In the early 1960s, there was an open bid for development of Mineral King Valley in California. One of the seven developers aiming to get their hands on the property was Walt Disney, who was an avid skier and wanted to expand the Disney brand (which at this point only included Disneyland). Disney’s submitted proposal was the product of a collaboration between him and University of Denver/Olympic Ski Coach. His plans for the village and mountain resort were much larger than his competition and he eventually won the bid for the land.
Disney’s American Alpine Wonderland
Because Walt knew that opening just a ski resort wouldn’t end up being highly profitable year-round his ideas for the resort were much larger than a ski lodge, he essentially dreamed up an “American Alpine Wonderland” in the bottom of the valley. The village would have included a five-story hotel with 1,030 guest rooms, a movie theater, general store, pools, ice rinks, tennis courts and a golf course. Ski lifts and gondolas would carry guests up to the top of the eight glaciers above the village to hit four mile long ski lifts with 3,700 foot drops. The resort also would have had ten different restaurants and cafes, including a 150-seat coffee shop at the top of Eagle’s Crest Ridge (11,090 feet above sea level!). As far as entertainment, Imagineers developed an entertaining show starring robotic singing bears that was eventually repurposed as Country Bear Jamboree which can be found in Frontierland at Magic Kingdom. The village would have been virtually car-free, with a nearby 8-10 story parking garage that could accommodate 3,600 cars at a time. After parking, guests would be transported via a mountain-climbing cog railway. In total, the cost of the project based on Disney’s plans would have been around $35 million.
What Went Wrong
At first the Sierra Club, which is an environmental preservation organization, supported Disney’s plans. However the project kept growing so rapidly, with the final proposal featuring 27 ski lifts and accommodations for two million visitors per year. After seeing the final plans, the Sierra Club publicly denounced the Mineral King Ski Resort due to sever environmental concerns. Other wilderness activists were also disgusted by the resort plans because of the severe traffic the resort was aiming for. At the time there were a few other campsites open in the valley that overall attracted around 24,000 people in a year, mostly in the summer. Disney’s plans projected at least a million visitors every year. The discord between environmental groups and Disney/pro-development organizations eventually led to a years-long legal battle. The case dragged on over ten years, and eventually all parties pretty much lost interest in the project. The resort plans were officially killed with the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978, and Mineral King Valley became a part of Sequoia National Park.