This weekend, our home away from home, Mammoth Lakes, and snow sports lovers the world over said goodbye to the godfather of winter recreation, Dave McCoy, who passed away at 104 years old on Saturday, Feb. 8. Dave was the visionary and founder of Mammoth Mountain. His ability to dream big built a first-class ski resort with some of the best all-around terrain in the world. He leveraged his passion to build a profitable business that created jobs for over 3,000 people and attracts visitors from all over, making Mammoth Mountain the third most-visited ski resort in the world in 2018 with over 1.2 million visitors.
Born in El Segundo, California, on August 24, 1915, Dave first visited the Sierra Nevada when he was just 13 years old and fell in love with the snow. After completing the eighth grade, he moved to Washington state with his grandparents because his parents had divorced. But once Dave finished high school, he headed south, back to the Eastern Sierra. He joined the Eastern Sierra Ski Club, where at age 22, he became the California State Skiing Champion. And he skied for a living, too, after he became a hydrographer for Los Angeles Department of Water & Power. His job was to measure snow levels so the City of Los Angeles could predict how much water would be available in the coming spring and summer. Some days he would ski 50 miles to take snow measurements.
His entrepreneurial story could, and should, be made into a movie. While working as a hydrographer, Dave met and later married Roma Carriere. Turns out, Roma was a clerk at the bank where McCoy sought an $85 bank loan in 1938 to set up a tow rope at McGee Mountain. McGee is located along the 395, just south of Mammoth. The bank turned him down because his only collateral was his motorcycle. Dave left the bank, but the story goes, the young clerk marched into the bank president’s office and proclaimed that if he didn’t give that young man a loan, she would quit. Well, they gave him the loan and the rest, as they say, is history.
In 1953, the Forest Service awarded McCoy a permit to open a ski area on Mammoth Mountain, (where he had moved his tow rope to from McGee due to better snow) with the condition that he develop the mountain as a ski resort. In 1955, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area incorporated and Dave applied for another loan, but this time it was for $135,000 to purchase and build a chair lift. Again, he was turned down. That wasn’t going to stop Dave, he found a way to secure a used lift, that would become Chair 1, now known as Broadway, and he and some fellow skiers worked long arduous hours to install it themselves.
The dreaming, the trials, and the hard work continued as Dave faced economic struggles. Not only was he dealing with tough terrain as he expanded the resort, but Mother Nature didn’t always cooperate. But Dave survived the dreadful 1976-1977 season, when Mammoth only received 94 inches of snow, and he never stopped believing in Mammoth. He knew that once people discovered Mammoth they would come back and bring others with them. And, they did! When Dave retired in 2005, he’d been running the resort for 68 years. He sold the resort to Starwood Capital Group in a deal that was valued at $365 million.
Dave continued to ski until 2008, when he had a knee replacement. He became an avid and talented photographer and he and Roma enjoyed excursions into the backcountry behind their homestead in Bishop in their ATV. I’m only scratching the surface of Dave’s interests, talents, vision and contribution to Mammoth here. I could write for hours.
He and Roma were incredibly committed to the communities of Mammoth Lakes and Bishop where they raised their six children. They, along with a few friends, founded the Mammoth Lakes Foundation in 1989 to bring education and arts to the Eastern Sierra. They were instrumental in securing a permanent building for Cerro-Coso Community College. The foundation allocates scholarships for Bishop and Mammoth High School graduates to attend and obtain their AA degrees at Cerro-Coso.
My husband, and business partner, Buddy and I have been visiting Mammoth for years. We have always been inspired by Dave and Roma’s marriage, vision, courage, dedication, and most of all, the love of their team and their community. Dave was adored by his team, and with good reason, he adored them just as equally.
They took big risks, and in the end, gained huge rewards. All along, they were committed to, and invested right back into the towns that had supported them along the way. They are an incredible example of the power of humility, hard work and passion.
When we purchased our cabin in 2016, we thought our family was complete with the two of us, and our daughter and son. Turns out, we were wrong. We loved Mammoth so much, we soon found out we we’d be adding one more to our family in 2017. When we learned we were having a boy, we started to think of names. One day, while driving north on the 395, I asked Buddy what he thought of naming the baby McCoy. His response was immediate. He said enthusiastically, “That’s it!” And, from that day on, we awaited our McCoy.
We now split our time between our ranch in the Tehachapi Mountains and our cabin in Mammoth Lakes, where we’ve celebrated birthdays, Christmases, Thanksgivings, rang in New Years and have had more epic pow days that one deserves! We’re often stopped by Mammoth staff when they hear us call out to McCoy. They’ll say something like, “Do you know you have the same name as a guy who’s pretty special around here?” I get the joy of telling them that he is in fact named after that “special guy” and their faces light up every time.
Mammoth Mountain will be a legacy that will live on with skiers and snowboarders now, and for generations to come. But, Dave’s kindness, generosity and love for his mountain, his staff, his guests, his athletes, his community and so much more will echo in the Sierra Nevada forever.
Dave, my heart breaks that we must bid you farewell. Thank you for dreaming, for dreaming so big, that most people thought your dreams were impossible. Thank you for staying the course in times of adversity. Thank you for being the example of servant leadership at its very best! Thank you for creating a paradise that has afforded me, and my family memories that will last a lifetime.
Thank you for everything!
We're a family who loves living life to the full. We try to live each day with intention in an effort to find gratitude, seek wonder, show love and a experience a ton of laughter.