Re-kindling the Olympic flame in Squaw Valley, CA, USA

Perhaps you did the math and considered a trip to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, opening on February 6.  But the challenge of distance, cost, and fear of terrorism to get to the Sochi games likely put the idea out of reach.  Instead, find the spirit – and the ghosts – of the 1960 Winter Olympics right here in California by rekindling the Olympic flame in Squaw Valley, USA!

The Tower of Nations, representing the 30+ nations and almost 700 athletes, stands at the Squaw Valley entrance off Hwy 89


The colorful logo of the VIII Winter Olympics

This was the bib worn by VIII Olympic athletes; the US would win three golds and stun the world with a first-class Winter Olympics. The games would help bring the Lake Tahoe area to the world stage!

Ease of access, close proximity and low cost of visiting the Olympic history at Squaw Valley, site of the VIII Winter Olympics, will be a pleasant surprise.  Just 2.5 hours from Stockton, vestiges of the old Olympic Village remain at Squaw Valley, as do all the ski runs and much of the romance of the Olympics.

Just 15 miles away are the cross-country and biathlon trails, open for skiing or snowshoeing, at Sugar Pine Point State Park on Lake Tahoe’s west shore. You can ski or snowboard on the downhill runs that made Penny Pitou famous, ice skate in the shadow of US gold medalists Carol Heiss and David Jenkins, snowshoe or cross-country ski in the tracks where the Soviet women swept the 10K race and imagine the crack of the biathlon rifles on the range where  a Swede would triumph, or merely explore these venues on foot and by car.

Much of the Olympic spirit remains, and some of the venues and a good portion of the Olympic Village – all waiting for you to recreate victory and defeat!  All of this Olympic finery, and much of the history, are wrapped around Lake Tahoe’s north shore, a spectacular destination in its own right.  Nearby Tahoe City, just six miles from Squaw, offers a wealth of fine dining and over-night accommodations, in addition to what you will find at Olympic Valley/Squaw Valley Resort.

Both the 1960 and 2014 Olympic sites were small, unknown and undeveloped venues; the choice of Squaw Valley, a struggling ski area with one chairlift competing against Innsbruck, Austria, St. Moritz, Switzerland and Chamonix, France, shocked many.  Both venues were built with compact footprints, though, with 11 modern arenas, the Sochi Olympics dwarfs the Squaw games in venue number and investment.  Alex Cushing, Squaw’s owner, and Russian President Putin are daring leaders who thought big.

The VIII Olympic games opened on February 18, 1960, with Vice President Richard Nixon presiding for the US.  Walt Disney produced both the opening and closing ceremonies; with snows light prior to the games Disney brought in Washoe and Paiute Indian tribes to do a snow dance, and the opening ceremony was delayed an hour by a huge blizzard!

In the mid-1950s, Squaw Valley had one chairlift, two surface lifts and a small lodge; it would grow dramatically from the Olympics investment and exposure.  In future installments, we will explore the VIII Olympic venues, vs. Sochi, and consider how Squaw Valley pulled off a world-class event for $80 million, vs. Sochi’s $50 billion!    And, unlike Sochi, the Olympic story at Squaw Valley is so close and open to exploration!

Watch for installment two this weekend, as we explore Squaw Valley and the ghosts of Olympic champions past!


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