the mountain behind in 2005, retiring from running the ski area after 68 years, but nothing can shake his devotion to the community. He oversees the Mammoth Lakes Foundation (MLF). It was set up in 1989 to support higher education and cultural enrichment in the Eastern Sierra. Since then, the foundation has provided permanent facilities for Cerro Coso Community College, which previously was only able to offer classes when instructors could find empty conference rooms, or free space at the high school. McCoy says, “We wanted to give our kids opportunities to be successful and to learn how to make this home of ours a better place by sharing what they learn.”
Beyond providing facilities, MLF strives to promote McCoy’s philosophy that “education shouldn’t be limited to the elite.” The foundation has handed out more than 600 scholarships to residents of the Eastern Sierra. It has also built a theater, on-campus student apartments, and is now focused on faculty housing as well as plans for cultural facilities, including a performing arts center.
Dave McCoy loved sharing his passion for skiing with everyone he met, but these days he simply wants to share the beauty of the Eastern Sierra. He has thrown himself into photography, exploring remote areas while riding one of the electric Rhinos (all-terrain vehicles) he helped design. He says, “There’s a picture everywhere you look around here.” Proceeds from the sale of his beautiful photos go to the foundation.
As for turning 100, McCoy says, “It’s just a number.” In fact, he says it feels like he’s in his second childhood, spending hours at a time in his Rhino, enjoying his beloved Eastern Sierra.