In the long history of developing non-snow surfaces for skiing, one of the most ambitious projects was Ski Villa, a ski center created in California’s Carbon Canyon. Similar to other facilities in the 20th century, the project was highly expensive, ambitious, and it didn’t last long because the return on investment did not live up to expectations due to major problems with the plan.


Ski Villa in California

Ski Villa was created in the mid-1960s and was one of the largest dry slopes ever built. In fact, it was likely the biggest in the world at the time when it opened in 1966. The slope was made up of 1.3 million interlocking plastic tiles, each measuring 15 cm2 (six inch). These plastic tiles had plastic bristles that held the skis in place. The slope itself was made of concrete and was just under 400 meters (1,300 feet) long, covering an area of about three hectares (seven acres). The maximum vertical drop was reported to be 85 meters (280 feet).


Initially, there were plans to expand the facility, increasing its size by more than 10 times. However, it seems that Ski Villa closed down within a year without any further expansion taking place. The ski slope was not the only feature of Ski Villa. It had a base area that included a rental shop and even a restaurant. With summer temperatures often around 90 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius), the ski slope operated in the evening on weekdays and throughout the entire day on the weekends. In addition to skiing, there were also two swimming pools and a roller skating rink. According to reports from 1966, the giant dry slope was launched by a local resident named John F. Kramer, who along with other investors, put in $750.000 into the project. In today’s terms, that would be equivalent to around $6.8 million. The investors had high hopes that the center would lead to a franchised network of similar ski centers across the United States.


Dry slope made from plastics

Interestingly, instead of using one of the newly invented Dendix-style surfaces from Europe, the ski surface was specially created by a Californian plastics company named Randazzo, located in the city of Gardena. In the company’s patent filing, they mentioned that approximately 1.250.000 small plastic tiles were needed to construct the surface. This design was chosen to avoid the labor-intensive process of nailing down over a million tiles. Each tile used for the dry slope was made of Dow polypropylene and had long bristles with an expected tile life of three years. When it came to attaching the ski surface, Ski Villa initially laid its surface on top of asphalt. However, they discovered that this caused melting, so they switched to placing concrete below the tiles.


After officially opening on July 4th in 1966, reports from the first months of operation described the surface as “like skiing fresh powder”. By the end of the year, this was toned down to being similar to “mid-morning spring snow,” and then “hard-packed snow”. However, one advantage mentioned was that there were no ski tracks left by previous skiers. In terms of injuries, there were few reports, with friction burns on exposed skin being the most common problem when skiers wore T-shirts and shorts. By autumn 1966, reports indicated that the center was operating at a financial loss. Thus, it seems likely that the facility did not manage to continue its operations in 1967.


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