Walter Elias Disney, better known as Walt Disney is known for his pivotal role as one of the founders of the American animation industry– not the American ski industry.
Related: Arapahoe Basin Expansion Mostly Approved By USFS
However, In 1965 Walt Disney decided to get involved in snow business. Having already invested in Sugar Bowl (seen below in the Art of Skiing), Disney hoped to build what would likely have been the best ski area in California. Located on the outskirts of Sequoia National Park, Disney’s Mineral King Ski Resort was not just a grand ski area, it was a state of mind. Just like Disney Land and later Disney World, Walt wanted to capture the fantasy and wonder of the Sequoia National Park through a year-round resort that focused on skiing in the winter and sightseeing and dining in the summer months.
“Walt’s plan for the picturesque area, located about equidistant from Los Angeles and San Francisco, provides for year-round recreational activities by people of all ages and athletic abilities.” – Disney News Article (1966)
Originally, the plan for Disney’s Mineral King Ski Resort included 14 ski lifts, a 3,600 vertical drop to the valley, and a completely self-contained alpine village accessed by a four season road. The cost for that road– $25 million dollars.
At first, federal, state, and environmental groups backed the plan to build the costly road and $35 million dollar resort but years of permitting procedures, environmental opinions, and Disney’s untimely death in 1966 likely doomed the project.
- The resort would have been bordered on three sides by Sequoia National Park, offering tree skiing among the biggest trees in the entire world.
California governor, Ronald Reagan likely dealt the deadly blow that would ultimately kill the idea. In 1972, Reagan removed part of the plan for the all season access road and instead recommended, “Alternate access methods” that included a train to the ski area. He later added that those multiple methods would “better serve the needs of both conservation and recreation.”
Along with Reagan’s non-commitment to building the vital road, The Sierra Club reversed their support of the ski area in Mineral King Valley after Disney’s death. The group would later tie up the idea in California state courts.
In 1978, the plan was officially pronounced dead when Congress added the Mineral King Valley to Sequoia National Park’s land holdings.
Looking back, it’s a definitely a good thing Disney’ ski area was never fully realized. Today, Sequoia National Park boasts the worst air quality of all national parks and is one of the most visited national parks in the country. Adding a ski area to the equation would likely have exacerbated these problems. That said, we can still dream of the epic Sequoia tree skiing that could have been…
WATCH: Disney’s “The Art Of Skiing”
Find out more here: Walt Disney’s Mineral King