Born 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.
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.