Snow Summit, 1952-Present
In 1950 avid sportsman, Tommi Tyndall, recognized skiing as a growing sport in Southern California. With the help of his wife, Jo, and her father, the Reverend Doctor Alfred Hughes, he persuaded friends, relatives, local businessmen, and ski enthusiasts to invest in his new company, Snow Summit, Inc. After two years of intense effort with the Forest Service, construction began in 1952 of a half mile access road and a mile-long chairlift. Also, the clearing of Log Chute ski run and some base area slopes for rope tows and the basement of the Summit Inn.
By January 1953, the first chairlift was completed and had become the nation’s first detachable chairlift. The original chairlift was replaced with a modern, high capacity fixed grip double chairlift. Following the completion of this and the Summit Inn, Tommi encountered yet another challenge. The lack of adequate natural snow limited the amount of days business was open per season putting the survival of the company at risk.
By 1960 Tommi was convinced that snowmaking was possible and essential in Southern California. By the fall of 1964 snowmaking covered slopes served by three rope tows on the Bear Bottom beginner area and the lower part of Miracle Mile served by the chairlift. The chairlift became the first to be served by snowmaking in the West!
Tommi would never see the success of Snow Summit that he both started and saved. On December 27, 1964 Tommi was killed in a tractor accident while dragging a chain to remove dirt berms on the slopes. At only 52, Tommi did not live to see that his snowmaking system proved to be the critical turning point and ultimate success in Snow Summit’s history.
Jo Tyndall, Tommi’s wife, was appointed by the Board of Directors as the General Manager of Snow Summit. After becoming General Manager she chose her son, Dick Kun, as her assistant.
Meanwhile, thanks to the newly installed snowmaking system, Snow Summit entered a period of stability making just enough income to maintain the resort and gradually reduce its debt.
The 1960s brought the take-off of the modern U.S. ski resort industry both nationally and in Southern California. This time also saw huge improvements in grooming, ski equipment and snowmaking systems. With little capital for physical improvements, Snow Summit needed a way to satisfy customers so they would return. This was done with exceptional snowmaking, grooming operations and the famous limited ticket sales policy.
By the 1968/1969 season, the Board of Directors and long-time attorney had gained enough confidence in Snow Summit’s future to install a second chairlift. In the fall of 1969, Westridge Run was cleared becoming the first major new run since the late 1950s.
Finally, during the 1972/1973 season Snow Summit hit the jackpot, receiving the most natural snow in its history. The snow brought more than double the customer visits from previous seasons and its gross annual income more than doubled. After operating for more than 20 years, Snow Summit was finally on its way.
Following the 1972/1973 season, Snow Summit embarked upon an enormous facility improvement program. Chair 3 and its runs were constructed, and Chair 1’s snowmaking system was almost completely rebuilt. The lower water storage pond was assembled with new buried steel air and water pipelines for snowmaking. The Summit Inn was also renovated.
By the 1975/1976 season Chair 4, the beginner lift, was installed and the snowmaking system had been expanded. The following summer snowmaking had been installed to the top of Summit Run, a 10-million gallon reservoir was built at the top of the mountain, and more air compressors were installed.
Demand was so great by the winter of 1976, people with sleeping bags would line up in front of the ticket windows at 2:00 a.m. By January, Snow Summit introduced the ski industry’s first reserved ticket system, helping people avoid the early morning lines.
During the summer of 1979 Chairs 6 and 7 were installed, and the first two floors of Bear Bottom Lodge were constructed. The concrete basement housed the largest diesel power generating plant of any ski resort in the nation, along with more air compressors for snowmaking. A 1-mile waterline and pumping system from Big Bear Lake was also installed, assuring adequate snowmaking water for the future.
In 1980 Jo Tyndall retired. Sadly, that same year she passed away from cancer. Her son, Dick Kun, then assumed the presidency.
In 1981 beginner Chair 8 was installed and was the last lift approved by the Forest Service. Before any more expansions could take place, Snow Summit would have to undergo an additional development plan, a process that would take several years.
To continue the growth of the company, management looked to acquire another resort. By late 198 Snow Summit gained China Peak, renamed Sierra Summit, a ski area in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Fresno. Between the two resorts 680,000 skier visits were generated and the future looked bright.
After the 1982/1983 El Nino season Snow Summit faced four big problems: First, the drought caused a decrease in skier visits. Second, competition from three primary Southern California ski areas, Snow Valley, Goldmine, and Mountain High, increased and Snow Summit lost a portion of its market share. Third, the market wasn’t expanding and the industry experienced no growth in skier volume. While thousands of people were being introduced to the sport, about the same number were either dropping out or skiing less. Fourth, customers began demanding improved service to get more value for their money.
Snow Summit responded to these problems, paying additional attention to individual customers, and their likes and dislikes. Thoughts of expansion to accommodate an abundance of skiers changed to seeking improved service. These changes resulted in a new lift installation and improvement of runs and snowmaking.
During the summer of 1988 Snow Summit began taking mountain bikes and their riders up the chair so they could ride down the trails off-site beyond permit boundaries. Big Bear has some of the best mountain biking in Southern California accessible by the Snow Summit Scenic Sky Chair with more than 40 miles of cross-country forest service roads and trails.
Also in 1988, a major competitive threat arose when a large U.S. ski company, S.K.I., bought neighbor resort, Goldmine, renaming it Bear Mountain. S.K.I put in millions of dollars in improvements causing Snow Summit to respond with even better marketing and services.
In 1995 S.K.I. sold Bear Mountain to another company, which in turn sold it to Booth Creek Ski Holdings in 1997.
During the 1990s the ski market was beginning to fragment and split into various segments with different needs and demands for services. During this time snowboarding was introduced to the scene.
Keeping up with competition, Snow Summit replaced its two main access lifts with high-speed quads in 1994 and 1995. Throughout the 1990s other facilities were improved including paved parking lots, increased the snowmaking system capacity and efficiency. The base area was also renovated with heated brick pavers, benches, landscaping and lighting.
The greatest impact on business in the 1990s was the advent of snowboarding. By catering to snowboarders and putting in terrain parks and halfpipes, the sport grew like wildfire. Snow Summit has led the industry in the design and operation of freestyle parks and has one of the largest amounts of terrain dedicated to freestyle snowboarding and skiing in the country. Snow Summit has been named in various polls as having the best parks in the nation, if not the world. With the parks at Snow Summit and their reputation, several high caliber events have been held at the resort including ESPN’s Winter X Games, Vans Triple Crown of Snowboarding, MTV Snowed In and several others.
With the various market segments, Snow Summit struggled to be everything to everyone and attempted to purchase Bear Mountain for a number of years in order to position each area more specifically toward the diverse market segments.
On October 10, 2002, Snow Summit purchased Big Bear Mountain Resort, including the Golf Course, from Booth Creek Ski Holdings, Inc. Today Big Bear Mountain Resorts, Snow Summit and Bear Mountain, combine to form Southern California’s number one ski resort.
During the summer of 2006, BBMR invested an unprecedented $6.6 million dollars to guarantee a quality skiing and snowboarding surface regardless of weather conditions. Not only did this improvement better control emissions, it improved BBMR’s snowmaking ability and increased energy efficiency. During that season, California’s driest winter on record, BBMR customers enjoyed more real snow, unmatched coverage, reliable & conditions and a longer ski/snowboard season.
Further snowmaking improvements continued during the summer of 2007 including additional Wizzard snowmaking fan guns, which were distributed throughout both resorts.
“The Snow Summit Story” by Dick Kun is available at the Pfeiffer Sport Shop at Snow Summit. Read Dick’s firsthand experience up until the resort’s 50-year anniversary. It is a story of struggle, the loss of loved ones and the overall triumph of the business. It comes complete with newspaper clippings and photos dating back to the 1950s as well as comments from those who have endured the journey to success.