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Snowball Express is a 1972 screwball comedy film made by Walt Disney Pictures about a man who leaves his desk job to run a hotel left to him by his uncle.

Plot Summary

Johnny Baxter (Dean Jones) is at his usual corporate desk job one day when an probate attorney (David White) appears. The attorney tells Baxter that his recently deceased uncle, Jacob Barnesworth, has left him sole ownership of the lucrative Grand Imperial Hotel in the fictional town of Silver Hill, Coloradomarker.

Baxter impulsively quits his job in a grand spectacle and moves his family to Colorado to take up proprietorship of the hotel. Arriving at the hotel, the family finds it to be an immense but ramshackle building with no heat, and a colorful old codger, Jesse McCord (Harry Morgan), living in the shed.

Accepting the situation for the meantime, Baxter attempts to build the hotel up to its former glory and comes upon the idea to turn the hill adjacent to the hotel into a ski lodge. The biggest problem for Baxter is obtaining some capital for his venture. Local banker Martin Ridgeway (Keenan Wynn) expresses great interest in Baxter's daring idea, but continually offers to pony up some cash to take the dilapidated lodge off Baxter's shoulders to convert it into a boys' school in honor of the deceased uncle. Baxter's wife Sue (Nancy Olson) does not trust Ridgeway one iota and says so from the get go.

Realizing there are too many strings attached involving Ridgeway, Baxter searches for funding elsewhere and finds a friendly banker named Mr. Wainwright (George Kirkpatrick) in a nearby town who is genuinely interested in Baxter's venture. Wainwright agrees to meet with Baxter at a ski lodge, as Baxter admits he is an avid skier. Sue Baxter nearly passes out when she hears this, knowing that her husband has never skied a day in his life. Chaos ensues when Baxter hops on the ski lift with Wainwright and promptly glides uncontrollably down the mountain, taking out several skiers and ultimately plowing into a tree, face first.

While Baxter is recovering from injuries sustained from the skiing incident, Martin Ridgeway drops by to give Baxter a check for $3,000, taking feigned pity on his recent skiing disaster. Baxter quickly takes the money and starts making a list of repairs needed for the lodge. As Baxter is enthusiastically building his dream resort, local bumpkin Wally Perkins (Michael McGreevey) works feverishly with Jesse to repair an ailing hot water heater. No sooner does Baxter relish his $3,000 check when the water heater explodes, tearing a hole in the kitchen wall. Luckily, the recently acquired capital covers the repair, but leaves nothing for the ski lift Baxter had in mind. Jesse comes to the rescue by pulling an old donkey engine out of mothballs, ties a rope around it, and uses it for a makeshift ski lift. After successfully hauling the mammoth donkey engine up the mountain, the Baxters are ready to roll, though Sue still feels uncomfortable knowing the resort's repairs were financed by the scheming Ridgeway.

The restored Grand Imperial Hotel opens to little fanfare. The Baxters and Jesse stand in an empty resort for several days, with nary a single customer setting foot in the immaculate hotel. Meanwhile, Wally is outside trying to dynamite a tree stump from the ground. The explosion sets off an avalanche that blocks a passing passenger train, stranding the several hundred skiers aboard. Astute Jesse quietly suggests transporting the skiers to a warm place in the interim. Realizing they are about to be inundated with customers, the Baxters quickly start shuttling the stranded skiers to the resort.


The Baxters quiet resort becomes a mecca for the skiers, and it looks as if John Baxter's gamble has paid off. All goes well until bricks-for-brains Wally commences ski training class. Having never taught skiing before (he is reading the 1970 version of "How to Ski" shortly before the lesson begins), Wally manages to lose his balance and skis down a steep mountain, dangling over a ledge while clinging to a pine tree. Using the venerable donkey engine and a rope to lower John Baxter down the mountain to rescue Wally, Jesse accidentally jostles a loose piece of lit firewood onto one of the thick ropes anchoring the donkey engine in place. Baxter successfully rescues Wally, who suffers a broken arm as a result of the fall. Just then, the burning rope tears, setting the donkey engine free. The steam-powered beast rapidly glides down the mountain, with Baxter in tow, still roped to the machine after having rescued Wally. Unfortunately, Jesse cannot steer nor slow the careening the donkey engine, and it plows right through the center of the Grand Imperial Hotel situated at the bottom of the mountain. Sue Baxter comes running after the runaway donkey engine, and feels a chill come over her as a bone-chilling breeze rustles through the hole created by the disaster. All guests check out immediately, leaving the Baxters flat and out of money once again.

John Baxter sheepishly goes back to Martin Ridgeway, asking for an extension on his $3,000 loan, to which Ridgeway flatly refuses. Undaunted, Baxter notices a sign for the annual Silver Hills Snowmobile Race, with prize money totalling $5,000. Like skiing, Baxter has never ridden nor driven a snowmobile, so he simply assumes Wally can drive his slapdash snowmobile. Unfortunately, Wally's broken arm from his skiing incident prevents any sort of involvement on his part. Baxter then decides to drive the snowmobile himself, with Jesse as his partner. When Sue Baxter gets wind of this act of desperation, she is convinced her husband has lost all touch with reality, practically risking his life in order to win the prize money to save the resort.

The day of the race comes, and 75-year-old Jesse has second thoughts about partaking in the wild snowmobile aboard Wally's decrepit snowmobile (dubbed "The Mighty Mongrel"). Unfortunately, Baxter is acutely aware that Martin Ridgeway has won the race three years in a row. Knowing he is the underdog, Baxter pushes the ailing snowmobile to the limit, ripping around snowbanks at 70 miles per hour. Before he reaches the finish line, both skis manage to break off the Mongrel. With Ridgeway on their tail, Baxter and Jesse practically push the crawling snowmobile towards the finish line. Unfortunately, Ridgeway wins first place, but Baxter wins nothing as he does not cross the finish line (as there are 1st, 2nd, 3rd place prizes), and as a result of pushing the mongrel past its limit, ends up riding the snowmoble for hours as it will not shut off or stop. Later that night, a nearly frostbitten Baxter comes home, with his loving wife Sue waiting for him with open arms.

Baxter is about to throw in the towel on his dream for a successful ski resort when Ridgeway threatens to begin the foreclosure process. Again, Ridgeway offers to buy the crippled resort from Baxter for practically nothing, hoping to convert it into the Jacob Barnesworth School for Boys. Ridgeway's secretary Miss Wigginton (Mary Wickes) happens to also be present during this exchange, and finally blows her stack in front of Ridgeway, Jesse, Wally, and the Baxters. She tells all the truth about Ridgeway, that he wants to buy the resort to get the rights to log all of the timber located on the upper areas of the property. Jesse adds to Wigginton's story saying that the land that the town was built on was granted by Jacob Farnsworth on the condition that a library be built. Baxter's son chimes in that he has not seen a library in town so why does not the land revert back to Baxter, including the land under Ridgeway's own bank. Realizing his plot has been revealed, and that he may be in trouble of losing his bank, Ridgeway agrees to give Baxter all the money necessary to get the resort up and running in first class condition.

The Baxters obtain money for all the necessary repairs to the resort, and it opens for business once gain.

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