‘Disneyland of the Mountains’ : Mt. Baldy Resort Operator Sought

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Times Staff Writer

As Bob Olson sees it, Mt. Baldy could become the “Disneyland of the Mountains.”

“Well, why not?” The owner of the 68-year-old Ice House Canyon Lodge, on Mt. Baldy, shrugged. “There could be regular shuttles from Anaheim.”

At the very least, he figures, Mt. Baldy--at 10,064 feet in elevation, the highest peak in the San Gabriel Mountain range--could become a major destination resort.

With its proximity to the large, Southland population centers (it’s only 45 miles from the Los Angeles City Hall) and its size (800 acres designated for skiing, with first-right-of-refusal to develop 1,000 more), Mt. Baldy, also known as Old Baldy and Mt. San Antonio, could become, he says, “Southern California’s premier ski resort.”


Single Resort Operator

All it would take is money and--as Olson envisions it--a single resort operator instead of the mom-and-pop owners of the handful of Baldy facilities that are there now. That’s why he and the other owners have joined to sell their mountain interests, which do not include the land.

“There are five owners of the four lodges and a number of shareholders involved in the ski-lift facilities, which would tie in with the sale,” he explained.

They will entertain offers between $8 million to $10 million.

“We’re looking for a wealthy individual who wants a ski resort in his back pocket or a company that specializes in resort property. Maybe a Marriott,” he suggested. Maybe a company like Disney? Maybe even Disney?

Cites Advantages

“Why not?” he replied. Walt Disney Productions lost to conservationists in its bid in the ‘70s to develop an 18-lift ski resort in Northern California’s Mineral King Valley. “But we have an advantage over Mineral King,” Olson noted, “as we are already a developed ski area, and we have the go-ahead to build more lifts.”

As it is, Mt. Baldy has only four ski lifts and 25 runs, making it the smallest Southern California ski area in terms of lifts and runs, next to Mt. Waterman, which is the closest ski resort to downtown Los Angeles. (Mt. Waterman is two miles nearer than Mt. Baldy.)

In terms of acreage, however, Mt. Baldy is the largest in Southern California, said Jon Mitchel, marketing director for the Mt. Baldy Chamber of Commerce.


Only 400 of the 800 acres already approved for skiing have been developed. The current mountain capacity is 2,300 skiers a day with an allowed expansion of up to 4,500 a day, although a 1983 study by Alpine Consultants of Costa Mesa showed that the mountain has a potential for handling 10,000 skiers a day.

Plans Four New Lifts

Pete Olson, who heads the shareholders involved with the ski facilities, said he plans to start construction next summer on the first of four new lifts, which will give the resort a total of 40 runs, including what he described as the longest vertical drop--2,200 feet--of any ski run in Southern California.

Pete Olson, who is not related to Bob Olson, just completed a 6,000-square-foot, ski-slope restaurant to replace one that burned down in March, 1985, and he plans to install more snow-making equipment next summer.

Snow making could make the difference between a dream and a disaster, as Morgan Adams discovered after he headed a group of investors in building the first ski lifts at Mt. Baldy in 1952.

“I had been skiing since 1933, and I thought we could put up the best ski area in Southern California, but the snow for the previous 10 years turned out to be better than the snow for the next 10 years. It turned out that we lost money every year for each of the 17 years after we built the lifts,” he said.

Snow Making Costs

Snow-making technology evolved about 15 years ago, said Larry Christensen of Alpine Consultants.


Mt. Baldy already has some snow-making capabilities, including a 1-million gallon reservoir, but--as Pete Olson explained it--”we need a half-foot of snow before we can make snow.”

Christensen calculates that “even with snow, it could cost Mt. Baldy $20,000 in 24 hours to manufacture more snow. The technology is there to make snow even without snow, but Baldy just doesn’t have the means to do it.”

The individual owners at Mt. Baldy don’t have the means to upgrade their business facilities as fast and as extensively as they themselves would like.

Discovered Complication

That’s what Bob Olson discovered after buying the Ice House last summer. At first, he had visions of turning the 3,000-square-foot upstairs of the lodge, now used for storage, into a bed-and-breakfast, perhaps even qualifying for historical-rehab tax credits and loans.

Before he could begin on the lodge itself, though, he had to refurbish four cabins on the property. Dealing with the necessary governmental entities in modernizing the cabins took far longer than he imagined, and when he discovered that he could barely make ends meet by simply operating the lodge’s restaurant, he got the idea to sell.

When he polled the other small-business owners, he found that they too were interested in selling for a variety of reasons. “Obviously, this has not been the best of years,” he said, referring to the late seasonal snowfall, “but this is not a desperation sale.”


Ron Ellingson, president of the Mt. Baldy Chamber of Commerce and owner of the Mt. Baldy Lodge since 1978, said he’s had his fun at the 73-year-old lodge, where he and his wife live with their five children, but conceded that he’d sell “mainly for the money.”

Land Publicly Owned

But Bill Seager, who spent the past 38 years operating the 87-year-old Buckhorn lodge--which Clark Gable, Carole Lombard and the Barrymores frequented--said he just wants to move on to something else.

And Jean Adams, who has owned the 65-year-old Snowcrest lodge with her husband, Earl, for 21 years, said, “I have mixed emotions about selling, but there’s a lot I’d like to see happen up here, and it takes one person a long time to do anything.” (They are not related to Morgan Adams.)

Part of the problem is that none of the land is now privately owned. Even the land under the several hundred privately-owned cabins on Mt. Baldy is owned by the U. S. Forest Service. However, many of the sites, including the land under the Buckhorn and Mt. Baldy Lodge, will become private land in a land exchange, which Don Stikkers, district ranger for the area, said is a “year or two off.”

In the meantime, though, he said, “We have no problem with the idea of these owners selling their facilities, and we’d be glad to look at any proposals that come up.”