Olympics at Squaw Valley, 1960

Squaw Valley
The Olympic Flame and the Tower of Nations at Squaw Valley, 1960

The 1960 Winter Olympic Games turned the eyes of the world to Lake Tahoe. Today the spirit of the Olympians and cheering nations can still be felt at Ed Z’Berg Sugar Pine Point State Park, where the cross-country ski races took place.

In the 1950s, the shores and mountain peaks of Lake Tahoe looked nothing like the packed ski resorts that now cover the area come winter. Large patches of land were privately owned, and Squaw Valley only possessed two small ski lifts and a rope tow. Alex C. Cushing, a property owner and president of the Squaw Valley Developers Association, had the dream of bringing the Winter Olympics to Tahoe to show the world its unique natural beauty and near-perfect skiing conditions. 

Cushing worked to unite local, state and federal governments and private supporters. His effort led to a shock felt the world over; in 1955 Squaw Valley won the bid from the International Olympic Committee to host the 1960 Winter Olympics. 

Preparations began at once. Due to the rapid development of Squaw Valley, the cross-country ski area was moved to the McKinney and General Creek areas where some of Ed Z’berg Sugar Pine Point State Park is now located. The Ehrman family, who generously donated the use of their property for the Olympics, owned the land at that time. Before the first snowfall of 1958, 57 kilometers of 16-20 foot wide courses had been dug. By 1959, the cutting-edge course—complete with timing devices and telephone-connected aid shacks—was finished. On February 19, 1960, after an opening ceremony designed by Walt Disney, the VIII Winter Olympics began. 

Skiers on Tahoma Trail
Skiers on the Tahoma Trail

 The Squaw Valley Olympics marked many firsts in Olympic history, including the first use of Trucker Sno-cats to mechanically groom courses and both electric and manual timing of events. The biathlon, a cross-country skiing and shooting event, and the Women’s 10K cross country debuted at the 1960 Olympics. Other events included figure skating, ice hockey and ski jumping. 

Trails where Olympians once raced are now part of Ed Z’Berg Sugar Pine Point State Park. Though they have regained some of their more wild aspects, visitors to the park can experience them today. Whether in winter or summer, visitors can tap into the athletic spirit of the Olympics among the sugar pines that gave the park its name. 

The 1960 winter games closed on February 27, but Squaw Valley and the surrounding area were forever altered. The eyes of the world viewed the striking scenery and world-class sporting venues available. The lake’s now-buzzing slopes and shores began their rapid growth in 1960, when the Olympic spirit left a permanent mark on Lake Tahoe.