20 June 2015

More Ski Villa History

In the wake of a few efforts to develop a sustainable social club on the former Workmen's Circle camp property off Carbon Canyon Road east of Sleepy Hollow from 1958 to 1965, a new enterprise called Ski Villa was launched that was a strange concept:  year-round skiing without snow.

A post in the early days of this blog (2008) discussed the project, but further information from the Chino Champion and Los Angeles Times gives some more details on the short-lived and bizarre enterprise.

A 13 April 1966 article in the Champion observed that the opening of the project was anticipated to be within a couple of days.  Developed by canyon resident John F. Kramer and other investors, Ski Villa "is located behind the Canyon Hills Riding Club" just off Carbon Canyon Road and "some of the old country club buildings are incorporated in the project."

Kramer provided the paper an explanation of how the slope was to be constructed, noting that, "the area will be covered with asphalt, and that 6x6-inch interlocking plastic squares will grass-like fingers will be glued to the asphalt."  He then compared the project to the only other example like Ski Villa in the world, the Funabashi ski slope built in Japan, thirty-five miles from Tokyo, and opened in 1963.  In that case, steel sheeting was laid down, on which wood was placed with the plastic tiles nailed to the wood.

A conceptual drawing of the entrance to Ski Villa from the Chino Champion, 13 April 1966. The smaller structures behind the sign and the larger two-story building at the far right date from the Camp Kinder Ring days and were used by subsequent club occupying the site after 1958 and are still standing. From newspapers.com. Click on either image to see them enlarged in a separate window.
The proprietor of Ski Villa went on to note that there would be tow lines to take skiers to distances of 200, 400 and 1,100 feet on the slope and that he was hoping to have other slopes built on the property, which was projected to expand from seven to eighty acres (this ambitious agenda was not attained, however.)  Kramer's intention was to get in touch with regional ski clubs so that their members could try out Ski Villa.

The manufacturer of the plastic tiles was identified as the Randozza [actually, Randazzo] Plastic Company in Gardena.  This firm incorporated in 1959 under the leadership of president Phillip Randazzo and the business expected the life of the Dow polypropylene 205 6" tiles, sporting 408 bristles of 1 1/2" size, to last three years, though the Japanese at Funabashi were evidently expecting a twenty-year lifespan.

Because the enterprise was geared mainly towards night uses, there were to be "several spectator areas with high candle power lights illuminating the entire area."  Hours were intended to be Wednesday through Friday evenings and all day on Saturdays and Sundays.  Ten certified instructors were to be on-hand to teach novices and prices were expected to be in the $3-5 range.

Inevitable delays, however, ensued and a 22 June Champion article observed that "finishing touches are being added to Ski Villa, the giant mad-made ski resort in Carbon Canyon" with the intention of a July grand opening.

Apparently, the idea of using asphalt proved impractical as it was said to "disintegrate" on testing, so concrete was applied as a base instead.  About two-thirds of the work had been completed by press time and crews were working around-the-clock to try to meet a 4th of July weekend deadline.

A 6" Dow polypropylene 205 plastic tile, missing some its 408 1 1/2" bristles, salvaged at the end of December 2014 from the former Ski Villa site before it was bulldozed for the 76-unit Canyon Hills housing tract.
The piece noted that there were two swimming pools, a shuffleboard deck, and a roller skating rink on the premises and that "future plans include an outdoor skating area," but whether this another roller skating rink or something else was not clarified.

Among the earliest advertisements located for Ski Villa was one that appeared in the 6 July 1966 Orange County section of the Los Angeles Times through Neal's Sporting Goods store, which included a branch in Fullerton.  Subsequent ads touted packages, clothing and other amenities available through the store for use at Ski Villa.

The 15 July issue of the Times featured a couple of photos of the new resort, including a comely young woman skiing down the slope, through the interesting (!) angle of someone's spread legs at the bottom and another of a worker laying the plastic tiles in place.

As a demonstration that Ski Villa wasn't the only strange scheme for all-year skiing in southern California, the Times's "West" magazine section of 23 October 1966 featured the Carbon Canyon facility with others, including a silicone-surfaced plastic run leading to a straw and cottonseed slope near Mt. Baldy; a sand dune at Malibu; and a mechanical example at a sporting goods store in the San Fernando Valley.  The article observed that "the visual effect is satisfying (pure white) and the cognoscenti swear the physical effect is satisfactory — exactly like skiing on fresh 'powder.'"

On 7 December, another Times article came out regarding Ski Villa, noting that "you'll never see a bad snow report from the Southland's newest ski area" and claimed that the plastic bristles on the slope gave "like mid-morning spring snow."  It was added that there was a tog shop, rental shop and restaurant on site, all decorated in an Alpine style.

A photo showing vehicles grading the Ski Villa site.  Note, in the background, some of the structures dating back to the Camp Kinder Ring facility and the subsequent clubs that occupied the property after the camp closed in 1958.   Within the last several months, grading for a future 76-unit housing project called "Canyon Hills" has taken place on the property. From the 13 April 1966 edition of the Chino Champion, from newspapers.com.
Chuck Morse, the National Ski Patrol's regional chairperson, observed that "the plastic bristles are comparable to hard-pack snow and offer a little more stability, since there are no tracks from other skiers.  There is good edge control and plenty of speed when ski bottoms are coated with silicone."  Morse went on to endorse Ski Villa for pre-natural snow "limbering up", trying out new ski boots, or introducing youngsters to skiing without troublesome cold temperatures!

Morse went on to state that there had been no reported breaks or fractures since the facility opened in July, although "friction burns are suffered occasionally by skiers with bare arms or legs, but nothing serious."  He also noted that the 280-foot vertical drop was not much of a challenge for established skiers, but was fine for instruction, practice and general fun.

This, by the way, was counter to a statement made in a Sports Illustrated piece from earlier in '66 in which an unnamed Randazzo representative admitted that the physical sensation was not quite like snow.

That latter observation may have come from Ski Villa's president Marion (Randy) Randazzo of the firm that made the plastic tiles.  Tellingly, in the Times piece, he admitted "business had been slow," but that the $750,000 project was still operating in the red.  Randazzo was quoted as saying that "comments from skiers have been mostly good and we've had lots of repeats."  He said he and Kramer hoped that they could sell franchises if Ski Villa did well.

Of course, the venture did not do well and failed within a very short time of the appearance of the Times's December article.  With Ski Villa's premature end came further attempts to use the property as a club--which will be discussed in future entries.

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