Re-kindling the Olympic flame in Squaw Valley, CA; Part II

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

The Tower of Nations, resplendent in twilight, representing the 30+ countries and 665 athletes, stands at the Highway 89 entrance to Squaw Valley

This was the logo of the VIII Winter Olympics

The downhill, slalom and dual slalom runs, where the US's Penny Pitou took two silver medals, can still be skied at Squaw Valley


The Olympic Village venues were at lower left of this photo looking down Squaw's tram. They included an indoor skating rink, an outdoor speed-skating rink, three additional ice rinks and four athlete's dormitories. The skating rinks and some of the buildings have been removed.


The new village at the base of Squaw Valley offers a host of creature comforts, with shopping, upscale restaurants and lodging options.

New innovations were introduced at the VIII Olympics, with electronic timing, artificial refrigeration for ice making, TV used as “instant replay” and the first skiers to use metal skis.  The 1960 Olympics boasted 665 athletes (the US delegation was largest with 79, followed by Germany and Russia) from 30 countries.  The 2014 games will host over 2,700 athletes from over 80 countries, with the US fielding the largest delegation with 230.  And, unlike Sochi, the Olympic Story at Squaw Valley is so close and open to exploration!

The mountain/ski, skating, jumping venues: In the mid-1950s, Squaw Valley had one chairlift, two surface lifts and a small lodge.  Owner Alex Cushing thought the Olympics would put his area on the map; California’s Governor and legislature thought the games would present California to the world!  Both Squaw Valley and Sochi were designed to be relatively intimate venues.

At Squaw Valley, the skiing, skating and jumping venues were built within walking distance; at Sochi all are set in a relatively compact footprint.  The California Olympics cost $80 million, paid for by the State of California and sponsorships; in Sochi, the games have exceeded $50 billion (yes, billion).  Lest one thinks “just inflation”, the 2010 Vancouver , B.C. Olympics were brought in for less than $2 billion.  One can only ask Russian President Putin where all that money came from!

Squaw Valley offers 2,850 vertical feet of elevation drop; while Sochi exceeds that with more than 3,500 feet.  At Squaw, one can ski the Olympic downhill, slalom and giant slalom courses (where American Pitou took two silver medals) on KT22 Peak, Squaw Peak and Little Papoose Peak (ask the friendly National Ski Patrol on the mountain and they can point out exact Olympic runs).  The men’s normal ski jump hill was built on Little Papoose Peak, opposite the Blyth Memorial Skating Arena, adjacent to the Olympic Village (both the jump hill and arena have since been removed).  The US men’s hockey team would improbably beat the Canadians and Russians for the gold medal.

A compact Olympic Village was constructed at the north end of Squaw Valley, consisting of four dormitories for athletes, the Blyth Memorial Ice Arena, three outdoor skating rinks and a 400 meter outdoor speed-skating rink.  Many of these facilities have been removed, though a number of the 1960s buildings remain.  But one can take the tram to the top of Squaw Peak and skate in the shadows of US gold medal winners David Jenkins and Carol Heiss at the new Olympic Ice Rink, with stunning views of the Sierra.

We will bring you the concluding Part III in a few days!  For more information: See Squaw Valley’s web site,  Tim Viall is a local travel writer and can be reached at  He writes a weekly travel blog for the Record;

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