The Big Pines Region of the Angeles National Forest is rich in skiing heritage. More than 90 years ago, winter enthusiasts made their way up Highway 2 from to a ski resort near Los Angeles to sled, slide, and ski at Big Pines Park. Mountain High is proud to recognize the forefathers who laid the groundwork for what is now Southern California’s most popular ski resort.
Big Pines Park opened on Labor Day 1924 and by 1929 a world-class ski jump was the focal point of Southern California’s festive winter sports carnivals. It was also hoped that the completion of the jump would convince the International Olympic Committee to award the 1932 Winter Olympic Games to Big Pines. The 1932 Summer Olympic Games had already been awarded to Los Angeles, so many Angelenos felt that Big Pines Park, with its ideal location and top-notch facilities, should host the winter games. Unfortunately, the International Olympic Committee felt that California, especially Southern California, did not have the facilities or experience required to host the event. The 1932 Winter Olympic Games were awarded to Lake Placid on April 10, 1929.
After a new jump was built in 1931, a flurry of record-breaking followed. Some of ski jumping’s biggest stars—Halvar Bjorngaard, Halvor Halstad, Lars Haugen, John Elvrum, Hjalmar Hvam, and Alf Engen—soared to new distances on the steep stage at Big Pines.
In the late 1930s and early 1940s, as ski tows and chairlifts began to spring up in winter sports areas, the popularity of ski jumping declined and skiers seeking easy uphill access for their downhill runs began flocking to the slopes.
In 1941, Frank Springer and Tom Triol began operating Blue Ridge Ski Area (now Mountain High West) on the former slopes of Big Pines Park. They cleared and improved slopes and built rope tows that suited beginner and advanced skiers alike. Skiing was brought to a near standstill at the outbreak of World War II. While Triol was in the service, Springer continued to run the Blue Ridge lifts whenever possible. After the war, the pair enthusiastically began revitalizing Blue Ridge Ski Area with the development of their first chairlift. The single chair, completed in January 1947, was Southern California’s second chairlift, the third in California, and only the fifth chairlift in the United States. Another chairlift had been installed by 1975, when Dick Woodworth and Bill Ciserio bought the area and renamed it Mountain High.
In 1948, Josef “Sepp” Benedikter began clearing trails at a neighboring ski area called Holiday Hill (now Mountain High East). Benedikter had been lured from his native Austria to assist W. Averill Harriman develop his Sun Valley, Idaho ski resort. He helped design the runs and when Sun Valley opened in 1936, he was the first person to ride the world’s first chairlift.
By 1949, Benedikter was operating a little rope tow at Holiday Hill. In 1950, with financial backing from John Steinmann, he built a 5,800-foot long double chairlift, almost twice the length of any other lift in Southern California at the time. Once work began on the chairlift, Benedikter cleared all the runs and built the towers from timber hewn from Holiday Hill’s slopes. The chairlift was ready to operate in December 1950, but Holiday Hill and its first chairlift became the object of litigation and conflict. Steinmann bought out Benedikter in late 1951 and the Steinmann family would go on to own and operate the area for nearly 30 years.
Terry Tognazzini, an Orange County businessman, acquired Mountain High in 1978 and Holiday Hill in 1981. He merged the two historic areas to create a single resort known as Mountain High Ski Area. During the next 18 years, Mountain High grew to become one of Southern California’s leading winter resorts with 46 trails and 11 chairlifts, including the region’s first high-speed detachable quad. Tognazzini also installed a comprehensive snowmaking system, night lighting, and other resort amenities. At its peak in the late 1980s, Mountain High drew an annual attendance of 350,000 and was ranked second in the region. Unfortunately, due to lack of capital and a slowing Southern California economy, attendance faltered in the mid 1990s and the resort fell into a financial slump which most thought it would never recover.
In June 1997, Mountain High Ski Area was purchased by a company today known as Mountain High Holdings LLC. A dramatic transformation took place that summer which included the renovation of everything from lifts to grooming equipment to snowmaking facilities. In just the first year, the resort saw a 129% increase in attendance, justifying the extensive capital outlay. Now titled the “New” Mountain High Resort, the stage was set for the area’s transition into the 21st century.
During the next several years, popularity grew without precedent, and in 2001, just four years after the purchase, Mountain High had become one of the top five resorts in the state and top 25 resorts in the country in terms of skier visits. To this day, Mountain High is still one of Southern California's most popular winter resorts and has since won numerous awards for generating new participants and increasing the frequency of core visitors.
Come visit Mountain High for yourself this year and take in the rich history that both the resort and the surrounding area have to offer.