Dave McCoy, who gave skiers Mammoth Mountain, dies at 104

BISHOP, Calif. — Dave McCoy, who transformed California’s Mammoth Mountain from a remote Sierra peak into a downhill destination for skiers and snowboarders from around the world, died Feb. 8 at 104.

Rusty Gregory, former chief executive of the resort, said Mr. McCoy died at his home in the eastern Sierra Nevada community of Bishop.

“Dave was Mammoth Mountain,’’ Gregory said.


The mountain, about 150 miles southeast of Sacramento, was the focus of Mr. McCoy’s life for more than six decades. He oversaw the resort’s growth into an operation of 3,000 workers and 4,000 acres of ski trails.

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Mammoth was one of the three most-visited ski resorts in the United States in 2018, drawing about 1.21 million skiers and boarders.

Mr. McCoy first recognized the potential of the mountain in the late 1930s while working as snow surveyor for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

In 1937, he parked his Ford Model A on a snowy slope, jacked up the rear of the car, and lashed one end of a rope to the back wheel and the other to a tree. He charged 50 cents a person for what became the first rope tow on the mountain.

He married his wife, Roma, in 1941. They opened a ski business, using one of his motorcycles as collateral to buy a used portable rope tow for $86.


With the help of friends, Mr. McCoy worked through blizzards, droughts, and economic downturns, building increasingly sophisticated machinery to pull skiers up the mountain and groom the snow.

He secured a year-to-year permit from the Forest Service to run a portable tow across the eastern Sierra. Still, few envisioned Mammoth, which then was home for no more than a dozen permanent residents, as a major resort.

“People told me it snowed too much,” Mr. McCoy recalled in an interview with the Times. “It was too stormy, too high, and too far away.”

After World War II, he cleared land, laid concrete, raised ski lift towers, and maneuvered cranes. Many of the operation’s special tools, cranes, rigs, engines, and Snow Cats were built from scratch in Mr. McCoy’s garage.

In 1955, Mammoth Mountain erected a high-capacity lift with 86 double chairs that were diesel-driven and carried 900 skiers an hour — at the time, the largest of its kind in the state.


In the adjacent community of Mammoth Lakes, Mr. McCoy and his staff launched a water district, volunteer fire department, regional hospital, high school, skiing museum, and college.

Untold numbers of people received employment, financial help, even property from Mr. McCoy over the years.

Bob Roberts, spokesman for the California Ski Industry Association, said Mr. McCoy was a “visionary who was pivotal in the development of the sport in the West.”

In October 2005, Mr. McCoy announced plans to sell a controlling interest in the resort to Starwood Capital Group for $365 million — then the largest ski resort sale in history.

At one point during the signing of more than 100 pages of documents believed to have brought him $80 million, he openly wept. “We did something here that everyone said would be impossible,” Mr. McCoy said.