Dave’s Journey to the Sierra
In White Pass, Washington on logging roads with Norwegian miners and loggers, Dave McCoy, the founder of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, started skiing. That was almost 80 years ago. Using leather boots with toe straps, seven-foot long skis with no edges and canvas pants and jackets that “didn’t amount to much” in bitter weather, Dave McCoy began his journey.
He lived a nomadic lifestyle with his family along the West Coast, stopping wherever there was work and he ended up in Independence in 1935, working as a soda jerk, dishwasher, waiter, garbage man, and do-everything-man at a popular local hangout called Jim’s Restaurant. With a passion for skiing, he began trekking through the Eastern Sierra in Inyo and Mono Counties, exploring and inhaling the vast environment, that carried him along then and now.
Because of his skiing ability and willingness to do jobs nobody else wanted to do, Dave McCoy was hired by The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to work on maintaining aqueducts, water metering and measuring devices, and snow surveying. He made about $4 a day traveling the entire Owen’s Valley, performing jobs for the LADWP, but he was happiest on jobs that took him beyond town and into the paradise of the rugged Sierra.
Prior to leaving LADWP, Dave began building rope tows to help local ski clubs access the mountainous terrain. During his tenure with the LADWP, Dave spent a great deal of time near Mammoth and noticed that the northern part of the valley could be great for skiing.
After 18 great years of work at LADWP, Dave left his post and began a new kind of life sharing the fun of skiing with the recreation world. But, Dave had to be busy, using his mind and his body. He installed portable rope tows on skiable terrain, starting in Independence, and working his way north to McGee Mountain and eventually, Mammoth Mountain. He continued what he considered enjoyment in Mammoth, building lifts in what he calls his “great big sandbox with good-sized toys.”
Fifty years later, after having built 38 chairlifts and more than 4,000 acres of skiable terrain between Mammoth and June Mountain, Dave left his toys and the resort industry. It was someone else’s turn to play.
Adventures in Photography and Philanthropy
During his years building the ski resort, Dave used a Leica camera to document history. From ski racing, to lift building, family and landscape photography, Dave captured it all with that camera. Then, upon his departure from the ski resort, his longtime friends gave him a gift that would define his post-ski-resort management years and give his passion for life a different path on which to travel.
“Instead of a watch, they gave me a digital camera,” McCoy says.
A longtime motorcycle enthusiast, bike rider and backpacker, Dave and his wife Roma now spend much of their time traversing the Eastern Sierra on Rhinos, which are side-by-side all-terrain vehicles. Now, with the camera, Dave could capture images from places very few people have been and even fewer have caught on camera. This evolved into more than a hobby. It became a record of life for the McCoy family, and a testament to Dave’s insatiable appetitive for truly living each day to its utmost.
With the help of the Mammoth Lakes Foundation, which Dave started in 1989 to promote education and the arts in the Eastern Sierra, Dave prints and frames many images from his massive digital catalog. Each year his photography becomes better, and his image-making process becomes more refined.
He sells much of his best work there and at several businesses around Bishop and Mammoth. He donates the proceeds to the Mammoth Lakes Foundation. The Foundation, located in Mammoth, supports education and arts in the Eastern Sierra.
“The family and the community were always a big part of our success, as they helped play in the big sandbox as well,” McCoy says. “It shows that no man does anything alone. Now, my camera’s eye keeps making the Eastern Sierra a place for all of us to enjoy.” And remember.