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Tahoe Nugget #165:

Squaw Valley Love Story
February 14, 2009

They were in love, but not just with each other. It was more of a love triangle, between an intelligent, handsome skier, a stylish, charming debutante, and a beautiful Sierra valley cradled by snow-covered mountains.

Wayne Poulsen and Gladys "Sandy" Kunau first met at the Sun Valley ski resort in Idaho during World War II where Wayne was a ski instructor and Sandy a budding skier.

Poulsen had grown up in Reno, where he was a noted ski champion. During his ski career Wayne made many trips from Reno to Lake Tahoe, which gave him ample time to marvel at the distant mountain peaks lording over the meadows of Squaw Valley. When Wayne entered Squaw Valley for the first time in 1932, he was only 16 years old. After further exploration, he decided to acquire and develop Squaw Valley as "a mountain community dedicated to skiing as a way of life."

As a student at the University of Nevada in Reno during the 1930s, Poulsen started the school's first ski team and actively promoted winter sports. Following his graduation, Wayne went on to coach the University of Nevada team to an undefeated championship season in 1939.

During World War II, Poulsen's exceptional flying ability earned him a position as a lead pilot for Pan American World Airways, a military contractor for the U.S. Armed Forces. His position with Pan Am kept him based in the San Francisco Bay Area, as opposed to Europe or the South Pacific.

Early in the war Wayne joined his pal Marti Arrougé, a former member on the Nevada ski team, who had landed a temporary job as a ski instructor at Sun Valley, Idaho. While teaching there, Wayne met Sandy Kunau and they soon fell in love.

In many ways, they seemed an unlikely match. Wayne had grown up in Nevada, exploring the rugged Sierra backcountry, searching for the best locations to develop ski resorts. He was a fearless, talented skier who pushed the envelope in everything he did. Sandy, however, was raised as a debutante in a world of comfort and privilege. Her family lived in a penthouse at the luxurious Sherry-Netherland Hotel, which overlooked Central Park in mid-town Manhattan. After high school Sandy entered Smith College, a private women's college in Massachusetts, where she enjoyed weekend ski trips in New England.

Sandy was an avid skier and in December 1941 she took a train to Sun Valley, the first luxury ski resort in the West. Sandy signed up for lessons and that's when she met Wayne. The couple hit it off right away, spending their days on the slopes and dancing in the Sun Valley Lodge every night until it closed. Wayne told Sandy about Squaw Valley and that he intended to purchase this remote alpine valley tucked into the Sierra Nevada near Lake Tahoe. He promised that when they got married they would live and raise their family there and build a ski resort.

After their wedding, they moved to Squaw Valley where they spent the first summer in a tent, bathing in the frigid waters of Shirley Canyon and eating fresh trout. The Poulsen's eventually purchased two surplus army barracks and converted them into a real home that could withstand the severe Sierra winters. It was the first house built in Squaw Valley and survives today as Graham's Restaurant. (A friend of mine from high school, Rich Trottnow, is the general manager at Grahams.)

In 1948 Wayne accepted Alex Cushing as his business partner to finance the construction of the ski resort, but the relationship didn't work out. Cushing went on to develop the ski resort while the Poulsen's began a successful career in real estate selling the land they owned there. Sandy was with her husband every step of the way. She birthed eight children and raised them in the pioneer spirit of independence and accomplishment.

Wayne Paulsen loved Sandy and Squaw Valley, and dedicated his energy to his wife and family, as well as to the beautiful alpine valley they called home. Wayne died in 1995 after a lifetime of impressive accomplishments in skiing and aviation. Sandy, the "First Lady of Squaw Valley", passed away in 2007.

Sandy once said that, "I grew up in New York, in a penthouse, but I ended up living in a tent in Squaw Valley. Yet I couldn't have been luckier."

After a love affair that lasted 53 years, it's difficult to separate the achievements of the couple. In 2005, the U.S. Board of Geographic Names officially designated a peak in Squaw Valley as "Poulsen Peak" commemorating Wayne Poulsen, ski pioneer and founder of Squaw Valley.

Wayne and Sandy Poulsen were the heart and soul of Squaw Valley and although they are gone, their legacy is secure.

Photo #1: Squaw Valley in the summertime.
Photo #2: Poulsen (center) captain of the 1937 University of Nevada ski team.
Photo #3: Original Poulsen cabin now Graham's Restaurant.
Photo #4: Poulsen family in early 1960s. Sandy is holding infant Russell.
Photo #5: Poulsen Peak
Photo #6: Sandy and Wayne in 1995.
Photo #7: Poulsen family in 2006. Sandy in center.
Photo #8: Poulsen family dedicated the land for Squaw Valley Chapel, which was built for the 1960 Winter Olympics. Note modern tram in background.

Nugget #165 Squaw Valley in Summer

Nugget #165 1937 Nevada Ski Team

Nugget #165 Poulsen Cabin now Grahams Restaurant

Nugget #165 Poulsen Family outside

Nugget #165 Poulsen Peak

Nugget #165 Sandy & Wayne P 1995

Nugget #165 Poulsen Family at Squaw Valley 2006

Nugget #165 Squaw Valley Chapel Tram

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