Uncovering the story of 'Disneyland on the Mountain'

October 9, 2023, 5:37 PM · How much do you know about Walt Disney's ski resort?

I'm not talking about any ski areas that Walt himself once visited. I am talking about the ski resort that he tried to build. Mineral King was the planned California site for Walt's family ski resort, a project that remains one of the greatest 'what if's in Disney corporate history.

Like many fans, I believed that Mineral King was a creative casualty of Walt's death in 1966. With Walt gone, his brother Roy and the rest of the company chose to focus instead on completing what became the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. Mineral King was quietly abandoned and the company did not look toward creating a sports-themed development until The Wide World of Sports complex opened at Walt Disney World in 1997.

But that's not exactly what happened.

For a much more complete picture of Disney's Mineral King project, get yourself a copy of "Disneyland on the Mountain," a comprehensive history of the Mineral King project, written by Colorado couple Greg Glasgow and Kathryn Mayer. It's one of the best Disney history books I've read, so I welcomed the opportunity to talk with Greg and Kathryn about this project.

You can listen to our conversation on the Theme Park Insider podcast's new home at Substack: Listen here.

"I think a lot of people who are sort of familiar with Disney - or very familiar with Disney - maybe know a little bit of the basics but not realizing just how long this battle was, and how a monumental it was for the Disney company and for environmental history," Mayer said.

The story begins at the 1960 Winter Olympics at what is now the Palisades Tahoe resort in northern California. Walt's involvement with the Games helped him develop connections within the industry that led him toward developing a Disney ski resort. He found what he thought was the perfect site in Mineral King, located near Sequoia National Park. The Sierra Club had declared it an appropriate site for a ski area... only to later oppose Disney's proposal in a legal case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Disney actually won that battle, only to lose the development war when Mineral King eventually was protected by the National Park Service more than a decade after Walt's death.

But this is not a simplistic "developer vs. environmentalists" story. Through short films, TV shows and publishing, Walt helped promote the cause of environmentalism throughout the middle of the 20th century, helping recruit countless followers for the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations. His vision for Mineral King was not the "Disneyland on the mountain" that critics decried, but a new type of resort that would use mass transit to bring people into the valley, to minimize the environmental impact of its visitors. Glasgow and Mayer tell that story in a well balanced and thorough accounting.

"More than anything, we probably gained respect for both sides," Glasgow said. "No one really came out of it seeming in any way disingenuous or just in it for the money or the glory or whatever. Every everyone on both sides was very passionate and true about what they wanted."

With Walt's passing, Walt Disney World obviously became the top priority for the Disney company, with Roy overseeing development of the Florida project. But Disney employees remained at work on Mineral King for years, even looking to a second California site for a ski resort if Mineral King could not win approval.

Still, without Walt's vision to guide and adapt the project through the changing public and legal attitudes toward environmental protection - which, ironically, Walt himself helped inspire - the Disney company never could finish the deal that would have allowed it to begin construction on the resort. That's why Mineral King today remains an isolated and relatively undeveloped site.

But Disney's plans for Mineral King continue to inspire the ski industry, with Vail adopting some of Walt's ideas to help it become the biggest ski resort company in America today. And vestiges of Disney's plans for Mineral King endure in Disney's theme parks, from the Country Bear Jamboree at Walt Disney World to the Grand Californian Resort & Spa at Disneyland.

Again, I invite you to learn more about this engaging story by listening to our podcast, and then, by getting a copy of this book.

"Disneyland on the Mountain" is available now from Amazon, as well as via links to other retailers on the authors' website.

Replies (8)

October 10, 2023 at 8:41 AM

'7097-050719' - T.H. Creative

Walker breathed deeply. The press event would not start for another ten minutes, so he stole some time to gaze at Mineral King Valley of the Sequoia National Forest. The setting was awe inspiring. Mountains standing like God’s shoulders. Slopes guarded by regiments of trees holding fast to inclines that rolled into verdant meadows. The entire scene was contained by a blue ceiling of endless autumn sky.

He smiled wryly and shook his head. “We’d better get this right,” he thought.

It was still 1966. Walker and a cadre of company representatives had traveled with Mr. Disney to unveil Disney’s Mineral King Resort. The expansive development would boast campsites, resort hotels, shops, restaurants and even a small number of theme park style attractions. In the winter, skiers would race along Olympic caliber ski runs. During the summer, families could find adventure while hiking and trail riding.

The project was so ambitious that it had garnered the attention of California Governor Edmund Brown – who had travelled from Sacramento for the press announcement. Walker had met Brown on a couple of occasions at Disneyland. The governor smiled broadly as he stepped up to shake hands.

“How are you Walker?”

“I’m doing fine Governor. Thanks for coming.”

“I wouldn’t have missed it,” Brown responded. “You fellahs have your work cut out for you.”

Walker smiled and nodded. “We always seem to.”

“We reviewed the plans last night. Quite ambitious,” The governor said. “Of course you already know you’re going to end up in court.”

Walker nodded. Environmental groups had begun to align against the project. The implications of legal actions had been weighed by the company. Its namesake had elected to press on.

“No worries, Governor,” Walker responded. “The boss is a real naturalist.” He used a thumb to point over his shoulder. “He has a thing about trees.”

Brown looked to where Walker had pointed. Mr. Disney was sitting forty yards away in a metal folding chair wearing a hat and a light jacket zipped to the neck. The flesh on his face was soft and fallen. The lines beneath his eyes and creasing his cheeks framed the signature, albeit gray, moustache. When Mr. Disney spoke the timber of his voice held its trademark optimism but when he became still the years settled across him like a blanket.

“The old man looks tired,” Brown remarked.

Walker had noticed it as well. “I think it’s the altitude,” he replied. “He’s fine.”

Brown smiled and patted Walker’s shoulders. “Are you ready to do this thing?”


While Mr. Disney was moving slowly that day, any concerns Walker had about his boss’s health were tempered by rationalizations. During the weeks that preceded the event at Mineral King, Mr. Disney had honored a healthy work schedule.

Walker hadn’t spent much time with his boss during the preceding months. They’d worked separately – with Walker’s schedule being dominated by various marketing projects and the initial press event for Mineral King.

Mr. Disney had been embroiled with the details surrounding Walt Disney World and his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Some time in the middle of June, Walker caught wind of news that his boss was enjoying a visit from an old friend – Salvador Dali, the Spanish surrealist painter who had worked with animator John Hench on the Destino film.

Spending time with artists was one of Mr. Disney’s great pleasures. During the production of Pinocchio, Mr. Disney had employed the talent of the German artist and animator Oskar Fischinger. While making Fantasia he brought in Danish illustrator Kay Nielsen to work on the climactic sequence for ‘Night on Bald Mountain.’ But while he held these artists in the highest regard, Mr. Disney found a special dimension and delight in his relationship with Dali.

Walker had been far too busy with other matters to give the artist’s arrival any substantial consideration. When Walker heard that Dali and his entourage were at the studio, he’d assumed it was to discuss the possibility of designing the art museum attraction for EPCOT.

Shortly after Dali departed from the studio Mr. Disney’s family left California for a summer respite – cruising the waters off the coast of British Columbia. While the vacation was well-deserved, it was still out of the ordinary for so many weeks to go by without Mr. Disney and Walker participating in a business meeting or even sharing a conversation. That drought was broken one afternoon in early August when Mr. Disney’s son-in-law Ron Miller appeared at Walker’s office door.

“Got a minute? Walt needs you.”

“Of course.”

He followed Ron down the hall and out of the building. Mr. Disney was standing outside under a tree, smoking a cigarette. He smiled at the sight of Walker.

“Hello pal? Keeping busy?”

Walker returned the smile, “Always.”

Mr. Disney nodded.

“I’m sorry we have not had the chance to talk,” Walker said. “Planning the new promotion for Disneyland and keeping up with Florida …”

“Oh I know, I know,” Mr. Disney replied. “I understand. And I’ve been out of pocket dealing with some special projects. But listen, I’d like to discuss the Mineral King announcement.”

“Sure boss. Of course.”

“We’re going to ride up with a marketing crew and after the announcement you, Ron and I are going to drive back,” Mr. Disney explained. “We need to discuss something. We need to discuss what’s coming up. What’s down the road?”

“Anything pressing?” Walker asked.

“No, no. Just another project.” He paused. “It’s kind of … tricky.”

Walker teased his boss with a suspicious glance. Mr. Disney chuckled.

“It’s just …” Mr. Disney stopped speaking. His brother Roy had exited the office building, Spotting Ron and Walker, Roy headed toward them.

Mr. Disney lifted a finger to his lips. “It’ll keep,” he whispered.

In that moment, suspecting Mr. Disney was keeping information from his brother, Walker’s level of suspicion went from playful to genuine. Something was up.

The Mineral King press event came five weeks after that conversation. The media turn out was predictably substantial. With the excitement following the announcement of Walt Disney World, every company endeavor had garnered international attention.

Seated at the table in front of a bank of microphones Mr. Disney seemed at ease. He was animated – offering a boisterous laugh when the Governor made a weak joke about how he expected the seven dwarves to become caretakers of the park.

Eventually one of the governor’s men announced the end of the event. The reporters began to move away. Walker stepped up behind his boss as the governor leaned into Mr. Disney’s ear.

“Protect the trees,” he said in a low voice.

Mr. Disney nodded -- casting an upward gaze into the branches above, “We’ll take care of them. I like trees.”

Walker caught the governor’s eye. “I told you so.”

As Walker moved to shake the governor’s hand, he heard an urgent voice behind him asking “Are you okay, sir?”

The voice belonged to a young technician who was disassembling a microphone. Mr. Disney had made an attempt to stand. Beneath him his legs had trembled and he’d fallen back into the chair.

Mr. Disney exhaled. His expression was firm and frustrated.

“No, no. I’m fine. I’m fine,” he replied. “My leg gets sore once in awhile. It’s that damned polo injury. All this cold mountain air.” His hand reached to his neck. He coughed quietly. “But I’m okay. And thanks. Thanks for coming.”

Walker and the governor exchanged glances.

“Give me a hand will you son?” Ron stepped up and helped his father-in-law to his feet. It took a moment for Mr. Disney to find his balance.

“Let’s … let’s get to the car,” Mr. Disney said, drawing a breath.

October 10, 2023 at 4:09 PM

Interesting Stuff!! Never knew about this!

Would also be cool if there was something released about that Disney Americana park from the 90's. I dont know why, but I've always wanted to know more about that proposed park.

While I understand the company would never divulge such things & this would never happen...a Disney+ limited series on all the proposed projects that never materialized would be awesome!

October 10, 2023 at 4:22 PM

This was a really good podcast Robert, I hope to hear more of these (and see it promoted more).

October 10, 2023 at 7:09 PM

Okay, that raises a question for me. Where would you (and by that, I mean all TPI readers) like to see me promote stuff this like, so that you know that we have it?

October 11, 2023 at 10:01 AM

Robert, I was thinking at the very least it should be front and centre on on the home page (at least when there’s something new), I know that this is a bit of an occasional series but where it is now, half way down an article is a bit buried.

October 11, 2023 at 12:20 PM

Ah, got it. Thanks.

October 11, 2023 at 1:49 PM

I kind of agree with Chad H. The longer form, non-news related articles should probably not be bundled together and aged down the front page with generic news, updates, and park announcements. Perhaps the featured story of the week can be anchored to the top of the page or on a side bar (along with a link to past feature articles) instead of being jumbled together with everything. I'd say the same for industry analysis, but most of those articles are linked to recent news, so it's probably appropriate for those to age off the front page as well.

October 12, 2023 at 11:14 AM

@Jay R. I still kick myself for not seeing a copy of the Disney America plans while I could have... A lot of the stuff Disney has passed on over the years will never see the light of day, for various reasons sadly. Certainly not officially. We're very lucky if some old never-used plans come up for auction once every few years, let alone someone posts on Twitter about things.

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