Writers’ Wednesdays: The Squaw Valley Olympics

CARSON CITY, Nevada – Sports historians often call the 1960 Winter Olympics held at Squaw Valley “the last great games.”

A racer competes in the giant slalom during the 1960 Olympic Winter Games in Sqiuaw Valley, Calif. Nevada Historical Society
A racer competes in the giant slalom during the 1960 Olympic Winter Games in Sqiuaw Valley, Calif. Nevada Historical Society
In an intimate, unspoiled setting, the best winter athletes from around the globe converged on the previously unheralded ski resort for 11 days. Television cameras (and Walter Cronkite) were there and Walt Disney choreographed the opening and closing ceremonies. There was suspense and drama on and off the slopes and ice rinks. The underdog USA men’s hockey team beat a powerful Russian team in the first “Miracle on Ice.” Just how Squaw Valley was selected to host the Olympics is a story in itself, and one notably told by author David Antonucci in his book, “Snowball’s Chance: The Story of the 1960 Olympic Winter Games.” Antonucci will share stories from the book and his research in this month’s Writers’ Wednesday Lecture hosted by the Nevada Historical Society in Reno on Wednesday, May 10. The event includes a book signing from 5 to 5:30 p.m. and lecture starting at 5:30. It is quite a story. The Squaw Valley Ski Resort was born from a partnership between Alex Cushing and Wayne Poulson, a Reno High grad who had helped do snow surveys in the valley in the 1930s. They formed the Squaw Valley Development Corporation, broke ground on the resort in 1948 and it opened on Thanksgiving Day in 1949. Eventually, Cushing took over operations of the ski area, while Poulsen maintained ownership of most of the land in the valley. 1n 1954, Cushing saw a small article in his morning paper that said Reno was planning to place a bid to host the 1960 Olympic Games. He saw it as an opportunity to get publicity for Squaw Valley, which at the time had one lift and two tow ropes to accommodate skiers, by making a bid for the Games himself. “I had no more interest in getting the Games than the man in the moon,” he later told Time magazine. “It was just a way of getting some newspaper space.” His pursuit turned serious when the U.S. Olympic Committee selected Squaw Valley over Reno; Anchorage, Alaska; Sun Valley, Idaho; Colorado Springs-Aspen, Colo., and Lake Placid, N.Y., to be its recommendation to the International Olympic Committee. To say it was a longshot bid would be a huge understatement, but ultimately, Squaw Valley won out over such finalists as Innsbruck, Austria; St. Moritz, Switzerland; and Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, all of which had previously hosted Olympics. Antonucci will discuss how the 665 athletes from 30 countries gathered to compete in 27 events, including alpine skiing, Nordic combined, cross-country skiing, biathlon, figure skating, speed skating, ice hockey and ski jumping. Through his thorough research, he offers you-are-there accounts of all competition events and ties it to many historical photos of the games. The Writers’ Wednesday Lecture Series is held the second Wednesday of each month. The intent of the program is to highlight writers that specifically focus on Nevada, the Great Basin or the West in general. The authors talk about the content of their books, but also share details about the creative process. The program is $5 for adults and free for Historical Society members and children 17 and younger.