The Man Who Tamed Mammoth Mountain

More than a million skiers flock to Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort every winter, making the winter paradise one of California’s most popular ski destinations. While the locale still retains its “backcountry” appeal, the lay of the land has changed immeasurably since 1937. That was the year that Dave McCoy, a 22-year-old native of El Segundo, Calif., earnestly began to sculpt his vision on what was an extinct volcano; the U.S. Forest Service granted a permit, green-lighting the resort in 1953. For nearly seven decades (he sold the resort to Starwood Capital Group in 2005 for a reported $365M), McCoy put the emphasis on good, clean fun.

Having turned 100 last August, McCoy may have retired from the slopes, but he stays active on his customized Rhino ATV and enjoys photographing the sights and scenes in the Eastern Sierra. CSQ reached the centenarian by phone at his home in Bishop, Calif., just before the holidays, and McCoy shared a few reminiscences related to Mammoth Mountain.

His familiarity with what today covers some 4,000 acres of skiable area is unrivaled, but when asked, McCoy offers a touch of modesty in his perspective. “I don’t think anybody could know every inch [of the mountain], but I think I know every foot, how bout that?”

Back when he took up the sport (that would be during the Great Depression of the early 20th century, kids), the raw excitement of the downhill adventure was reflected in the rudimentary equipment. “Now it’s all plastics,” he muses. “Back then, it was wood and heat and steam and forms to put the wood in the shape of a ski. Nose turned up, and the belly flattened out a little bit.”

How times have changed. From improved materials and shock-absorption technologies to the evolution of today’s superior parabolic shape, the wooden planks of the days of yore have long since been recycled. But don’t count McCoy among those resisting change. On the subject of snowboarding, he offers, “Oh yeah, I tried a little bit.” Snowboards got a bad rap from traditional purists, he says, when they first arrived on the mountain. “After the lifts shut down in the evening, I took two or three guys out on snowboards and gave them rides where no one would see,” he recalls. “We were just having so much darn fun and we thought the world should know about it.”

As it happens, you can take the man off the mountain, but you can’t take the mountain out of the man. After all these years, McCoy still navigates the slopes in his own way with black-diamond precision. “I’m skiing in my mind every day,” he chuckles.

No doubt he’s carving up the mountain in a billowy blanket of fresh powder.

Mammoth Historical Perspective

First pair of manufactured skis produced in France

August 24, 1915
Dave McCoy is born

McCoy arrives at Mammoth Lakes, population 6, and his dream of turning the area into a skier’s haven takes root

U.S. Forest Service awards permit to McCoy to operate Mammoth Mountain

November 24, 1955
Thanksgiving Day, first chairlift opens

November 4, 1979
An avalanche hits Cornice Bowl, smashing a chairlift

October 5, 2005
Starwood Capital Group purchases Mammoth Mountain for a reported $365M

August 24, 2015
Dave McCoy turns 100

Mammoth Magic

While its year-round popularity as a sporting destination cannot be disputed, it’s the winter season that adds an extra layer of magnificence to Mammoth Lakes

Breathing in the fresh mountain air at an elevation of 11,053 feet while gazing out at snowcapped peaks after disembarking from Mammoth Mountain Ski Area’s main gondola, it’s clear that one is in a magical place. From the majesty of the area’s natural splendor to a vast variety of recreational options to the friendly locals – many of whom “came to Mammoth Lakes for a season” and still remain years later – the town has something to appeal to any true adventurer.

While more than 1.2 million visitors are attracted by the wintery slopes, summertime visitors actually have a slim advantage, with 1.3 million-plus flocking to the area every year. With 8,000+ year-round residents, Mammoth retains the feel of a rustic mountain community while offering an array of amenities that discerning visitors would expect in larger cities. The area is a magnet for outdoor activities throughout the year, including golfing, hiking, biking, fishing, and the obvious – skiing. Olympic marathoner and Agoura Hills native Deena Kastor makes her home here and coaches the Mammoth Track Club.

McCoy Station, the lodge halfway up Mammoth’s face, as well as Dave’s Run, a black diamond run that begins at the highest point on the mountain, are named in honor of the founder of Mammoth Mountain, legendary outdoorsman and centenarian Dave McCoy. In 1953, when no one thought the area feasible for a resort, McCoy persevered despite being repeatedly refused for loans. He set up a rope tow, which progressed to a chairlift or two set up with fellow skiers and friends, which eventually resulted in the ski area’s growth and the incorporation of the town of Mammoth Lakes in 1984.

The man who built Mammoth Mountain, Dave McCoy

The man who tamed Mammoth Mountain, Dave McCoy

Mammoth has come a long way since its inception in the mid-20th century; in late 2015, the town was selected as a Gigabit Internet community, an uncommon honor for a rural, tourism-based community. This swift Internet connection is a boon for the area as business travelers can now more easily consider Mammoth as an alluring locale for company team-building events and retreats.

Swift arrival is ensured via Mammoth Yosemite Airport, which welcomes private and commercial airlines (Alaska and United offers daily flights from LAX). Santa Monica–based fractional carrier Surf Air will begin offering flights later this year. The airport serves Yosemite National Park visitors as well; the front gate of the park is less than an hour’s drive during summer. Driving from Los Angeles is a five-hour excursion. Plans are in process to create a Park and Ride with a Tesla charging station in Mammoth, to augment the existing, albeit limited, charging stations in town.

The area’s primary draw remains Mammoth Mountain, home to Main Lodge, Canyon Lodge, and Eagle Lodge. The Village, a collection of several restaurants and residences at the base of the mountain near the center of town, offers a gondola that takes skiers up the mountain and alleviates pressure on the two-lane road to Main Lodge during the busiest times. The mountain now has 28 lifts, most of which are high-speed and allow visitors to get in as many runs as they please during ski season. During the summer months, the mountain is home to avid bike riders and hikers. June Mountain, also part of the Mammoth family of resorts, is a 20-minute drive away.


Nearby Tamarack Cross Country Ski Center features more than 19 miles of groomed, world-class trails for those wishing to experience a winter wonderland of ancient forests and lakes. Woolly’s Tube Park offers fun for all ages during the winter months, and snowmobile adventures are also readily available. Mono Lake and its surrounding basin encompass one of the state’s richest natural areas, with 14 distinct ecological zones and more than 1,000 plant species, and the allure of the natural hot springs just off Highway 395 remains timeless.

For skiers and snowboarders eager to hit the slopes without the hassle of standing in long rental lines, Black Tie Ski Rentals is a convenient time-saver to get geared up at your convenience. Just make an appointment and the rental service comes to you for an in-room fitting, with slopeside service included should anything need adjustment or replacement. Co-owners Jeremy Goico and Colin Fernie lead the team at Black Tie, which specializes in accommodating all levels of skiing and snowboarding expertise, making even the novice skier feel a welcome wave of confidence in taking on the mountain. More than a dozen other Black Tie locations serve top resort destinations, from Whistler and Big Sky to Vail and Aspen.

Golfers can now come to Mammoth and enjoy the sport year-round. In the warm months, enjoy the championship Sierra Star Golf Course, Mammoth’s only 18-hole course and the highest course in California at an altitude of 8,000 feet. In the winter, three virtual golf simulators are available for play, located inside of Mammoth Rock ‘n’ Bowl. The simulators allow golfers to play virtually at hundreds of top courses around the country. The Rock ‘n’ Bowl itself is a modern entertainment complex with 12 lanes of bowling, event spaces, and spectacular views of the mountains. Upstairs, Mammoth Rock Brasserie offers dinner fare that is several cuts above what you would expect at your typical bowling alley.

The restaurant and bar scene in Mammoth has evolved in recent years, with several new options that will satisfy the most discerning diner. Artisanal cocktails are becoming the norm in Mammoth, often paired with gourmet meals or light bites suitable at any time of day. The popular fine dining venue Petra’s Bistro and Wine Bar impresses with creative, contemporary American dishes and delicious drinks such as the Blueberry Basil Martini. You’ll find game on most menus here, from venison and bison to oxtail; at Petra’s, try seasonal favorites like short rib with white truffle mashed potatoes and roasted root vegetables. Another smart choice for fine Alpine dining is Skadi, christened for the Norse giantess and goddess of the same name, with its inviting yet industrial atmosphere where beautifully presented appetizers and entrees are followed by incomparable desserts.

Other local favorites include the Mammoth Brewing Company, which offers local craft beers and periodic free tasting events, and the EATery by Bleu, housed inside. The EATery features delicious farm-fresh salads, pizzas, and comfort food done in casual yet gourmet fashion. Nearby upscale market and wine bar Bleu Handcrafted Foods is home to a wine bar with unique curated selections as well as cheese and charcuterie; the company bakes its own bread fresh daily and caters for all occasions. Area staples such as The Stove, Burgers, and Good Life Cafe remain popular with locals and visitors alike for a hearty breakfast or lunch. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area also offers various types of food options, from bars and cafeteria-style options to the fine dining restaurant Parallax. With unbeatable views of the mountain given its prime location and a large center fireplace, Parallax hosts exclusive snowcat dinners and serves chef-special offerings.

A charcuterie offering at Bleu

A charcuterie offering at Bleu

Mammoth offers numerous types of lodging, from private condominiums to luxury resorts. For the discerning traveler, The Westin Monache Resort offers upscale lodging and an outdoor heated pool with two adjacent Jacuzzis – the perfect way to unwind after a day on the slopes. Nestled above the Village in the heart of town, the resort also takes care of its guests via a free airport shuttle, complimentary champagne upon arrival as well as a morning coffee bar in the lobby. The Westin can host outdoor poolside events for up to 200 and their largest interior meeting space is 1,525 square feet. Whitebark, their signature contemporary dining restaurant, is open for breakfast and dinner. The resort also has several Tesla charging stations available to guests and a helpful concierge service to boot.

Jimmy's Taverna, owned by Jimmy Demetriades

Jimmy’s Taverna, owned by Jimmy Demetriades

Sierra Nevada Resort & Spa, which features the area’s only full-service spa, is a comfortable, classic choice with its guest rooms and chalets. Weary travelers in need of a reviving spa treatment will find a sauna, steam room, and tailored treatments including rejuvenating facials, massages, and body scrubs. The property also hosts a trifecta of restaurants: Jimmy’s Taverna, Red Lantern, and Rafters. The most recent addition, Jimmy’s Taverna, is an award-winning seafood restaurant with bright Mediterranean décor – brought to life by owner and serial entrepreneur Jimmy Demetriades, founder of the integration software company SeeBeyond. Step down from this gem into the luxurious Red Lantern, a trendy dining spot serving traditional sake and classic beverages with flavorful gourmet Chinese food. Either venue serves as a classy choice for an intimate meal or event. Rafters, a Mammoth landmark since 1967, is one of the only area restaurants that stays open 365 days a year. The restaurant’s inviting, fun vibe includes inventive cocktails and a memorable dining experience with live local music.

If you’re looking to put on an event with a personal touch – whether it be a wedding, conference, or celebration of any sort – Sandra diDomizio, president of Mammoth’s premier event planning service, Green Fox Events & Guest Services, can help. Over the past decade, the team at Green Fox has seen a shift in the way the public views Mammoth, from primarily a wedding venue to a place where families, businesses, and groups of a certain size can enjoy nature and celebrate special occasions in style.

Mammoth is a place where the leaders of the technology-driven business community come to play, collaborate, and connect against a backdrop of stunning natural beauty. A new offering for businesses seeking to take advantage of the splendor that Mammoth has in abundance is SKYBOX, a members-only club that provides curated, exclusive adventures for businesses.

As the prescient Dave McCoy recognized more than six decades ago, Mammoth is the quintessential diamond in the rough. Everyone should spend some time in this spectacular place during their lifetime; those fortunate enough to frequent the area or call it home are truly blessed.

The Westin Monache Resort, just steps from The Village, where gondola rides are available to the top of Mammoth Mountain

The Westin Monache Resort, just steps from The Village, where gondola rides are available to the top of Mammoth Mountain

The View From SKYBOX
Mammoth’s new invite-only executive club reinvents the corporate retreat

Mammoth Mountain Ski Area’s recently launched Business Division, a first for a mountain resort, serves a community of professionals who take their work – and love of nature and recreation – seriously. Rudy DeFelice, president of The Mammoth Institute, points out this division allows business leaders in the tech, entertainment, and media communities to integrate their love of nature into their professional lives and network at a high level.

SKYBOX at Mammoth, a hub of the Mammoth business community, provides curated outdoor recreation and exclusive adventures meant to be shared with a company’s staff, clients, and friends. SKYBOX provides one-of-a-kind experiences for corporate entertainment and team-building year-round, with access to a VIP clubhouse at mid-mountain for fine dining and private events as well as a dedicated concierge to arrange all travel, lodging, and activities.

SKYBOX membership includes:

  • Flights and black car service
  • Premier access to Mammoth recreation, with priority lines, parking, and service for skiing, snowboarding, hiking, and golf that is transferrable to guests
  • 50 room nights
  • 50 any-time use lift tickets
  • Access to a private clubhouse
  • Wilderness adventures in the Sierras led by inspiring guides
  • VIP access to concerts, wine tastings, Fresh Tracks, Apres Ski, and the Torchlight Speakers Series as well as SKYBOX Saturdays, scheduled group recreation led by Olympians, world champions, and pros.
  • Senior leaders of SKYBOX member companies will also have priority, discounted access to The Mammoth Institute’s executive retreat and development programs.
  • Membership is by invitation only and limited to 100 companies.  To request an invitation, email Rudy at