01 February 2009
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.