Theme Park Insider

Imagining what could have been in Disney's Mineral King

February 8, 2017, 7:07 PM · Let's take a trip into the fourth dimension of theme park attractions, shall we? That's the realm of attractions not from the past, not from the future, and not from the present. These are the rides and shows that were planned — but for whatever reason — never built. Shelved for eternity, these are the residents of a literal Neverland.

Our destination this week isn't exactly a theme park attraction, but it was one of the final themed entertainment projects of Walt Disney's life. The Mineral King Ski Resort was to have been the Walt Disney Company's entry into the recreation business, and could have reshaped the ski industry as much as Disneyland changed the way that people think about amusement parks.

In my Orange County Register column this week, I invite you to join me in asking "what if..." Walt Disney had survived long enough to see the Mineral King project to completion. Disney management dropped the project after Walt's death, in the face of some opposition but mostly because they wanted to focus on delivering the Florida project, a.k.a. Walt Disney World.

Full disclosure here: I'm terrible at skiing. The one time I tried it, I blew out my knee on the ski school bunny slope within an hour of starting. I soldiered on and tried a run down the "real" mountain the next day... and three hours later, I made it to the bottom, returned my skis to the rental counter and declared my winter sports career over.

But I think I would have liked Mineral King. Because, just as Walt realized that Disneyland needed to appeal to visitors who didn't want to go on carnival rides and walk a midway, he knew that a Disney ski resort needed to accommodate visitors who weren't just there to ski. Mineral King was to be the Disneyland of ski resorts, a Swiss-style mountain valley village also filled with Disney-style entertainment and service, to make ever the ski-averse feel comfortable.

One element of Mineral King that did survive was its planned musical animatronic show, which became Walt Disney World's Country Bear Jamboree. (See? Some attractions manage to escape Neverland.) But that's not the only element that made it to reality.

In researching my column, I discovered that the colors-and-shapes system that U.S. ski resorts use to describe the difficulty of their runs was in large part based on the system that Disney had developed for Mineral King. The early coding systems that American resorts were using before then were inconsistent and too-often confusing. But Disney knew how to use imagery to communicate information instantly to a broad audience, and put that experience to use in crafting a better code for ski runs.

People can debate whether Disney or anyone else should have developed a ski resort in the Mineral King Valley. (Walt originally tried to buy Mammoth Mountain, before turning to Mineral King.) But I would love a glimpse at the alternate reality where the Walt Disney Company got into the winter recreation business. Would it have encouraged more people to trying skiing (and later, maybe snowboarding)? Or would a ski resort kept Disney from fully developing its theme park business?

Who knows? But imagination is the heart of the entertainment business, so I'm going to enjoy imagining "what if...?"

Read Robert's column:

Replies (10)

February 8, 2017 at 7:27 PM · Maybe I missed it, but uh....WHERE is Mineral King? Is it in Idaho? Vermont? California? Colorado? Canada?

February 8, 2017 at 8:01 PM · Mineral King was to be in the California Sierras, near Sequoia National Park.
February 8, 2017 at 8:31 PM · Mineral King is now part of Sequoia National Park.
February 8, 2017 at 10:41 PM · I love Walt Disney, but thank God this project never materialized. Most likely, Disney's Mineral King would have been a tremendous success. With that success comes massive traffic, overdevelopment, congestion, depletion of natural resources, harmful effects to wildlife, urban sprawl, etc.

Thankfully because of the conservationists, we now have the majestic and beautiful Mineral King area free from development and protected in its natural state forever as part of Sequoia National Park. I mean just look at what happened to Anaheim. It used to be full of orange groves and farms. Now it is completely urbanized and Orange County doesn't even have orange groves anymore or very, very few. Just to be clear, I am a diehard Disneyland fan and have no interest in the other Disney parks other than DCA. So I'm extremely grateful for Walt's imagination and his timeless park. That being said, this project belongs in Neverland.

February 8, 2017 at 10:59 PM · Thanks. With that out of the way, I'd like to see something like this happen in the future. Why not? It doesn't have to be some massive development. But especially something like a ski resort, it would be a totally different vibe. They could surely utilize Frozen characters and scenery in a resort like this, and they could have a Magical Express-type bus from the Denver or Salt Lake City airport (for example).

I would totally try skiing at a Disney-themed ski resort. I'd buy their hot chocolates, little "Snowboarding Goofy" statues, a photo from the photo op, and stay at the onsite hotel.

I imagine the ski lift could be "cartoony", and you'd have characters waiting at the top, welcoming and encouraging you to have fun and do your best. Those costumes probably would work well in the cold weather, too.

I guess that kind of thing would never happen, but it actually sounds fun. I skiid 2 or 3 times when I was little, and was always terrible at it. But it'd be a really fun weekend trip in February, and a change of pace from San Pedro Island or Fort Lauderdale.

February 8, 2017 at 11:28 PM · As a skier, I don't think this would have had a significant effect on the ski industry as a whole. It may or may not have been a success, but I can't see that theme attractions would catch on to other resorts.

Ski resorts have evolved naturally over time, but generally as the sports themselves have evolved, with the addition of half pipes, terrain parks and other such things. Off piste has seen the addition of tube parks and other things.

I would love to see a Disney presence in the ski fields, but ideally a DVC resort at a large ski resort would be awesome. Park City would be great (although I'm not sure how Utah would be suited for a Disney resort.

February 9, 2017 at 6:15 AM · If it existed, it would have a DVC wing for sure by now.
February 9, 2017 at 7:51 AM · This wouldn't be all that different from the "Adventures by Disney" they currently offer, would it? In fact, I bet there's already one of those vacation packages that involves skiing (too lazy to look it up right now!). But, my mind immediately goes to a Soarin' type of experience for a major ski run. Why not enclose the thing, wrap the inside with LED screens, and whisk the passenger away to a themed village, which they then arrive at when they exit the lift? Now that I think of it, perhaps I should have joined that theme park apprentice competition!
February 9, 2017 at 8:30 AM · Disney had limited success outside of theme parks. The thing is why pay theme park prices for recreation that can be done cheaper by other companies.
February 9, 2017 at 12:18 PM · I'm with 70.93.91.0 on this. I like Disney but I don't want them everywhere. There is such a thing as too much Disney.

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