A Century of Adventures: Mammoth Mountain’s Founder Turns 100

dave-and-roma-on-hikeBorn in August 24, 1915 (yes, he’s turn­ing 100 this year!), Dave McCoy is best known for found­ing the Mam­moth Moun­tain Ski Area back in the 1940s. How that hap­pened is the stuff of leg­ends. Since then, McCoy has not only kept active (he only stopped ski­ing in 2008 after a knee injury) but he’s also been involved in the design of the Rhi­no, an elec­tric four-wheel off road vehi­cle or UTV he still uses to explore the Mam­moth area.

In recent years, Dave has turned to pho­tog­ra­phy, in a big way. The sale of his pho­tographs helps sup­port the Mam­moth Lakes Foundation.

We talked to Dave about what adven­ture is all about and what he’s doing now.


The Clymb: You have a major birth­day com­ing up in August. When you look back into a cen­tu­ry of being active, is there any sport or out­door-relat­ed event that you can name as the most impressive/memorable in your life?

Dave McCoy: I loved every­thing out­doors, ski rac­ing, fish­ing, hik­ing, bik­ing, motor­cy­cle rac­ing. You name it and I did it. I put in the first rope tow so we could get up the hill faster and make more runs dur­ing the day.

I am very spoiled because I get to do what­ev­er I want to do.

I am in my sec­ond child­hood. I love tak­ing Roma [his wife] out for rides in the Rhi­no. We were out for five hours one day this week. I love to take pic­tures and took over 1,500 this past week…mostly on my Rhi­no rides.dave-skiing

The Clymb: Can you tell us about build­ing the first rope-tow for skiers in the Mam­moth area? What inspired you to start such a mas­sive under­tak­ing and why did you pick that area/activity to do?

DM: It was in the win­ter of 1935–36, when Sam Grig­gs, Ben Boyd and I spent a “mid­night ses­sion” at the LADWP garage in Inde­pen­dence devel­op­ing what may have been the East­ern Sierra’s first rope tow. We cob­bled togeth­er a dif­fer­en­tial from a dis­card­ed vehi­cle, made some mod­i­fi­ca­tions and attached it the dri­ve shaft of Ben’s Mod­el A Ford truck’s bed. We drove it to Grays Mead­ow, parked, attached a belt to two dif­fer­ent-sized pul­leys, tight­ened it, hung a winch to an extra car wheel fur­ther up the slope, added a rope, man­u­al­ly set the throt­tle speed and skied the entire day. It sure was a lot quick­er than climb­ing up the moun­tain to ski down.

In 1947 I got ver­bal per­mis­sion from the For­est Ser­vice to install tem­po­rary rope tows in a per­ma­nent loca­tion on the north side of Mam­moth Moun­tain and a promise of a per­mit at ten dol­lars per year.


The Clymb: Was the under­tak­ing as mas­sive as it sounds or did you have help? The idea of using parts from a Mod­el A to build the course is inspir­ing and fascinating!

DM: It took the three of us, with Sam Griggs’s engi­neer­ing skills. Ben and I had a knack for ana­lyz­ing mechan­i­cal prob­lems to come up with an inspired solu­tion. Dur­ing WWII, at dif­fer­ent times, I set up rope tows at Obser­va­tion Point, Horse­shoe Lake, and on the north side of Mam­moth Moun­tain in a glade now called “Terry’s Run.’

The Clymb: What sports have you tried dur­ing your life? Any­thing you haven’t tried and wish you had?

DM: I have rid­den a motor­cy­cle for­ev­er. I first had a used, brown and yel­low 1935 Harley-David­son in the spring of 1936, then a new black and white Harley by May of 1937. I’ve skied, fished, hiked, rid­den in motocross, and dri­ven a dune buggy.


The Clymb: You helped design the Rhi­nos (side-by-side all-ter­rain vehi­cles) that you still use to explore the East­ern Sier­ra area. Can you share a bit about what makes these unique and how did you go about design­ing them?

DM: Help­ing to design the rhi­no was real­ly a self­ish endeav­or for me. Not only did it give me some­thing to do after I stopped run­ning Mam­moth Moun­tain Ski Resort, but it gave me the wheels I need­ed to get around the rugged East­ern Sier­ra so I could take pic­tures. Pho­tog­ra­phy is my new pas­sion since ski­ing is no longer in the cards. The elec­tric rhi­no has been a fun project even if it has tak­en years. I couldn’t have done it with­out friends who had much more exper­tise than I.

The Clymb: Can you tell us about your work with the Mam­moth Lakes Foundation?

DM: Mam­moth Lakes Foun­da­tion was found­ed by a group of us who want­ed to see our com­mu­ni­ty grow; 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. To keep grow­ing we have to invest our youth and that is what Mam­moth Lakes Foun­da­tion and all the peo­ple involved with it do—provide oppor­tu­ni­ties for our youth to make this home of ours a bet­ter place.

Through­out the his­to­ry of the Foun­da­tion, we’ve heard so many incred­i­ble sto­ries of peo­ple from our com­mu­ni­ty con­tin­u­ing their edu­ca­tion here and going on to become doc­tors, nurs­es, ther­a­pists, artists, mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als, edu­ca­tors, and engi­neers. What’s tru­ly incred­i­ble to see are the ones return­ing to the East­ern Sier­ra to live and enrich our com­mu­ni­ties with their tal­ent. The suc­cess these kids are hav­ing in many dif­fer­ent fields is inspir­ing. And it’s even more amaz­ing when you under­stand that most of them got start­ed with schol­ar­ships from the Mam­moth Lakes Foundation.

Edu­ca­tion shouldn’t be lim­it­ed to the elite. The Foun­da­tion and its donors’ sup­port local col­lege schol­ar­ships and pro­vide the type of assis­tance than enables a large part of our local com­mu­ni­ty to pur­sue these oppor­tu­ni­ties. The val­ue behind this pro­gram, and its sus­tain­abil­i­ty, is easy to see.

Dave's original photography
Dav­e’s orig­i­nal photography