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History of Mountain High, California

New Mountain High Grows from Historical Roots
by John McColly,Wrightwood, CA, September 1, 1998

In 1929 construction began on what was then the largest ski jump in the world with hopes of luring the 1932 Winter Olympic Games to Wrightwood. (Los Angeles had already won the rights to the summer games.) The jump took two years to build and in 1931, just three weeks after it was completed, Norwegian-born Alf Engen scored a world professional record of 243 feet. He was cheered on by 20,000 spectators marking the beginning of the area's illustrious ski heritage.

Wrightwood was successfully awarded the winter games but poor snow conditions in 1932 caused the competition to be moved to Lake Placid, New York. The setback, though uncomfortable at the time, had no lasting effect and the sport's popularity continued to rise sharply through the mid to late 1930's.

Commercial ski developments, geared towards the general public rather than the competitive few, commenced in 1937 when Frank Springer and Tom Triol took over management of the Blue Ridge ski area (now Mountain High West). Through a mixture of vision and hard work, they developed a number of varied downhill runs that suited the desires of beginner and advanced skiers alike. The Blue Ridge chair lift, built for the Olympics, was only the third such facility in California and the fifth in the United States. Before being sold to Dick Woodworth in 1975, a second chair lift had been installed and the prestige of Blue Ridge was drawing participants from across the country and even Europe. After the acquisition, Woodworth changed the resort's name to Mountain High.

In 1948 Joseph "Sepp" Benedikter and John Steinmann established a neighboring ski area called Holiday Hill. Benedikter, a native Australian and ski enthusiast since the age of three, was no rookie to the industry. With an engineering background, he had already contributed to development of Sun Valley, Idaho, in 1936. The two entrepreneurs installed the first rope tow on the site that, for many years, had been part of the Old Los Angeles County Park and Playground. Steinmann gained control of the area in 1950 and erected the first mile-long chair lift with a vertical rise of 1,600 feet. The area was sold to a corporation made up of some of Steinmann's sons in 1959 and later purchased totally by Heinz Steinmann, the son of the original developer.

Terry Tognazzini, a business-man from Orange County, acquired both Mountain High in 1978 and Holiday Hill in 1980. He then merged the two to create the 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 47 trails and 11 chair lifts including the region's first high-speed detachable chair lift. Tognazzini also installed a comprehensive snowmaking system, night lighting and other resort amenities. At its peak in the late 1980's, 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 1990's and the resort fell into a financial slump from which most thought it would never return.

In June of 1997, Mountain High Ski Area was purchased by a company that is today known as Mountain High Holdings LLC with goals of creating a first-class facility. Now entitled the New Mountain High Resort, it has already undergone a dramatic transformation with skier visits increasing by 129% in its first season. The area's Master Development Plan is currently being developed and includes new lifts, trails and base area facilities. When complete, the New Mountain High will be the largest and most sophisticated ski resort in the region.

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