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(Not So) Hidden History of the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics

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The Olympics Ticket Center at Squaw Valley [Photo: LA 84 Foundation]

In honor of the the 2012 Olympics starting on Friday, we decided to feature the not-so-hidden history of the last Olympic games in Northern California, the 1960 Lake Tahoe winter Olympics.

Back in the 1950s, Squaw Valley was a new and tiny ski area consisting of one chair lift, two rope tows, and a fifty-room lodge, mostly surrounded by undeveloped areas. There was only one homeowner in the area, Alexander Cushing, who happened to be the president of the Squaw Valley Development Company. He petitioned the governor to support an Olympic bid, and the site was selected in 1955, beating out the assumed favorite in Innsbruck, Austria as well as St. Moritz, Switzerland and Chamonix, France.

Since Squaw Valley was an unincorporated village at the time, all the venues and infrastructure had to be constructed...in four years. The California Olympic Commission retained Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to undertake studies of sites, facilities, and costs involved in the Games. In previous years the athletes stayed in hotels or with local families, but since Squaw Valley didn’t have any, the first Olympic Village was created. All the athletes slept in dorms and ate together in a central dining hall, all within walking distance to the venues. The construction of all the new facilities allowed for new technology and advancements, like artificial ice for the skating rinks and a result tabulating computer provided by Silicon Valley’s IBM. Cross-Country Ski trails were constructed 12 miles away on the west shore, and in 2010 much of the trail was restored for public use. Blyth Memorial Arena was the main center for the games, holding the ceremonies, skating, and hockey events. Flaws in the roof design caused it to collapse during a heavy snowfall in 1983 and the building was demolished. The athletic center still remains, known now as Olympic House.

The Athletic Center still remains, now known as the Olympic House with restaurants inside [Photo: uzvards]

Squaw Valley was also the first Games in the United States to receive federal funding to build the facilities. They also sold the broadcasting rights to CBS (and when officials were unsure about a run in the men’s slalom they asked if they could review the CBS video tape, essentially inventing “instant replay”). Walt Disney produced both the opening and closing ceremonies, though the opening ceremony was delayed due to a massive blizzard that shut down traffic.

The Tahoe Channel put together a video of footage from the 1960 Olympic Games:

Lake Tahoe had started preparing a bid for the 2022 games, along with Denver and Bozeman, but the US Olympic Committee decided to hold off any bids until 2026. Looks like the Olympics could return to Northern California, just give it a decade or two.
· VIII Olympic Winter Games Final Report [LA84]
· Backstage at Winter Olympics [Popular Science]
· Squaw Valley 1960 [IOC]
· Keeping the flame alive: With 2022 hopes dashed, Lake Tahoe officials look toward 2026 Winter Games [Tahoe Bonanza]
· Lake Tahoe restores cross-country ski trails used in 1960 Olympics [Oregonian]