Hollywood’s Pine Needles Slope of 1939

The Pine Needles Slope was set up near Universal City by Sepp Benedickter, an Austrian ski racer who, among many claims to skiing fame, was also closely involved in the development of Sun Valley resort and also reputedly employed as a ski teacher by Hollywood stars including Henry Fonda and Gary Cooper on the dry slope.  He also appeared as a ski instructor in some 1930s Hollywood films.

Some sources claim Benedickter competed for Austria in the early Winter Olympics before coming to the USA at the invitation of W. Averill Harriman, the creator of Sun Valley resort, where the was a key figure in early ski resort development. He is reputed to have been the first person to ride the world’s first chairlift at Sun Valley.

Among his many claims to ski fame Benedickter had a reputation as a fearless ski jumper, in a biographical piece the LA Times reported,

“In July 1948, when snow was sparse, he jumped 110 feet (33.5 metres) across a highway lined with cars at Mt. Lassen in the Sierra Nevada. Later, lawmakers outlawed such antics after a less skilled leaper was killed.”

In 1939, for one summer only, Benedickter is reported to have been lured to Los Angeles by the star-studded Wooden Wings Ski Club, which included Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn, Henry Fonda and David Niven and opened Pine Needle Ski Slope.

Benedickter’s 800 foot (240m) Pine Needles slope opened on June 29, 1939 at a location now occupied by the Sheraton Hotel and below the location of present day Universal Studios. 6,000 burlap sacks of pine needles, are said to have been placed on the usual dirt and weeds to create a ski surface similar to one created in France the previous year. Benedickter installed two rope tows and built a ski rental shop, where he introduced and promoted the new sport of dry-land skiing. Henry Fonda, Gary Cooper, Robert and Elizabeth Taylor, Claudette Colbert, James Cagney, and Hedda Hopper were among the stars attending the opening.

“The slope is located at the juncture of two busy boulevards, near Universal Studios, and can be seen plainly for a long distance on Ventura Boulevard. Exceptionally smooth and attractive, the hill commands a view of the entire San Fernando Valley. The slope proper has been fenced off from the surrounding pasture, and an occasional cow; startled out of her cudchewing placidity, moseys curiously along the fence. Most of the skiers agree that this gives the slope the pastoral air of Switzerland,” A 1939 news source wrote.

Temperatures on the slope were reported to go above 100F (38C) in the summer and people skied in their swimsuits, a rope tow lift provided uplift. Pine Needles closed once the summer ended.