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  Comments (0) Total Thursday Apr. 17, 2014
Turkey Toss
Lurching from one near disaster to another...
When I left for work on the day before Thanksgiving in 1950 I put my skis and assorted stuff alongside my carpenter tools. I would pound nails all day Wednesday and then climb in my panel delivery truck and drive 350 miles north from Hollywood on a two-lane road to Mammoth Mountain.

Dave McCoy’s ski area, Mammoth Mountain, with two rope tows, was reporting almost three feet of new snow and it was the only ski resort in California that was operating at the time. The bottom of the rope tow was at the same elevation as the top of Squaw Peak.
I looked forward to a good three days of working on my next movie and skiing at the same time. When I finally got to the Mammoth campground there were already a half-dozen cars there, with people stretched out in their sleeping bags.

The next morning, I started up my motor home and the gasoline car heater quickly warmed up the inside enough so I could start the Coleman stove and cook a quick oatmeal breakfast.

Driving up the road towards the rope tows as far as it was plowed out, I parked, packed a peanut butter sandwich in my rucksack with my 16mm movie camera and six rolls of Kodachrome to get started on my second feature length ski film.

The two rope tows cost $2.50 to ride but Roma McCoy didn’t start collecting the money until almost 11 a.m. When she asked me for my $2.50, I said, “I’m working on my new ski movie.” She had the right answer, “Where is your camera?”

“I’m waiting until Dave has time to ski for me,” I replied.

Two skiers in a sequence are always better than just one, so when I started filming Dave he brought along Charlette Zumsteirn, a young ski racer from nearby Bishop.

That Thanksgiving Day was the start of a long career of getting free lift tickets in exchange for a day of running my camera.

Late in the afternoon Dave had his infamous Turkey Toss. He had two frozen turkeys and the rules of the race were simple. Anyone who wanted to try to win a turkey had to stand behind a rope. Dave would toss the frozen turkey down the ski hill and everyone behind the rope would run and try to grab it. I filmed the carnage as men of all ages made fools of themselves while chasing a $6 frozen turkey.

Dave had two turkeys to throw down the hill and the turkey-catching aficionados wisely waited for the second turkey, which included fewer competitors.

It was rumored that one of the winners had traded his frozen turkey for a dinner of the same in the Mammoth Tavern, the only restaurant open at that time in the nearly deserted village at the base of the mountain.

Dave was the only bidder when the forest service put Mammoth out for development bids. No one else bid on the development because they all said it got too much snow to be economically viable.

Since I got so sleepy driving the 350 miles up from work, I let it be known that I had room in my truck on the Sunday night drive back to LA in exchange for a tank full of gas. I had three takers.

It worked for me and I had a complete sequence for my second film called “California Skis and The Harriman Cup.”

That would be film No. 2 of more than 55, and dozens of them had a Mammoth Mountain sequence in them. From two rope tows to two gondolas, two base lodges and more than enough chairlifts, Dave’s wisdom and the turkey toss helped fuel the growth.
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