In honor of Mammoth Mountain opening up for the season today, I thought this would be a good time to explain the ski resort’s history. Earlier this year, Robin Morning released the comprehensive biography of the founders of Mammoth Mountain: Dave & Roma McCoy. For The Love of It: The Mammoth Legacy of Roma & Dave McCoy ($18.99) gives a detailed and enjoyable dive into the early history of this California skiing staple.
The book begins slowly, detailing the childhoods of Dave & Roma. This is essential for the story though, as it establishes the setting, the protagonist’s motivations, family lives, and the trials and tribulations they faced. Both dealt with estranged parents and had to live through the Great Depression. Dave and Roma had to live with his grandparents for a lot of childhood. Both were very ambitious though. Dave was skilled in fishing, riding his Harley Davidson, being a Hydrographer for Los Angeles, and as a skier. Roma loved to dance, ride horses, and bike. Although they were awkward around each other when they first met, the two bonded quickly and fell in love with each other and the sport of skiing. Together, they raised six children, nineteen grandchildren, thirty-four great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild. Both lived past the age of one hundred: Dave passed away in 2020, while Roma passed away this past April.
Dave McCoy became a member of the Eastern Sierra Ski Club in the 1930s. He bought their rope tow in 1941 and stationed it at Mammoth Mountain, a volcanic caldera. Roma and Dave loved Mammoth due to its large snowfall compared to other locations in the state. Another monumental event faced in their lifetimes was World War Two, in which Dave couldn’t enlist due to a severe leg injury suffered while skiing, along with his essential work as a hydrographer. Dave deeply regretted this and decided to build up the Mammoth operations as a gift for those returning home from the war. Dave eventually set up a series of rope tows across the area. The author does a great job in explaining the challenges of running the ski area in that era was: a frequently snow-covered road that wasn’t plowed, dealing with a Forest Service that didn’t want him to permanently operate the mountain due to their finances, and little profit to show for it. After years of negotiation with the U.S. Forest Service, Dave was awarded the special permit to build up the whole mountain. The first chairlift was installed in 1955.
A cool part of the book is reading the book was learning about the innovations Dave thought of to solve problems without the help of the internet. One example is that he bought four weasels, a World War Two era tracked vehicle, to transport passengers from the snowed-out roads. Another neat aspect was how the author blended the histories of other ski resorts in the country, which led to me learning quite a bit about the ski industry in the first half of the 20th century.
One of my critiques of the book is that once it covers the first chairlift opening in 1955, the book concludes shortly after. I think the story of how they created one of the largest ski resorts in North America would have made for fascinating reading, but it only shortly covers in the epilogue what the mountain has become. For example, the book doesn’t cover interesting aspects of their modern history, like the installation of their gondolas, the 1973 oil crisis, a plane crash at the resort that occurred in the same year, when an avalanche engulfed a chairlift in 1979, or the severe drought in the late eighties and early nineties that led to many layoffs. Still, the book is a great read for those wanting to learn about the roots of the American ski industry, especially in California. BUY HERE.