At 96 years old, former Heavenly Mountain Resort ski patroller Martin Hollay wanted to ski 100 days that season. He only got in 96 days in Tahoe, so naturally he drove down to Mammoth and skied for four days. That was just like Martin Hollay.
The skier was beloved in the South Lake Tahoe community for his generosity, fun-loving personality, and impact on the resort. In July, hundreds gathered outside his home at the base of the mountain to honor his passing at the age of 101.
With a 25-year career as a member of Heavenly Mountain Resort’s ski patrol, Hollay is a local legend in South Lake Tahoe and one of the people responsible for developing runs on the Nevada side of the mountain.
In 2017, a few days shy of his 97th birthday, Heavenly named a trail after him that leads to a peak that Hollay had long referred to as “Martin’s Peak” and adorned with a flag from his home country of Hungary. The resort also dedicated a stand of trees that he planted back in the 70s to him.
In 1973, after the creation of the Meadow Dam and Reservoir for snowmaking, Hollay planted saplings he found on the mountain near there to help compensate for the trees he felled over the years while creating runs. Every year he would plant a few more.
Originally from Hungary, Hollay grew up cross-country skiing. In 1957, as the communist revolution swept across the country, Hollay fled to the United States, ultimately landing in Los Angeles working in his trade as a glove maker. A year later, he moved to Lake Tahoe to be back in the snow.
After joining the Nordic Ski Club, Hollay was hired to construct the cross-country course for the 1960 Winter Olympics held in Squaw Valley. Hollay volunteered as a ski patroller at Heavenly for several years to cover the cost of his lift pass, and in 1965, he was hired full-time.
Over the next 25 years, Hollay patrolled during the winter months and designed and cut down trees for new runs at Heavenly in the off-season.
“In 1969 and 70, they started opening the Nevada side. From then on, in the wintertime we skied the mountains and decided where we should put chairs in and things like that,” Hollay said back in 2017. “In the summertime with the Forest Service, it was my job cutting the trees, at first for the lift lines, and then the expert run, then the intermediate run.”
After coming home from work at Heavenly, Hollay spent his evenings cutting and sewing leather and fur-lined gloves and hats, which he sold to local skiers and businesses.
He passed his love of skiing on to his daughter, Cezi Hollay, who says her favorite memories revolve around spending time with her father at Heavenly.
“I was told I was skiing down the face on his back when I was six months old,” says Cezi with a laugh. “Everyone knew him from Heavenly. When he was on ski patrol, I used to be able to do the last run with him, which is called the sweep. Living so close to Heavenly, we’d be able to ski every day after school.”
In 1990, Hollay retired from ski patrol at Heavenly, and in 2012, he decided to close down his glove-making business, but he still woke up every morning in the winter, walked from his house to Heavenly and skied. He continued this into his late 90s.
“He loved being a host to visiting skiers and his outgoing personality created hundreds of friendships, both local and throughout the ski industry,” said Malcolm Tibbetts, who was hired by Hollay in 1972 as ski patrol and retired over 30 years later as Heavenly’s vice president of mountain operations. “Due to his ‘trimming,’ he is personally responsible for Heavenly being a truly great tree skiing area.”
“The memorial event in front of his home filled the street with hundreds of people who felt the need to express their love for this man,” added Tibbetts. “He was much beloved and won’t be forgotten.”