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Tahoe Nugget #131:

Truckee Winter Carnival
January 24, 2008

At the end of the 19th century, the railroad town of Truckee was in an economic slump. The demise of Virginia City's famous silver boom in the 1880s was devastating to the whole region, as miners, bankers, and business owners abandoned the area.

Fortunately, Truckee residents had Charles Fayette McGlashan, town patriarch, community leader, and a visionary who would help them develop a year-round economy through the development of winter sports. McGlashan practiced law, wrote the first authentic history of the Donner Party, and was the long-time editor and owner of the Truckee Republican newspaper. Like everyone else in the Truckee community, McGlashan wondered what could they do to develop a winter economy?

The inspiration for a winter carnival came from successful events already underway in Montreal, Canada, established in 1883, and St. Paul, Minnesota, where a carnival opened in 1886. The wildly popular Montreal Winter Carnival featured sporting events, parades, Indian dances, costume balls, and an ice palace that resembled a full sized castle.

McGlashan got the ball rolling for Truckee's own winter carnival in 1894 by constructing a sixty-foot, cone-shaped wood frame on the hill near his house above town. He wrapped the towering structure with chicken wire and at night, when temperatures fell below freezing, he sprayed water on it until it eventually resembled a gigantic icicle. His neighbors had no idea what McGlashan was up to and rumors abounded. McGlashan really sparked everyone's interest when he rigged up a powerful arc light on a nearby flagpole that bathed the sparkling icicle in bright light. At night, no one could take their eyes off the magnificent, glittering tower of ice aglow above them. It certainly caught the attention of curious train passengers traveling the Southern Pacific line through Truckee.

It wasn't long before McGlashan's solitary icicle snowballed into what would become Truckee's famous Winter Ice Carnival, a major tourist attraction for snow lovers in California and Nevada. McGlashan envisioned a massive ice palace containing a large oval skating rink with a band playing music. Other activities included dog-sled races, horse-drawn sleigh rides, ski jumping and moonlight skating parties on Donner Lake.

Southern Pacific Railroad recognized the potential for profit in providing transportation into the mountains and began offering "Snowball Express" trains to Truckee. Over the next two decades, the winter ice carnival attracted multitudes of tourists, which ultimately led to today's vital winter sports economy in the Lake Tahoe-Truckee region.

Truckee's annual ice carnivals were the first in the West and a real boost to the town's vitality. Charles McGlashan realized early on that tourism would be the main economic pillar for the small mountain community that he loved.

Three months before his death on January 6, 1931, Charles McGlashan wrote a letter to the Truckee Chamber of Commerce: "Now, in my 84th year, I look back to quite a number of years when it is well known I was the acknowledged leader of Truckee Winter Sports. I have always believed that the vast snowfields of the Truckee Basin, situated on a transcontinental railroad in sunny California, would annually attract tens of thousands of visitors."

The dream of the Truckee-Lake Tahoe region as a Mecca for winter fun has succeeded beyond anyone's imagination, with 15 major ski resorts and unlimited options for other winter sports like snowmobiling, ice skating and cross-country skiing. The legacy continues today with the annual Truckee Winter Carnival, scheduled from February 1-10, 2008. There are plenty of activities scheduled, for both young and old, and this year there is lots of fresh snow to enjoy. Make sure you get out there and enjoy the timeless fun of winter sports!

Photo #1: Truckee's massive Ice Palace, circa 1895, was constructed between Commercial Row and the railroad tracks.
Photo #2: Women prepare to "sail" down Truckee's snow-covered streets.
Photo #3: Winter sports enthusiasts arrive by train to snowbound Truckee.
Photo #4: Winter Carnival Canine Ski Champion Photo #5: Truckee: Gateway to Sierra Winter Sports.

Nugget #131 A Truckee ice palace 1895

Nugget #131 B Women ski sailing

Nugget #131 C Snowball Express

Nugget #131 D Canine Skier

Nugget #131 E Truckee Billboard winter sports

 

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