Ski pioneer built Mammoth Mountain, Mammoth Lakes Foundation, and the community of
Dave McCoy, founder of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area and the Mammoth Lakes Foundation, died peacefully on Saturday, February 8, 2020. The rugged American icon who ignited Southern California’s passion for skiing and brought higher education and cultural enrichment to the Eastern Sierra was 104 years old.
Born in 1915, Dave McCoy fell in love with the mountains the first time he visited the Eastern
Sierra at age 12. At that moment, McCoy decided he wanted to spend his life in the mountains,
enthralled with the snow-covered peaks, high country lakes, and the warm feeling of a
community where people lived for years. After finishing eighth grade, because of his parents’
divorce, his mother sent him to Washington State to live with his grandparents. Throughout high
school McCoy dreamed of being in the Eastern Sierra. He spent the next few years hitchhiking
back and forth from Washington to California, waiting for the opportunity to make the Sierra his
After graduating high school, four colleges offered him scholarships to play football, but he
turned them all down. He wanted to ski, so he moved to Independence. In 1935, he and some
buddies built his first rope tow out of an old truck frame and engine to haul skiers uphill in Gray
Meadows near Independence. They built it for themselves for weekend play, but word spread
quickly and others came to see what all the fuss was about.
McCoy later moved a few miles north to Bishop and in 1936, he took a job as a hydrographer for
the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which involved skiing up to 50 miles per day, a dream job for him at the time. While being a hydrographer, he joined the Eastern Sierra Ski Club
and at age 22, he became the California State Skiing Champion.
That same year, McCoy got a permit and set up a primitive rope tow using parts from a Model
A Ford truck on McGee Mountain, near US 395. He went to the bank to acquire an $85 loan to
set up a permanent rope tow, but the bank turned him down. It wasn’t until Roma Carriere,
working as the bank’s secretary, urged the bank to give him the money that they did. A few
years later, McCoy would marry Roma and the two would raise six children together.
Before long, snowfall on McGee Mountain was not as heavy as it had once been and it was no
longer an ideal location for skiing. In 1937, McCoy began the project that would become the
largest ski resort in Central California.
McCoy built Mammoth not as a business, but as a means to pursue his passion for skiing. While
he was building the resort from the ground up, he was always skiing. He was expected to compete in the 1940 Olympics in Japan, but no Olympic Games were held that year because of World War II. McCoy looked instead to the next generation of ski racers, including two of his six children, and coached 14 skiers to their own Olympic moments.
Dave McCoy’s love and commitment to the Eastern Sierra went far beyond the ski hill. He
helped build the water district, hospital, fire department, and schools in Mammoth Lakes. He
often dispatched his crews to fix a resident’s plumbing problem or to patch a leaky roof. Always
willing to lend a helping hand, untold numbers of people received financial help, and even
property, from McCoy over the years.
A true entrepreneur and hard worker, McCoy helped build Mammoth Mountain with his own
hands, but was always quick to deflect credit for it all—saying he couldn’t have done it without
the help of his employees, friends, and the community. Originally built to share Dave’s passion
for skiing with others, Mammoth Mountain has become one of the largest and most popular ski
resorts in North America. After more than 50 years, including building 38 chairlifts and developing more than 4,000 acres of skiable terrain between Mammoth and June, McCoy passed the reins of Mammoth Mountain to the next generation. He retired in 2005 at the age of 90 when he sold his remaining interest in the ski area.
In 1989 McCoy launched the Mammoth Lakes Foundation with a few of his friends to bring
higher education and the arts to the Eastern Sierra. When McCoy started the foundation, there
were no college students in Mammoth Lakes. Now hundreds of students, including local high
school students, are enrolled at the Mammoth Lakes campus of Cerro Coso Community College.
The Foundation has awarded more than 700 scholarships to students who otherwise might not
have had the opportunity to attend college.
It was important to McCoy to offer higher education opportunities to locals so they would
remain in the community. Cerro Coso Community College initially offered classes wherever they
could find space, usually at the high school or in empty conference rooms. McCoy, Mammoth
Lakes Foundation, and a group of dedicated supporters secured a permanent building for the
college and continue to support efforts to keep higher education affordable for those who wish
to pursue college locally. Support for a student ranges from $1,000 to $1,500 each semester and
includes tuition and a book stipend, along with mentoring and support from the Foundation. Students can earn an Associate’s degree or certificate in a number of disciplinesand may transfer to a University of California or California State University school, or to the University of Nevada, Reno to continue their education.
The foundation owns and operates the 100-seat Edison Theatre and jointly owns the South
Gateway Apartments with the Southern Mono Healthcare District. The Foundation also owns 40
acres of land around the campus, which are intended for future expansion and community
benefit. Groundbreaking for the 298-seat Mammoth Arts & Cultural Center (MACC) Performing
Arts Center is anticipated this year.
McCoy is survived by his wife of 78 years, Roma; children Gary, Dennis “Poncho,” Carl “P-Nut,”
Penny, Kandi, and Randy; and numerous grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-
The Mammoth Lakes Foundation offers free education (books and tuition) to any Mono County
resident and/or high school graduate who pursues an AA degree at the Mammoth Lakes campus
of Cerro Coso Community College and provides year-round theatre programming at Edison
Theatre. For more information or to make a tax-deductible donation, please contact the
Foundation at (760) 934-3781 or visit MammothLakesFoundation.org.
Sierra Wave Media thanks The Mammoth Lakes Foundation for this insightful glimpse into Dave McCoy and the impacts he had and will continue to provide the Eastern Sierras’ residents and visitors alike.
mammothlakesfoundation.org- Supporting Higher Education and Cultural Enrichment in the Eastern Sierra