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Obituaries

John Elvrum, 97; Turned Ski Area Into Snow Valley Resort

July 07, 2006|Valerie J. Nelson | Times Staff Writer

It was a rare Hollywood Bowl performance in 1935: Competitive ski jumpers soared over a nearby canyon slope covered with snow trucked in from the mountains. Among them was Norwegian immigrant John Elvrum, known for an aggressive, crowd-pleasing style.

By 1941, he was taking a chance on a more natural ski area with the unlikely name of Fish Camp. When Elvrum bought the property in the San Bernardino Mountains, one of the first things he did was change its name to Snow Valley Ski Resort.

Elvrum, who owned Snow Valley for 30 years, died Tuesday from complications of old age at an assisted-living home in Redlands, said his nephew, Jarle Eldevik. He was 97.

Elvrum was the second Southern California ski industry pioneer to die in the last month. Howard More, who ran Ski Sunrise in Wrightwood, died June 10.

"Now it looks like I may be the only one left," said Lynn Newcomb, 86, whose family founded the Mt. Waterman ski area in the Angeles National Forest in the 1930s.

"John was one fantastic guy," Newcomb said. "He started this thing and really ran it through, and he had a heart like you wouldn't believe."

Elvrum went from weekend ski instructor to running the fledgling resort when Arrowhead Springs Hotel, which leased the ski area, went bankrupt. He bought it for $5,000 at auction.

There was little of great value on the land about three miles east of Running Springs except a single rope tow and two small shacks with a warming room and a rental area with space for about 100 skis.

As Elvrum began to expand the operation, World War II intervened. In 1943, he joined the Army's 10th Mountain Division ski troopers and spent the last year of the war fighting in northern Italy.

With money borrowed from railroad heir Cortland Hill, Elvrum started building a mile-long ski lift at Snow Valley in 1947. By 1949, he had a lift that could carry 600 skiers to the top of the mountain in 15 minutes.

After an unexplained fire burned the resort's few buildings, the three-story signature lodge that survives was built in the early 1950s. It included an apartment for Elvrum and his wife, who died in 1999.

Eventually, he put in a dozen rope tows and increased Snow Valley's capacity to 7,000 skiers an hour, a fact mentioned in a 1954 Times story headlined "Improvements Galore Made at Snow Valley."

By the 1960s, Elvrum had installed a large snow-making operation, which helped the resort become one of the most popular in Southern California when his uncle owned it, Eldevik said.

In 1971, Elvrum sold Snow Valley to a group of investors and moved to San Bernardino.

Born in Trondheim, Norway, on Sept. 26, 1908, Elvrum was the third of six children who grew up on a farm.

As a ski jumper, he competed in the Norwegian National Championships in 1929 and moved to Portland, Ore., a year later to live with an uncle.

"Almost immediately, he was recognized as a phenomenal ski jumping talent. He was a very daring jumper," his nephew said.

Elvrum placed third in the national ski jumping championships in 1936. For five years, he held the American ski jumping record of 240 feet, according to the Pacific Rim Alliance Snow Sports Club.

In 1968, Elvrum was inducted into the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame.

He last skied Snow Valley 12 years ago, when he was 85.

In addition to his nephew, a sister in Norway survives him.

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