Photos provided by The Grunow Family
For many, Majestic Ski Hill is a fond teenage memory. We learned to ski there, attended summer concerts and spent our Saturdays with friends in the chalet. And we have lifelong resident Bill Grunow, Jr., to thank for these memories. As a young man, Bill was passionate about skiing. He decided to turn his favorite activity into a business, so he began scouting the entire region along with Melita Frankfurth, another avid skier whom he was dating at the time.
He found the ideal place for a new ski hill: in his own backyard. Bill’s father had owned Val-Lo-Will chicken farm, the world’s largest supplier of fresh and rotisserie chicken, which closed in the mid-1950s. Bill built the ski hill on the Val-Lo-Will land; the ski chalet was constructed from a former chicken coop with A-frames added to the exterior. When Majestic Ski Hill opened in December 1957, there was a ski shop, cafeteria, bar and fireplaces.
It was rustic, yet romantic. Many an area couple can recount love blooming in front of a blazing fire in the chalet. Melita and Bill married in March 1958, and even one local skier fell for and married the ski instructor.
Dr. Peter Arnold, a retired dentist, worked at Majestic Ski Hill from 1958 to 1960. “I worked the rentals,” he remembers. “People from the city who didn’t know what they were doing came out by the busloads and they would even take skis, boots and poles of different sizes — anything to get out there and have the experience. Bill told me we had 1,000 sets of skis and sometimes we’d rent them out three times over in a day.”
“The chalet would smell like burning wool because everyone was cold and wet and sitting so close to the fi re,” Arnold recalls warmly. “Even though it was a chicken coop, it had quite a ski atmosphere when there was snow.”
But Bill didn’t stop there. Ahead of his time, he opened a driving range and nine-hole, par-three golf course in 1960. The course, which traversed the ski hills, had a rail car and lights for nighttime play.
And, there was Majestic Bandstand. “I honestly think the bandstand was the highlight of the ski business,” Grunow remarked in a 2006 interview. Modeled after “American Bandstand,” it swung into action during the summers between 1960 and 1970, and featured acts such as Stevie Wonder, The Who, Chicago, The Monkees and the Beach Boys.
In March 1988 the ski chalet burned to the ground. The $500,000 loss was uninsured and that was the end.
Bill and Melita had other businesses to keep them busy, such as Majestic Marine, a mobile boat service fleet. Bill passed away in March 2012, survived by Melita, three children, nine grandchildren and a legacy of memories for so many. As Fontana resident Ron Frankel recalls from his experience as the ski hill with the Grunows, “It’s like everything good that you experienced when you were young…You have no idea what you had until it’s passed you by.”