My Article for LA Weekly: The Problem With Owning L.A.’s Closest Ski Resort? Yeah, You Guessed it

by Stefan Slater

Mount Waterman, Courtesy of Beth Metcalf

Mount Waterman, Courtesy of Beth Metcalf

My Dad loves the snow, and he’s been skiing… when did Sputnik 1 go up? No, scratch that. When did WWI start? No, no, that’s wrong. Ok, when did the first scaly, slimy fish-thing crawl forth from the primordial ooze? Yeah… I think he started skiing sometime around then. Anyway, one of the first places that my Dad took me to ski was Mount Waterman. It’s a beautiful–albeit tiny–ski resort that rarely has snow, mainly because it’s only a couple of hours from sunny and smoggy downtown L.A. I wrote an article about this unique little resort, and all the trying challenges that its owners face every year, for LA Weekly. This was a fun one for me, and I hope you like it. I posted part of the article below, but to read the whole thing, you’ll have to head on over to their site (you’ll find the link at the end). Thanks and let me know what you think!

It’s been more than two years since Mount Waterman was last open.

The small, three-chair ski resort in the San Gabriel Mountains, roughly an hour from La Cañada Flintridge, hasn’t had enough snow coverage for two winters in a row. Other SoCal resorts, like Mountain High or Bear Mountain, fire up snowmaking machines to offset their lack of the natural stuff, but Mount Waterman’s co-owners, brothers Rick and Brien Metcalf, are still working on acquiring snowmakers. That leaves their family business wholly dependent on the often fickle Southern California winter.

Yet every December since 2006, the Metcalfs make weekend treks from San Diego to Los Angeles to prepare their resort for a ski season that may never come.

On a recent Friday evening, the owners’ sister, Beth Metcalf, 45, works alone at the Mount Waterman booth at Ski Dazzle, an annual ski and snowboard consumer event at the Los Angeles Convention Center. She passes out lift maps, fliers and assurances to more than a few people that the mountain will finally be open this year.

“This is all professional, corporate money,” she says with a wry smile, gesturing at the other resort booths around hers. Snow Summit’s booth is modeled to look like the interior of a cabin — complete with a fireplace and a flat-screen TV. The massive Mammoth Lakes Pavilion (nope, not a booth — it’s a “pavilion” of booths) boasts stubby pine trees sprinkled with fake snow, and a lone chairlift with a mountain backdrop set up for photos — “#MammothStories” is printed on the backdrop in a large, snowy font.

In contrast, “This is family-run and oh-my-God-how-fun-is-this,” she says, pointing to the compact Waterman booth. Its backdrop proclaims that Waterman is “L.A.’s Closest Ski Area.” This year the Metcalfs brought in a strip of artificial grass for mini-golf; they’re also holding a raffle. The winners receive lift tickets, cups and pens featuring the Waterman logo — a cartoon skier, which Beth calls “cocktail napkin art,” doodled years ago by one of the Newcombs, the family that originally opened Mount Waterman to the public back in the late 1930s.

Beth works the ticket booth at Waterman and helps manage the employees when it’s open. “The last two years we’ve heard, ‘It’s not going to be a good year,’ but this year we’ll be good to go,” she says confidently.

The Metcalf siblings all live in San Diego (all three work in real estate), but they grew up in La Cañada Flintridge, and often went to Waterman on junior high school field trips — though Rick Metcalf was the only dedicated skier of the three.

Even at that point, the mountain was already a long-standing La Cañada winter hangout. Lynn Newcomb Sr. opened the first rope tow on Waterman in 1939. His son, Lynn Newcomb Jr., helped build the first chairlift, which some believe is the first in California, in 1942. On opening day, the lift broke, and skiers had to jump from their chairs.

Craig Stewart, an investor and longtime Waterman skier, shows up to help Beth with the booth. He says, “The story is that Lynn was working on the chair when they bombed Pearl Harbor.” Newcomb Jr. went on to join the Army Air Forces during World War II. “That man did not have soft hands,” Stewart says.

Rick Metcalf, 50, arrives fashionably late, a boulder of a man with thinning gray hair, sporting a dark black Mount Waterman shirt. He says he’d been playing golf with people from Caltrans, trying to woo them into ensuring that Waterman’s lifeline, the winding Angeles Crest Highway, stays open for the winter.

Check out the rest of the article over on Hope you like it!