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Mt. Waterman gets a lift

Ski area up Angeles Crest Highway opens to enthusiastic skiers and snowboarders.

January 10, 2011|By Megan O'Neil, megan.oneil@latimes.com

Lynn Newcomb would have been proud — or jealous.

Seventy-two years after its founder installed the first rope tow, Mt. Waterman resort was buzzing this weekend with hundreds of visitors who strapped on their bindings and hit the slopes to kick off the winter ski season.

"The conditions are amazing," said Dino Palmieri, 31, of Pasadena. "No wind, no clouds. It is perfect. It is as good as it gets."

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Located about 34 miles north of La Cañada Flintridge on Angeles Crest Highway, Mt. Waterman is the oldest ski resort in Southern California. It was operated for decades by Newcomb and his children, before being sold in 1999 and changing hands several times.

In June 2006, four La Cañada High School graduates — Roberto Martinez, Craig Stewart and brothers Rick and Brien Metcalf — assumed the lease for the 200-plus-acre property owned by the U.S. Forest Service.

It is a passion project for the childhood friends, who grew up frequenting the resort.

"Angeles National Forest was our backyard," said Stewart, 48. "And part of the backyard included a ski resort, in fact two of them at one time. It wound not be uncommon when you were a senior in high school to blow off your class — lunch would get out at 11:45 a.m. — and blitz out of school and be here by 1 p.m. and ski until 4 p.m."

The partners have invested more than $1 million on facilities and maintenance, including bringing the mountain's three ski lifts up to code. But there have been setbacks, most recently the 2009 Station fire that burned up to the perimeter of the site.

Subsequent debris flows washed out large portions of Angeles Crest Highway, forcing ongoing closures, making access circuitous and deflecting patrons.

During the 2009-10 season, Mt. Waterman was open for 17 days, leaving balance sheets in the red. But with 2 to 4 feet of snow on the ground, the investors and their staff said they are looking forward to a long, busy season.

"After the fire we were just biting our teeth; we were on the edge," said Beth Metcalf, 42, the resort's ticket sales manager and the youngest of the three Metcalf siblings. "We are super excited to be open in January this year, and hoping for a great year because last year we had just lost so much. We opened March 12 last year."

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