Not unlike the next Olympic Winter Games host city of Sochi, when the Californian ski resort of Squaw Valley was awarded the 1960 Olympic Winter Games in 1955, it only had one chairlift and lodging for 50 people, while few skiers had ever heard of the resort.
But hosting the Winter Games kick-started a major development project in the area that saw new chairlifts, hotels and other facilities, as well as a series of infrastructure improvements in the entire Lake Tahoe region.
Following the success of the Games, Squaw Valley firmly established itself as a major ski destination and today the Lake Tahoe region is home to North America’s largest concentration of ski resorts.
“When Squaw Valley won the bid for the 1960 Winter Games, we had one chairlift and lodging for 50 people, so there really wasn’t a lot here,” explains Amelia Richmond, a spokesperson for the Squaw Valley resort. “What the Winter Games did was provide a lot of excitement and a lot of publicity, which really began driving people to the resort. There was also a lot of funding provided to the region to develop the infrastructure; it was a pretty sleepy village, but the Games helped bring roads, lodgings, as well as many other chairlifts and buildings. The Olympic Winter Games were really what built up the resort.”
Richmond believes that without hosting the 1960 Olympic Winter Games, Squaw Valley would now be a very different resort.
“It’s because of the Winter Games that Squaw Valley is what it is today,” she says. “There are a lot of factors to consider and I’m sure there would have been more than one chairlift today, even without the Games, but the bid for the Games happened so early in the resort’s history that it was really a defining moment.”
Hosting the 1960 Olympic Winter Games also helped establish the Lake Tahoe region as a major ski destination, with TV coverage in the USA helping to put Squaw Valley and western America’s other ski resorts on the map.
“The 1960 Olympic Winter Games in Squaw Valley really changed the way people thought about skiing in the western United States,” says Richmond. “Skiing was popular in Europe and it was popular in New England, in the northeast of the country, but it really wasn’t that popular in the west, although several ski resorts did exist.
“Squaw Valley was the first Winter Games to be televised live in the USA, so when everybody watching television saw the terrain, the snow and the clear skies, that was what led to a lot of other ski resorts – including Whistler – being developed and also led to a lot of people coming skiing in the west.”
“So it extends beyond what was happening just in our region; I’d say the 1960 Winter Games really drove the popularity of skiing in western America.”