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Tahoe Nugget #46:

1960 Squaw Olympics: Magic or Machine? (2 photographs)

Today the 2006 Winter Olympic Games open in Torino, Italy, an event that inspires memories of the Winter Olympic Games held at Squaw Valley in February 1960. The television exposure brought international recognition to the Tahoe-Truckee region and spurred big mountain ski resort development.

In 1954 and desperate for publicity, Alex Cushing, president of the Squaw Valley Development Corp., submitted a proposal to host the 1960 Winter Games. To help convince skeptical Olympic delegates that this little known California valley could match up to Europe's great winter resorts, Cushing traveled to Paris with Jo Marillac, Squaw Valley's head ski instructor and renowned French mountaineer. Marillac was also a hero of the French Resistance in WWII who helped downed Allied aircraft crewmen escape German occupied France to safety in Switzerland. On the second ballot, Squaw Valley squeaked out a win by two votes over heavily favored Innsbruck.

Cushing had assured that the mountains above Squaw Valley average about 35 feet of snowfall each winter. Unfortunately, persistent high pressure in December 1959 blocked all storms and on Jan. 1, 1960, there was no snow in the valley. It seemed that the Sierra Storm King was planning to boycott the event and the eyes of the nation and the world were on Squaw Valley's weather. Prayers were answered when a barrage of cold storms blanketed the upper slopes with more than 10 feet of snow. Olympic organizers were jubilant.

The Games were slated to begin on Feb. 18, but like a poor dinner guest, the stormy weather refused to leave. Heavy rain lashed the mountains for days, rutting the ski runs and nearly washing out the parking lot. Finally cold air lowered the snow level and dumped three feet of powder.

On opening day, the weather had one last trick to play. A mini-blizzard that morning harassed the thousands of spectators and dignitaries arriving for the opening ceremony scheduled for 1:30 P.M. The snowfall and monumental traffic jam forced Olympic officials to postpone the event by 15 minutes. The timing was perfect. At 1:45 sharp, the snowstorm quit, the wind let up, and a bright shaft of sunlight suddenly beamed down. The change was so dramatic that the Russian delegates couldn't decide whether it was Walt Disney's magic (Disney was in charge of the ceremonial pageantry) or if the Americans had invented a weather machine.

Image #1 is the opening day ceremony. Image #2 is an Olympic skier on slalom run.
Photographs courtesy of Vi White
 

Nugget #46 A Opening ceremony 1960 Squaw Olympics ID 650

Nugget #46 B 1960 Olympic slalom skier

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