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Splash Mountain. Space Mountain. Big Thunder Mountain ... Mount Disney ?!

Splash Mountain. Space Mountain. Big Thunder Mountain ... Mount Disney ?!

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If you're reading this article on JHM, it's a pretty safe bet that you've been to the Disney Mountains.

Space. Splash. Big Thunder. Take your pick. Or how about Disney's original mountain, the Matterhorn ? I'll bet that a lot of you can say that you've been to Disney's newest mountain, Everest.

But how many of you can say that you've been to Mount Disney? That's right, Mount Disney. I'm betting that some of you that live out there on the west coast who are winter sports enthusiasts might be aware of what I'm talking about. There is a real Mount Disney in the Golden State. Near Lake Tahoe, to be specific.

Artwork courtesy of the Sugar Bowl Resort

Most of us who are into Disneyana know about Mineral King, that ski resort that Walt wanted to build back in the 1960s that ultimately got tripped up by the Sierra Club and never came to fruition. And some of you may know about Walt's involvement in the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, CA. Disney was the Chairman of the Pageantry Committee (Which meant that Walt was in charge of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for this athletic event). But an actual mountain named after Walt Disney ? I was surprised as I think some of you might be by this news. And I came about this info very unexpectedly.

To explain: I was pouring through a copy of Ski Magazine when I came across this article about a resort in Lake Tahoe that I'd never heard of before called Sugar Bowl. And 'way down deep in this story, there's the briefest mention that -- of the four peaks that make up this resort -- one of them is called Mount Disney.

That's it. There was no further explanation in this article.

Well, aside from breathing, eating and various other bodily functions, there are two things that I've been doing for just about my whole life : Skiing and studying the history of the Walt Disney Company. And given that this is the very first time that my two obsessions have crossed paths, I knew that I had to learn more about Mount Disney. Which is why I then decided to get ahold of Rob Kautz, the president & CEO of the Sugar Bowl Corporation. We spoke on the telephone recently. Rob was able to shed some light on the connection Walt Disney has with this ski area.

Artwork courtesy of the Sugar Bowl Resort

As Mr. Kautz explained:

"Sugar Bowl was incorporated in 1937. Skiing in America was in it's infancy, really, and a group of San Francisco businessmen and an Austrian skier named Hannes Schroll were putting together a resort in Lake Tahoe that was chosen because of it's proximity to the Trans Continental Railroad. They needed financing and put together a stock offering. What made them choose Walt Disney … I'm not quite sure, but they put the offer to him. Walt was a skier and they got him to invest. It was Walt's participation that gave them the credibility to sell more stock. He was the high profile guy that was participating and they named the primary mountain after him."

I asked Rob if he knew whether or not there was more of a connection between Walt and the businessmen, and it was his belief, that they didn't know him at all. They just took a chance and it paid off. Of course, 1937 was quite a year for Walt, what with the release of "Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs." And I'm guessing that these San Francisco businessmen saw Disney's recent increase in fame & stature as a great way to lure other investors to come on board this project.

So, Mount Disney was born. In December 1939, Sugar Bowl opened to the public. Now we all know how many "firsts" Uncle Walt has to his credit. First full-length animated film and essentially creating the theme park are just two that immediately come to mind. But did you know that the very first chair lift to open at a ski resort in the state of California was the Disney Chair at Sugar Bowl?

Artwork courtesy of the Sugar Bowl Resort

It's been rebuilt several times since then but -- as this picture of the resort map shows -- it's still there. Though it's now known as the Disney Express. And if you explore the rest of the Sugar Bowl's map, you'll discover that there are quite a few references to this resort's most famous investor. Take -- for example -- the "Disney Nose" trail. (And no. This trail isn't named that way because it somehow resembles Walt's schnoz. The nose -- in this case -- refers to the "nose" of Mount Disney. Which is a very common reference to a particular feature of a peak.)

Or better yet, how about the resort's expert run ? Which is known as "Donald Duck" ...

Artwork courtesy of the Sugar Bowl Resort

… Or an intermediate run called the "Disney Meadow" ...

Artwork courtesy of the Sugar Bowl Resort

… And a traverse run known as "Disney Return."

Artwork courtesy of the Sugar Bowl Resort

As always happens when you start digging through Disney history, you suddenly start seeing how all of Walt's worlds start interconnecting. Take -- for example -- That 1941 animated short, "The Art of Skiing." In our conversation, Mr. Kautz revealed how Goofy's distinctive scream in this cartoon can actually be tied back to the Sugar Bowl Resort.

Copyright 1941 Walt Disney Productions

"Hannes Schroll was from Austria and he was the skier behind the development of Sugar Bowl. He was an accomplished skier and an excellent yodeler. So he demonstrated his yodel to Walt when they were down in Burbank. And Walt was so impressed that he brought one of his sound guys in to record him. And so that yodel that's used in the Goofy cartoon is Hannes Schroll, founder of Sugar Bowl. And Hannes always claimed that he was never paid a penny for his audio."

That said, Walt did manage to insert a brief tribute to the Sugar Bowl Resort into "The Art of Skiing." As this quick image capture of the lodge where Goofy is staying during this short will attest to.

Copyright 1941 Walt Disney Productions

Yes, Walt obviously had a lot of affection for Sugar Bowl. He and his family would come up here regularly to try and escape the pressure of Hollywood. As Mr. Kautz explained:

"(Walt) liked to come up in the slow, early days of the resort and bartend. He would be a guest bartender. He loved to tend bar here. We have pictures of Walt here with his wife, Lillian and his children and Hannes Schroll. He came up in the 40's quite a bit. It was a very small, intimate resort in those days."

Lillian Disney, Diane Disney, Hannes Schroll and Walt Disney (L to R)
Photo courtesy of Rob Kautz and the Sugar Bowl Resort

And Walt's presence at this resort helped to turn Sugar Bowl into the place to be for Hollywood's elite in the 1940's. The likes of Claudette Colbert & Errol Flynn were regulars at the resort. Greta Garbo even filmed a picture there, "Two-Faced Woman."

As the 40's progressed and Walt's post-war focus shifted toward getting Disney Studios back on its feet and eventually his dream of Disneyland, he spent less & less time at Sugar Bowl. But just like everything else that the Ol' Mousetro touched, the long-term impact of Walt Disney can apparently still be felt all over this fine old resort.

Anyway ... That's a brief history of the Sugar Bowl. More importantly, Walt Disney's tie to this spectacular resort. I know that skiing may seem like a pretty Goofy thing to write about ...

Copyright 1941 Walt Disney Productions

... particularly during the first week of May. Still, I hope that the next time the snow flies, you'll consider going up to Northern California to experience the great skiing & awesome natural beauty that can be found at the Sugar Bowl Resort.

Special thanks to Rob Kautz for sharing all of the great Walt-related stories that were featured in today's article.

Your thoughts?

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  • I am familiar with the Disney connection to Sugar Bowl. Heck, I live about an hour away from the place. I read once that Hannes Schroll had met Walt and Lillian Disney in Europe which led to his telling the investors to talk to Walt. I am not 100% certain of that story though. Anyway, I'm not a skier so I haven't been to Sugar Bowl in a long time. I will say that it's a beautiful resort. So if you haven't seen it and you are a skier, this place is well worth a visit.

  • Wow, I live in California and even I had no idea there was a Mt. Disney!


    On another note, there's a new Brad Bird-introduced 9-minute preview of "Rataouille" over at ComingSoon.net... in HD! The chase sequence through the kitchen is some beautiful, beautiful animation, I am SO pumped for this movie, Jim!

    Click here and scroll to the bottom!


  • Hmmm, sounds cool. A good opportunity for Disney to buy the resort and make it into Disney Snow World or something ;)

    (I saw the 9-minute preview yesterday and it's great!!)

  • I still remember that distinct "Goofy yell" from my childhood - this article was particularly nostalgic for me, especially since I am in skiing graught.

    Thanks, Jim - this was a charming read!

  • Hey Jim, I hear Adreas Deja is directing a new Goofy cartoon in the same old format.

    Could you look into that?

  • I agree, very entertaining article.  I know of SugarBowl but wasn't aware of the connection either!  Great tie-in with the cartoon, I loved that one as a kid too!

  • I was a friend of Hannes, he used to live with Walt Disney when he first arrived in LA. Walt gave him a check for $2000. to buy the land for the Sugar Bowl resort but the bank on seeing the check gave him 100% financing especially as his partner in the resort was Bing Crosby, thus all the movie stars that appeared. Hannes was on the last plane from Vienna at the start of the war and was greeted at LAX by Will Rogers, then Mayor of Beverly Hills and Charlie Chaplin who spoke German. They arranged for Hannes to stay with Walt. The rest is history.

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