Humble Beginnings for Mt. Baldy Ski Lifts

In 1944, two die-hard skiers named Jim Chaffee and Herb Leffler started what would later become Mt. Baldy Ski Lifts Inc.

Like other local ski resorts, including Snow Valley and the now-closed location in Green Valley Lake, Mt. Baldy started as a rope tow. Jim and Herb used an old Hudson automobile engine to build a towing system that allowed skiers to access the formidable Movie slope, which is also known as Avalanche slope.

They added a few more tows over the years so skiers could access higher elevations where the snow was better, and, after a spectacular winter season in 1952, they found some investors who secured a permit from the U.S. Forest Service to build an actual ski lift on nearby Thunder Mountain.

Herb and Jim sold their rights to the ski tows to the newly formed Mt. Baldy Ski Lifts, and Herb stayed on as General Manager of the new resort while Jim went on to operate an auto repair shop out of his home.

The resort continued to grow over the years and today boasts 400 skiable acres, four chair lifts, and 26 different trails, including six rated as double black diamond. A new reservoir was added a few years ago to increase the resort’s snowmaking capabilities so it could compete better with other resorts in Southern California where winter weather can be fickle.

During the off-season, Mt. Baldy Ski Lifts hosts hiking and biking events. Visitors can also take a lift to dine at the Top of the Notch Restaurant at 7,800 feet above sea level. On a clear day, you can see Catalina Island, Mt. Baldy Ski Lifts President Ron Ellington said.

“Summer business has increased about 20 percent because more and more people are coming up and hiking to enjoy the fresh air,” Ron said.

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