History of Northstar Part V – “Everything in the Middle of Nowhere!”

Ann McBride Ann McBride, March 7, 2013 in New Northstar

The next two parts of The History of Northstar Blog Series will outline specific years that were significant in the development of Northstar into a ski resort:

1949 – In 1884, a small company was formed in Emeryville, California called Fibreboard – a manufacturer of industrial insulation.  The company flourished and diversified.   In 1949, Fibreboard acquired thousands of acres of land in and around Martis Valley and called it the Tree Farm.  George Burgess, the Chairman of the Board for Fibreboard in the mid sixties, was so taken by the beauty of the Tree Farm, that he created a development company to create a mountain ski resort.  That company was called Trimont Land Company – the three mounts being Mount Pluto, Lookout Peak and Martis Peak!   This period of time reflected forest industries expanding into recreation development in view of land holdings that had promise beyond timber products – no doubt spurred by Squaw Valley being selected for the 1960 Olympics!

1972 – Trimont Land Company and Fibreboard began ski area and resort development under the banner of “Everything in the middle of nowhere”.  In 1972, Northstar-at-Tahoe’s five chairlifts began to turn.  Luggi Foeger, an accomplished skier and mountaineer in his native Austria, Foeger designed and laid out the trails at Northstar-at-Tahoe.  Foeger fled to the US during World War II.  He was instrumental in the creation and training of the US 10th Mountain Division, an elite mountain military group.  After the war, Foeger joined many of the 10th Mountain group in creating what is the modern ski industry.  Foeger, who died in 1992, is remembered by the Luggi’s trail on the front side of Mt. Pluto. 

1976 – In 1973, the forest products giant Georgia-Pacific was ordered to break their monopoly on the industry and in that break up Louisiana-Pacific was created.  Based in Oregon, “LP”, as it was called, became a western forest products corporation.  In 1976, LP acquired Fibreboard – and along with it the newly created resort of Northstar-at-Tahoe.  Harry Merlo, the CEO of LP for twenty-two years, was known for his flamboyant style and generous civic contributions.  Harry became a frequent visitor to the resort often wearing his full length mink coat!  A decade later, there were clouds on the horizon.  In addition to other financial woes, an estimated 80,000 health damage claims from exposure to fire retardant asbestos insulation that was manufactured by Fibreboard in earlier years were pending against the company.  In 1988, LP divested itself of Fibreboard.

1992 – So began a downward spiral for Fibreboard.  In 1992, John Roach was appointed as CEO of the company and he began to turn the foundering company around.   After posting a 44 million dollar loss in 1991, Roach boosted company profits through diversification and acquisition.  The first major acquisition was Sierra Ski Ranch – which was immediately renamed Sierra-at-Tahoe.  The company also successfully ended years of asbestos-related litigation with a three billion dollar settlement.  Most of the judgement was paid by Fibreboard’s liability insurers, Continental Casualty Company and Pacific Indemnity Company. 

Stay tuned for next week’s blog where we pick up with 1996 when George Gillett Jr. and Booth Creek Ski Holdings acquired Northstar Ski Resort through Fibreboard Corp. To be continued…