96-year-old South Lake Tahoe man still skis Heavenly; community hopes to name run after him (video)

Claire Cudahy

At 96 years old, Martin Hollay skied 100 days last winter.

Hollay is a local legend in South Lake Tahoe with a storied 25-year career as a member of Heavenly Mountain Resort’s ski patrol and one of the people responsible for developing runs on the Nevada side of the mountain.

And now, as Hollay nears his 97th birthday on Nov. 1, community members are calling for his home mountain to give him the ultimate gift: a run named in his honor.

In a chalet-style home located near the base of Heavenly, Hollay sits next to his daughter Cezi as she tells him about the petition that she and several others have been circulating over the last two weeks.

“I have been collecting many, many signatures — and I’m not the only one in town who has been doing this — there are over 600 people who want to have a run named after you at Heavenly Valley,” says Cezi.

Video: Emily Kaiser

As of Friday, just two days later, that number has now jumped to over 700.

“Martin, this is all about you and how this community feels about you. It’s about the runs you created and the tree skiing you opened up,” says longtime friend Tom McGowan. “It’s about the many kind things you have done to help people over the last 57 years, like the woman who wrote me that you loaned her a hat [you made] during a storm on the mountain … or telling my grandchildren to slow down on Maggie’s Run. It’s about talking with the kids at Heavenly Foundation each year and skiing the torch across the mountain for the Salt Lake Olympics.”

Hollay, donning his custom-made Heavenly belt buckle, begins to tear up.

“What a surprise,” he says.

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. In 1965, after volunteering as a ski patroller at Heavenly for several years to cover the cost of his lift pass, Hollay 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,” explains Hollay. “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.

In 1990, Hollay retired from ski patrol at Heavenly, and in 2012, he decided to close down his glove-making business — but he still wakes up every morning in the winter, walks from his house to Heavenly and skis.

“Last season I wanted to ski 100 days, but I only got in 96 days, so I drove down to Mammoth and put in my four days skiing,” laughs Hollay. “Lately I ski a couple of hours and my knees tell me, ‘Martin, go up once more or go home.'”

As for his favorite run at Heavenly? It’s Liz’s.

After collecting 710 signatures around town, McGowan, Cezi and Hollay’s other supporters have put the petition online.

“We’re waiting patiently and crossing our fingers that the Vail [Resorts] corporation will honor this,” says Cezi.

Management at Heavenly is aware of the petition, according to McGowan, but they plan to continue collecting signatures until Hollay’s 97th birthday on Nov. 1 and then submit the petition.

“Imagine how you’d feel if hundreds and hundreds of people signed your birthday card,” says McGowan.

Regardless of Heavenly’s decision, McGowan says the plan is the same: Have a giant party in honor of Hollay with the hundreds of people who signed the petition.

“I think they realize this is the right thing to do.”

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