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Hank Greenman & Johnny Elvrum
An Overview of Skiing in Southern California
Check out our developing timeline of skiing in Southern California.
Skiing was slow to catch on in Southern California, the land of sun, sand and palm trees. But by the 1930s, skiing took off largely because of the ski jumping craze that had taken over the country. The first jump in the Southland was installed at Big Pines in 1929. It was at the Third Annual Winter Sports Carnival at Big Pines in 1929 that the Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce made a bid for the 1932 Olympics.
The 30s and 40s saw an explosion of skiing with small ski areas, using rope tows, springing up all over. In Big Bear Valley, these areas were spread out from Moonridge on the east to the Upper Mill Creek on Skyline Drive near Bluff Lake on the west.
1952 was the beginning of many dry winters that would last well into the 60s and forced the closure of most all of the small ski areas and threatened the existence of the larger ones. In 1958, Chuck Smith, Rebel Ridge Ski Area, began experimenting with making snow and proved that snowmaking was an economically viable solution for the area. Tommi Tyndall, Snow Summit, was the first to install it extensively.
One of the unique aspects about the Southern California ski areas is that (on a clear day) you can see the ocean from the slopes of Mt. Baldy, Snow Summit, Snow Valley, and Big Bear Mountain.
The ski resorts of the Angeles National Forest largely rely on natural snow since they do not have the supply of water that can be found at Big Bear in the San Bernardino National Forest.
Angeles Crest Resorts consist of two ski resorts (Mt. Waterman & Kratka Ridge), a snow play area and a Nordic area. Rick Metcalf and his crew bought the resorts in June 2006. Mt. Waterman claims to have had the first chairlift in Southern California in 1942, built by then owner Lynn Newcomb, Sr. The ski business began here with a rope tow in 1938. Joe Diener, one of the12 members of the San Gorgornio Ski club, scratched Kratka Ridge out of the mountains in 1950. For many years, it was known as Snow Crest but has gone back to being called Kratka Ridge. These resorts have not operated since 2001 or 2002.
Buckhorn Ski Area was built in the 50s. Consisting of an overnight lodge and 2 tows, it is still owned and operated by the Buckhorn Ski & Snowboard Club.
Blue Ridge was first operated with a rope tow. In the early 40s, championship teams practiced at Blue Ridge, one of the oldest ski area in the country. In 1937, the Blue Ridge Ski Area was taken over by Frank Springer and Tom Triol and received its first chairlift (Southern California's second) in 1947. In 1975, Dick Woodworth bought the resort and named it Mountain High Ski Area.
Holiday Hill was established in 1948 by Joseph "Sepp" Benedikter and John Steinmann and received its first chair in 1950. In 1951 Steinmann bought out Benedikter and Holiday Hill became a family operation with Steinmann's sons Heinz, Hans and Kurt assisting with management and expansion responsibilities. The Steinmann brother bought Holiday Hill from their father in 1959. In 1962 Heinz bought out his brothers and with his wife, Lora, made many improvements and expanded the facilities. Around 1979, the Steinmanns sold Holiday Hill to a group of investors who then resold it a couple of years later.
Terry Tognazzini bought Mountain High in 1979 and Holiday Hill in 1980 and renamed the combined resorts New Mountain High Ski Areas. June 14, 1997, Oaktree Capital Management bought Mountain High with hopes of eventually developing Sawmill Canyon and physically connect East and West Mountain High.
Ski Sunrise (formerly Table Mountain Ski Area) is one of the few upside down resorts you drive to the top of the mountain and ski down. Ski Sunrise started with a rope tow in 1938 on Table Mountain. Harlow "Buzz" Dormer obtained the original lease for Table Mountain in 1937 in partnership with Craig Wilson. Howard More bought the lease in 1943 and after thirty years of operation sold it to Tamount, Inc., a group of four investors, headed by Dave Ward. They changed the name to Ski Sunrise in 1975. More forclosed on their loan and regained control in 1993. Howard More sold Ski Sunrise to Oaktree Captial Management who owns Mountain High in 2004. In the short term, Mountain High will use Ski Sunrise for teaching and snow play.
Mt. Baldy Ski Tows was formed in 1944 at Camp Baldy on Movie Slope by Herb Leffler and Jim Chaffee. In 1952, a group of skiers from the Southern Skis Club, led by Morgan Adams Jr., Bob Crary, Bob Cheesewright, Cortlandt T. Hill, Wesley B. Hadden, Judge Andrew Hauk, and J. Stanley Mullin, joined the corporation and a permit was obtained from the USFS to open up Thunder Mountain. They brought in Emile Allais, a famous French skier, to be their first ski school director. In 1952, Mt. Baldy Ski Lifts opened two new lifts. In 1969, Herb sold the resort to Chuck Lewadder, Western Resorts Corporation.
San Bernardino National Forest
An ample supply of water in Big Bear Lake allows for Snow Summit and Big Bear Mountain to operate all winter in the case of a lack of natural snow.
Big Bear Mountain started with a rope tow at Moonridge. In 1938, a sling lift was installed. In 1969, a group of ski instructors (headed by Bill Strickland and Fred Goldsmith) bought Moonridge. In 1970 they renamed it Goldmine and installed its first chairlift. In 1988, S-K-I Ltd bought it and renamed it Bear Mountain. Booth Creek Holdings purchased it in 1997 and renamed it Big Bear Mountain. In 2002, Snow Summit bought Big Bear Mountain. Big Bear Mountain is being marketed under Big Bear Mountain Resorts as a snowboarders' paradise.
Snow Summit was opened by Czechosolvakian Tommi Tyndall in 1952 with a double chair, two major runs and several rope tows. Canadian-born Doug Pfeiffer was the area's first ski school director. In 1961, construction began on the largest snowmaking operation in Southern California. When Tommi died in 1964, his wife Jo Tyndall and stepson Dick Kun took over operations.
Late in 2002, Snow Summit purchased Big Bear Mountain and established the marketing entity known as Big Bear Mountain Resorts. Big Bear Mountain will appeal to snowboarders while Snow Summit will cater to families.
Fish Creek was changed to Snow Valley in 1937. Johnny Elvrum purchased Snow Valley in 1942 and operated it until he sold it in 1972 to Jack Bozung, a Santa Monica toy saleman who made his fortune selling the Duncan yo-yo. Today Snow Valley is one of the largest resorts in the area.
Green Valley Lake Snow Bowl was opened in 1945. A chair was installed in 1985. At some point, the resort was renamed Big Air Snowboard Park. Today the resort is owned by the Calgary Chapel in Costa Mesa and is opened to both snowboarders and skiers.
Shirely Meadows is located in Greenhorn Mountain Park near Kernville, 50 miles northeast of Bakersfield. This resort is currently up for sale. In 1967, they operated 2 rope tows on slopes between 7,000 and 7,900 feet. Opened on weekends and holidays only.
Lost Ski Areas
Big Bear Lake Area
- Magic Mountain, also know as Lower Siberia, had four tows and located 1/2 miles east of Big Bear Lake Village.
- Happy Hill Ski Tow was located near the then Lake Drive-In Theater.
- Upper & Lower Mill Creek built by John Webster and John Sipe.
- Swiss Tow, built by Ralph Stewart and Virgil Foust, near the present Elk's Lodge around 1950.
- Snow White operated by Bill Goold was near Coldbrook Camp.
- March Field Army Air Base Recreational Facility.
- Lone Star Tow built by Max Files next to the present day City Hall.
- Two rope tows were operated at Stillwell's in 1954, just east of the present day post office. Ski instruction was provided by Johnny Sipe.
- The first chairlift in the Big Bear Area was built in 1949 by Judge Clifford Lynn at the south end of Pine Knot blvd in Big Bear Village. In 1963, brothers Dan & Dave Platus bought the Clifford Lynn Lift Area and renamed it Snow Forest. In 1980, Bob Boothe became a partner and consequently bought the area from the brothers. In 1981, the Lynn Lift was dismantled and replaced by a 3,000' long triple chair with a 600' vertical rise.
- Snow Forest, closed 1973 through 1978, reopened in 1979 and then closed permanently in the spring of 1992. Dan & Dave Platus, two brothers who worked in the California aerospace industry owned Snow Forest for sixteen years. Contributed by Paul Herrick, Assistant Ski School Director at Mt. Baldy: I was working at Snow Forest Ski Area through the 80s and last taught there in the Spring of 1992. That year they closed, the Forest Service pulled the permit so no one else could take over the ski area. Also that year Jim McDill, Ski School Director at Snow Forest, died. He was also the director of the Big Bear Valley Park Ski Teaching Program for several decades. I moved my teaching to Mt Baldy and started there on December 24, 1992.
- The Sling Lift (Little Siberia) operated by the San Bernardino County at the Park Board Area became a part of Snow Forest.
- Crystal Ridge Hill, located on Hwy 18, 1/2 mile west of Big Bear Village at Red Ant Hill, was bought by Bob Boothe in 1980 and added to Snow Forest.
- Rebel Ridge, founded by Chuck Smith at Big Bear, closed permanently in 1974.
- Swiss Ski Bowl.
- Keller Peak was discovered by skiers in 1938. It is now a part of Snow Valley.
- Lagomita Lodge at Big Bear Lake had a 1,200 foot tow in 1947.
- Grout Creek Ski & Recreation Area on Grout Creek near Fawnskin was managed by Jess Wilson. They just didn't get enough snow.
Running Springs Area
- Keller Peak.
- Camp O'Ongo Ski Tows, 2 1/2 mi west of Running Springs on Hwy 18, opened mid 40s with 4 tows.
- Howard Martin ran a 1,000' tow just outside Running Springs.
- Lloyd Soutar installed an 800' tow in mid 50s, just west of the now Running Springs elementary school.
- Walt & Wayne Harmon opened a ski area in 1947 with a 2000' sling lift and rope tows.
- Blue Jay.
- Big Pines Camp. Big Pines is located four miles west of Wrightwood in the Angeles National Forest. This popular recreation area was developed in the early 1920s by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Department of Parks and Recreation. Big Pines became a year-round playground with crowds up to 10,000 on many weekends. One of the most exciting winter activities at Big Pines was the sport of ski jumping. In 1929 a world-class ski jump structure was built in time for the Third Annual Winter Sports Carnival. Several world record-breaking jumps were made at Big Pines.
- Seven Springs
- Movie Slope was located near the Mt. Baldy Ski Tows. The original portable tow was installed by Earl "Fuzz" Merritt & the Pomona College Ski Club. In 1938, the tow was moved to Big Pines. It ceased operating in 1946.
- Santa Monica Ski Club built a rope tow in the Buckhorn Springs Area in 1942.
- Pepperdine Ski Club was issued a special use permit for the Buckhorn Springs Area. Whitter Ski Club merges with Pepperdine Ski Club and operates three rope tows with a small warming hut. In 1958, the club incorporated as the Whittier Ski Club and combines with the adjacent Santa Monica Ski Club. They acquired a larger lodge and moved and upgraded the rope tows. In 1984, club changes its name to the Buckhorn Ski Club.
- Whitney Portal, 14 miles west of Lone Pine, had a rope town and warming shelter.
- Tommi Tyndall was the principle partner of "Inyo Surveys," permittee of the Onion Valley Ski Area. Onion Valley is located 15 miles west of Independence in Inyo County. In the winter of 58-59, a 4-year plan was proposed. During this winter the present tow was relocted to give easier access to the upper slopes of the Inyo Basin. Tommi Tyndall was involved in this project.
- Independence had a rope tow, a portable ski tow and a warming shelter at Kearsage Valley.
- Glacier Lodge at Big Pine had a rope town and lighted slopes for night skiing. This was the headquarters of the Big Pine Ski Club.
- McGee Mountain, above Bishop, had a shuttle type tow and numerous rope tows operated at various times. This was the headquarters of the Eastern Sierra Ski Club.
- Tom's Place.
- Mammoth Mountain, East slope, was established with a series of tows and a ski school in 1945 by Hans Georg.
- Deadman's Summit, near Crestview, had a rope tow and lighted slopes for night skiing
- Lee Vining, near Mono Lake, had a rope tow operated by the Mono Ski Club, a portable tow and warming shelter.
- Conway Summit, nine miles north of Mono Lake, operated a daily rope tow and ski school.
- Devil's Gate, near Bridgeport, had still another tow.
- Cerro Noroeste or Mt. Abel, Los Padres National Forest, off state 399, 30 mi. south Maricopa. In 1967 had 200 feet of vertical with one rope tow and a snowplay area for toboggans.
- Mt. Pinos Winter Sports, about 25 miles west of Frazier Park. I believe this was a Nordic ski area and people still ski there today.
- Mt. San Jacinto. The Mt. Jacinto Winter Club was incorporated in 1946. "Hidden Lodge" was located two miles above Idyllwid. Tommi Tyndall was president and lodge manager. There were four rope tows for a total length of 2,400 feet. The Palm Springs tram was built to eventually give acess to these tows. The area was never really viable for skiing. FWSA was against the tram for this reason.
- Sugar Loaf, about 5 mi. east Posey, 50 mi. ne of Bakersfield, operated 1965-70 with 300 feet of vertical and 2 rope tows. Opened on weekends and holidays only. Offered night skiing on Saturdays.
- Wolverton Ski Bowl located just 3 miles from the Giant Forest Lodge in Sequoia National Park. In 1967, they were opened weekends and holidays with four rope tows.
- Ski Villa Carbon Canyon, opened in 1966, used interlocking plastic mats and operated year round. Milton Todd emailed the following on Ski Villa Carbon Canyon: "This was an amazing dry (or "summer") ski resort set up in Carbon Canyon in 1966. It was a hill of essentially white "astroturf" and skiers would slide the skis across pads of silicone before going down to help with the friction. It was open for one season only, I believe. And though abandoned, dusty and dirty, the hill is still in plain view of the road through the canyon. As far as I know, it was the only one tried in the US."
- Palomar Mountain, 26 mi. north east Escondido. In 1970, had 150 feet vertical with 5 rope tows, 2 pomas and an ice rink.
- Mt Laguna, east of San Diego.
- San Diego Ski Club built a ski hill in the Cuyamaca Mountains, opened 1938 and installed portable tow in 1939. They are believed to have established first ski patrol in Southern California. Their own Dorothy McClung was first female National Ski Patroller.
- Idyllwild (between Palm Springs and Banning), California. The Palm Springs tram was given the go-ahead because some misguided person thought that the area at the top could be a viable ski area.
Check out our developing timeline of skiing in Southern California.
photos courtesy California Ski Library, Ingrid Wicken collection.