01 February 2009

Year-Round Skiing in Carbon Canyon? The Short, Strange History of Ski Villa






There it is off Carbon Canyon Road and Canyon Hills Drive in Chino Hills, a massive gray concrete scar peppered with green (or brown, depending on the time year)stubbly weeds, a testament to another crackpot scheme gone wrong and leaving its ugly mark on a natural hillside landscape that deserved better.
Yes, only here in Carbon Canyon would you have a year-round snowless (emphasize: snowless) ski resort--the only such attempt ever in these United States. This oddity was unveiled on 25 June 1966 as Ski Villa and the strange novelty lasted as long as one could expect: a year. Oh, but what a year it was!
There doesn't appear to be much information available about the resort, but two sources were located.
The first was the 8 August 1966 issue of Sports Illustrated with a short article titled "No Snow Job." The piece began, "It may be 85, but they're skiiing in Carbon Canyon, 45 freeway minutes [slightly lengthened 43 years later] east of Los Angeles." According to SI, the ski run on seven acres cost $750,000, after the hillside "was graded to the desired contour, covered with two inches of mastic cement and topped with 1.3 million interlocking 6-inch square tiles of plastic bristles with a 1-inch nap." There were three tow ropes leading users to levels at 300, 500, and 900 feet and a total run of a quarter mile. The unnamed owner/developer also purchased part or all of the former Camp Kinder Ring (see the blog entry of ) operared by the Workmen's Circle, a Jewish organization in Los Angeles, from 1928 to 1958. In former camp buildings were a skiiing school, equipment shop, restaurant, lounge, ski patrol office and a first-aid station. Despite the statement that "skiers claim the surface is comparable to midmorning spring snow on Mammoth Mountain," there were probably more than a few visitors who needed the first-aid. Even an unnamed executive from Randazzo Plastic, which manufactured the bristle tile, said that "falling on plastic bristles doesn't have the soft touch of snow" and the folks at Ski Villa gave the sage advice that "full clothes coverage" was recommended when taking to the slope. The short article concluded with "there's not much point in wearing bathing suits, anyway. It's so hot in the daytime that the floodlit slope operates mainly at night."
Ingrid Wicken, who runs the California Ski Library out of Norco, wrote a pictorial history Skiing in Southern California in 2007. Being a pictorial, there's little additional information available, other than she states there were 1.5 million tiles and that the slope was 1,200 feet from top to bottom with a 200-foot width expanding to 900 feet at the bottom. Wicken wrote that, "the white, bristle-covered slope certainly made the area stand out among the surrounding rolling foothills, but that did not seem to aid in the area's success." Moreover, she adds, "the surface proved to be too hard and unforgiving during a fall, perhaps hastening the area's demise."
Indeed, the slope still stands out, but very much in an "unforgiving" way! After one season, the enterprise was ingloriously shuttered. The resort buildings across Canyon Hills Drive became a horse stable, which they are today, and that concrete monstrosity draped across the hillside reminds us that people can come up with some incredible stunningly bizarre schemes.
Now, if the 76-unit Canyon Hills housing development, which was approved by the City of Chino Hills, comes to pass, it is possible that the slope may be removed. One bad idea replaced by another?
The modern photos showing the slope and some buildings across the street that were part of the resort (and Camp Kinder Ring) and which are now part of the horse stable were taken in September 2008.
The 1966 images come from: Ingrid P. Wicken, Skiing in Southern California (Arcadia Publishing, 2007) with the upslope photo by Elmar Baxter and the downslope view by Cecil Charles. In case someone sees the book, there is a third photo identified as Ski Villa, but which is some other site, which is clear given the narrow run, the much wider canyon, the form of the hills and other details.

UPDATE, 6 September 2014.  A neighbor here in the Canyon stated earlier today that the lifts used at Ski Villa were removed and taken up to Mount Baldy and used at the resort there for an undetermined period.  This little detail seemed worth adding to the post.

20 comments:

zygo said...

Good blog with some good research. When I took driver's ed in 1966 we drove up Carbon Canyon Rd and saw people skiing on the slope. Its definitely been an unhealed wound to the area ever since.

Loren D. said...

Huell Howser would be interested in this. Just the kind of odd but fascinating thing he likes to do.

Loren Woodson (brother of Claire Woodson Schlotterbeck)

Paul said...

Hello Zygo, thanks for the nice comments. In some ways, it would be a big learning experience for people taking driver's ed to give Carbon Canyon Road a try at rush hour or when other drivers are passing them on blind curves at 60 mph! Please come back and check the blog out from time-to-time.

Paul said...

Hello Loren, Maybe Huell Howser could do an episode of "California Gold" on Carbon Canyon generally, covering Ski Villa, Sleepy Hollow's colorful history, La Vida, the MacKenna slaying and etc.? Thanks!

Canyon Native said...

What an interesting blog! Strangely, we purchased our home in Olinda Village from the owner of this ski slope in the early 70s. By then the ski slope had failed and he needed to sell. The ski slope was and remains an ugly blight on the Canyon slope, but the Andersons were really nice people. We kept in touch with them for some time.

Paul said...

Hi Canyon Native, thanks for the additional information and your nice comment. Sometimes it's easy to critique someone's projects and your comment about the developer is a reminder that the person and the idea can't necessarily be judged the same way.

bucky714 said...

I remember taking Sunday drives thru Carbon Canyon with my grandfather in 1966. I was 5 years old. I can still remember watching folks ski down that slop. Today whenever I get chance to drive thru the canyon. I always got my eyes peeled looking for the concrete slop. I know its a sore eye for your folks out there. But when I drive by and see its still there. It puts a smile on my face. Remembering my grandfather and the wonderful times we spent together. So I'm still glad it has a survive for over 45 yesrs

Thanks again

Bucky




























































































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Paul said...

Hello Bucky714, I can certainly understand the nostalgia, the ski slope must've been quite a sight for a 5-year old. Ski Villa, concrete scar or not, does take its place alongside the wacky and wonderful in the Canyon's history. Come back soon!

WW said...

I remember in the early 1980s 4-wheeling in this area on the north side of the ski slope. There were (and still look to be, based on satellite imagery) old foundations of homes & other buildings, and I remember a swimming pool or two that were filled in behind some of the homes. It struck me as an abandoned housing development, with some of the Junipers still growing in place (although greatly overgrown). It seemed like it was more of an affluent neighborhood, with circular driveways and substantial foundational ruins...

What happened to the homes in the immediate area, on the north side of the ski slope? I also remember an abandoned home (2-story, IIRC) just off Canyon Hills Drive, about 50 yards NorthEast of the ski slope...now all I can see from satellite imagery is the foundation.

I remember when exploring the area that the plastic turf tiles were still in abundance, pretty surprising considering that they had been left there for roughly 16 years at the time.

It was said at the time that there was an old Nike missile site to the NorthWest of the old ski slope, and I remember a barbed-wire fence line running North-South not far from the ski slope...the few times we dared to get near the fence, we heard what sounded like radios and raised voices heading our way on some motorized vehicles. We never stuck around to find out who it might have been, but it added to the legend of some defense-related compound or what some suggested was a cult compound. Just what is the property to the NorthWest of the ski slope?

Great blog, I hope you can keep some of the magic of the old Carbon Canyon around for a bit longer! Thanks for posting the great info, I've wondered for years just what the Ski Villa complex was all about!

Paul said...

Hello WW, I don't know if you'll see because I'm responding two months later!

I don't know of any homes that were on that side of Canyon Hills Drive, my understanding is that any prior buildings were during the Canyon Hills Inn (early to mid 60s) and Camp Kinder Ring (1928-1958) periods and mostly or all on the east side of the road.

Perhaps the camp had structures in the area you describe? I did an earlier post on Camp Kinder Ring if you or anyone else wants to check that out.

As for the "secret site," my guess is that you're talking about the St. Joseph's Hill of Hope religious retreat (some say cult) that is not too far northwest. It is off the dirt road on Carbon Canyon Road at the Orange/San Bernardino county lines, but is, I believe, within Los Angeles County, a corner of which comes down from Diamond Bar and embraces the compound.

Sorry for the late reply and please visit again.

arrowsteel said...

I just hike to the top of the ski slope today...

rockskier said...

Sounds like a fun place in the 60's. I was just checking out the SKI Villa on October 1st. Skiing down was a little tricky. I'm sure it was better with the plastic brushes in the 60's.

http://skiallyear.blogspot.com/2009/10/chino-hills-concrete.html

W W said...

Hi Paul, thanks for your response! No apology necessary, I appreciate you taking the time to keep up with older posts. Your Camp Kinder article explained a lot and tied to two together very well. Thanks, my questions are all answered now!

GREAT article, loved it!! Excellent photos too!

Ingrid P. Wicken said...

Paul, Hello. Just a little update on more Ski Villa history. I'm working on a 3rd Southern California ski history book and am including Ski Villa. I have 2.5 pages I can send you if I like. Also, since you wrote your article, I have found a copy of a brochure from Ski Villa. I can send you a scan of that if you like. Ingrid www.skilibrary.com

prs said...

Hello Ingrid, I would really appreciate anything you want to send and can do a new updated post. There has been a lot of interest in Ski Villa on this blog and it'll be great to add to it. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

The eyes sore is all of the houses going up in the Canyon. Oh! And love the traffic! Now thats an eye sore!

Skip Roland said...

As a teenager growing up in OC, I was on the Ski Villa slopes several times in the year it was open. The rope tows burned through several sets of gloves before a bought a special rope tow grip handle. The plastic bristles created gouges on the "new" bases of skis at the time, so I had to use an old pair of Head skis with a special metal base. Falling was dangerous, as the bristles cut through several pairs of levi jeans (and my knees!) on the various visits. Regardless. it was amazing to ski on summer nights in the canyon!

Twhirsch said...

I skied At Ski Villa once when I was about 12. I remember that the plastic shredded the bottom of my skis and my rear end when I fell. I still have a bit of a scar these many years later. Someone asked about pictures? I may have some super 8 film of the slope and my runs.

prs said...

Hello Twhirsch, thanks for the comment and sharing some memories of the short-lived Ski Villa. The concrete slope will be removed when an approved housing project gets built and it looks like this could happen in the relatively near future.

Anonymous said...

And then there was the Purple Haze and neihboring la vida hot springs yes those were good timesoh plenty