New ski resort the legacy from Squaw Valley Winter Games

Before being awarded the rights to host the 1960 Olympic Winter Games, Squaw Valley was virtually unknown among skiers, let alone the wider world.

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© IOC / Christian Klaue President Bach at the Super Sprint World Championship Women’s finals in Hamburg.

Located on the banks of the Truckee River near Lake Tahoe, approximately 300km from San Francisco, the area boasted spectacular mountain terrain ideal for skiing, but prior to the Games had only one chairlift and two tow ropes.

The resort had originally opened in 1949, but by 1954 the operators were keen to attract more visitors to the area and decided to submit an application to host the 1960 Winter Games.

When Squaw Valley was awarded the Games in 1955, it kick-started a major development project that would benefit the area for years to come.

In preparation for the Games, a 600-room Olympic Village was built, as well as an 8,000-seat arena, a ski jump area, three outdoor skating rinks and a 400-metre speed skating oval.

Access roads were also improved, including the construction of a four-lane freeway stretching nearly 80km, while the Reno airport in Nevada was expanded to accommodate international flights and hotels and restaurants were also built to house the extra visitors.

Following the success of the Games, Squaw Valley has firmly established itself as a major ski destination.

“I think [the ’60 Games] changed California and skiing forever,” said Nancy Cushing, the former chairman and CEO of the Squaw Valley resort in 2010. “Before that, a lot of people didn’t think there was skiing in California.”

Today, the Lake Tahoe region is home to North America’s largest concentration of ski resorts, which in turn have inspired a new generation of skiers, including the USA’s Turin 2006 giant slalom gold medallist Julia Mancuso, who grew up in nearby Truckee.

“Growing up in Squaw really gave me the Olympic spark,” said Mancuso recently. “It was such an amazing place because I had so many great role models to look up to.”