Lynn Newcomb Jr., the legendary mountain man credited with establishing the first ski lift in Southern California and introducing a generation of young people to the sport, died Monday in Bishop, Calif. He was 91.
He had lived with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia for several years, and suffered a series of seizures in recent weeks, his family said.
For six decades starting in the 1940s, Lynn Newcomb Jr. was at the heart of the San Gabriel Mountains community, managing and owning Newcomb’s Ranch and Mt. Waterman Ski Resort in the Angeles National Forest.
He was a champion of outdoor culture, and his businesses, the only privately owned operations in the 650,000-acre expanse, attracted everyone from truant school children to Hollywood stars. Long after selling the ski resort and namesake restaurant in separate deals in 2000 and 2001, respectively, Lynn Newcomb Jr. remained a frequent visitor, friends said.
“I honestly believe his greatest joy in life was seeing people enjoy and recreate in the forest,” said Mike Leum, a longtime member of the Montrose Search and Rescue Team who befriended Newcomb during years of search-and-rescue operations in the Angeles National Forest. “That he had a part in that, I thought always brought him a feeling of accomplishment.”
Born May 21, 1920, Lynn Newcomb Jr. was raised in Hollywood, where he attended the Black-Foxe Military Institute. His familial roots were in the San Gabriel Valley, and he spent weekends and holidays there riding and hiking throughout the foothills and in the forest.
There were also occasional visits with a distant cousin, Louie Newcomb, who lived in a remote cabin on a 160-acre parcel of land that he homesteaded in the San Gabriel Mountains in 1891 just months before the forest was federalized.
That land eventually made its way into the hands of Lynn Newcomb Sr. Inspired by the construction of Angeles Crest Highway, the senior Lynn Newcomb founded Newcomb’s Ranch Inn, which established itself amid the social constraints of the Prohibition era as a place where one could get a drink or a room without a second glance.
“Word of mouth had it that you could drive up to Newcomb’s and get a shot of whiskey or a beer, and it was very unlikely that the sheriffs would drive up there to arrest you,” said Dr. Fred Rundall, who has owned Newcomb’s Ranch since 2001.
In 1939, Lynn Newcomb Jr., then a student at USC, made his mark when he chose nearby Mt. Waterman as the spot for Southern California’s first rope tow. Two years later, a ski lift followed.
“People liked to come because of the proximity,” said Robyn Newcomb, who was raised working at the ski resort his dad helped establish. “You could go up for the day and go skiing and go home.”
With the start of World War II, Lynn Newcomb Jr. dropped out of USC and served as a flight instructor with the Air Force, flying P-38s and P-51s.
He married his wife, Virginia, in 1942. And following his father’s death in 1945, he took on increasing levels of responsibility at Newcomb’s Ranch and Mt. Waterman. He split his time between a home in La Cañada Flintridge, where his two children attended school, and the mountains.
He was conservative and hard-working, and expected the same of others, family and friends said.
“There were so many guys, especially from La Cañada, that used to be at the bottom of Angeles Crest Highway, and Dad would give them a ride up there and put them to work,” said his daughter, Cynthia Newcomb Quinn. “Somehow they just had a lot of respect for him, and he made a lot of guys grow up.”
La Cañada High School graduate Darren Martinelli is among those who credit Lynn Newcomb Jr. with his first job. Martinelli began operating a Mt. Waterman lift in 1985. He was 14.
“The ranch here was something he picked up from his family, but Mt. Waterman he created,” Martinelli said. “Without him, that would be another forested hill up there. That was his baby. Even up until this most recent winter, he would stand in the parking lot gazing up at the mountain.”
The outdoorsman never hesitated to lend a helping hand during rescues in the mountains, according to members of the Montrose Search and Rescue Team. If an operation took team members into the Mt. Waterman area, Newcomb provided them with rides to the top, Leum said.
Lynn Newcomb Jr. was preceded in death by his first wife Virginia, and his second wife, Lillian. In addition to his son and daughter, he is survived by six grandchildren and several great-grandchildren. A memorial service is planned for Sept. 18 at 1 p.m. at the La Cañada Country Club.
Family members plan to later distribute his ashes at Mt. Waterman.
FOR THE RECORD: This story has been updated from an earlier version to correct the date and time of Newcomb's memorial service.