McCoy was born in El Segundo, California in 1915. He spent the first six years of his life there while his dad worked at the oil refineries in the area. He first visited the eastern Sierra when he was 13, and went on to make his own first pair of skis in a high school shop class. After finishing the eighth grade, he moved to Washington state to live with his grandparents because his parents divorced. There he met some Norwegian ski jumpers who further sparked Dave's interest in skiing. Right after graduating from high school, he moved to the tiny town of Independence, California. Two years later, he moved a few miles north to Bishop. In 1936, McCoy took a job as a hydrographer for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which involved skiing up to 50 miles per day. While being a hydrographer, he joined the Eastern Sierra Ski Club. At age 22, he became the California State Champion in skiing.
In 1938, McCoy got a permit and set up a primitive rope tow using parts from a Model "A" Ford truck on McGee Mountain, near US Highway 395. He went to the bank, attempting to acquire an $85 loan to set up a permanent rope tow. The bank turned him down but the bank's secretary, Roma, urged the bank to give him that loan. A few years later, McCoy would marry Roma and the two would raise six children together. By the early 1940s, the climate started to warm up, however, and the snowfall on McGee Mountain was not as heavy as it had once been. It was suddenly not an ideal location for skiing anymore. Remnants of McCoy's original rope-tow can be spotted, and the site is marked with a historical marker sign along the current Highway 395.
McCoy noticed that the snow was better at Mammoth Mountain, where he set up a rope tow in 1942. The Forest Service decided then to offer, for bid, the right to operate a ski area on Mammoth Mountain. No one bid on this permit, including McCoy, who didn't have any money. In 1953, the Forest Service gave McCoy the permit on the condition that he develop the mountain as a ski resort. A ski lodge followed in 1953, and the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area incorporated in 1955. McCoy struggled to develop Mammoth. The "lodge" was actually only 12' by 24', had a dirt floor with an outside toilet, and served snacks. The McCoy family used it as a home during the early years of Mammoth.
McCoy went to the bank again for a loan of $135,000 to build a chair lift. Again, he was turned down. McCoy eventually got a used chairlift. McCoy and a small group of skiers, had to work very hard and dig holes, mix concrete and install the lift on their own by Thanksgiving 1955. Chair 1 had a wooden ramp, covered with snow, that skiers had to side-step up to reach the chairs. Sometimes skiers would lose their balance and cause several of the skiers in line below to topple over like dominoes. The ramp was removed sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s and a new high-speed Chair 1 was installed and renamed "Broadway Express." The original main lodge was expanded and to this day, the upper part of the old exterior rock wall mural, with a white and brown flagstone arrow, can be seen sitting on the deck. By 1973, under McCoy's leadership, the ski area grew to 14 double-chairs, and a second base lodge was built. McCoy bought a small airline to fly a few skiers from Burbank, California to Mammoth. The growth of the ski area led to growth of the town of Mammoth Lakes, California, which incorporated in 1984.
In the 1990s, Alpha Airlines briefly flew from Los Angeles to the small Mammoth Airport along Highway 395. In the first decade of the 2000s, Horizon Airlines, began to offer seasonal service from Los Angeles, Reno, and the bay area to Mammoth. McCoy faced adversity in growing the ski area: drought in 1958-59, the 1973 oil crisis, and only 94" inches of snow during the 1976-1977 season, the worst in Mammoth's history.
In 2005, McCoy announced that he was retiring after running the ski area for 68 years. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area was sold to Starwood Capital Group in a deal that valued Mammoth at $365 million- a far cry from the $135,000 he borrowed in 1953 to build the first lift. He continued to ski until 2008: he has stopped temporarily due to a knee replacement.
As of 2008, they have 6 children, 16 grandchildren, and 20 great-grandchildren.
McCoy currently enjoys traveling in the Eastern Sierra driving an ATV. He has always enjoyed photography and that is what he does today. His mission is to take pictures of places very few people have even seen. Dave's pictures can be bought at local stores in Bishop and Mammoth and other local towns. All of the proceeds go directly to the Mammoth Lakes Foundation, which helps develop education and the arts in the Eastern Sierra. “The family and the community were always a big part of our success, as they helped play in the big sandbox as well,” McCoy says. “It shows that no man does anything alone. Now, my camera’s eye keeps making the Eastern Sierra a place for all of us to enjoy.”
McCoy turned 100 in August 2015. His wife Roma turned 95.
- "How I Did It: Dave McCoy, Mammoth Mountain". Inc Magazine. Retrieved 2009-01-17.
- "History of Mammoth Mountain, California". Pacific Rim Snow Sports Alliance. Retrieved 2009-01-17.
- Johnson, William O. (February 25, 1985). "A Man And His Mountain". Sports Illustrated.[permanent dead link]
- "How I Did It:Dave McCoy, Mammoth Mountain," by Dave McCoy, Inc. Magazine, December 1, 2008.
- "Dave Mccoy, Mammoth Founder Turns 100". Transworld Business. Retrieved 2015-08-25.