Located on the banks of the Truckee River near Lake Tahoe, approximately 300 km from San Francisco, the area boasted spectacular mountain terrain ideal for skiing, but prior to the Games had only one chairlift, two tow ropes and lodging for 50 people, while few skiers had ever heard of the resort.
The resort had originally opened in 1949, but by 1954 the operators were keen to attract more visitors to the area and decided to submit an application to host the 1960 Winter Games.
When Squaw Valley was awarded the Games in 1955, it kick-started a major development project in the area that saw new chairlifts, hotels and other facilities, as well as a series of infrastructure improvements in the entire Lake Tahoe region."When Squaw Valley won the bid for the 1960 Winter Games, we had one chairlift and lodging for 50 people, so there really wasn’t a lot here", explains Amelia Richmond, a spokesperson for the Squaw Valley resort. "What the Winter Games did was provide a lot of excitement and a lot of publicity, which really began driving people to the resort. There was also a lot of funding provided to the region to develop the infrastructure; it was a pretty sleepy village, but the Games helped bring roads, lodgings, as well as many other chairlifts and buildings. The Olympic Winter Games were really what built up the resort".
In preparation for the Games, a 600-room Olympic Village was built, as well as an 8,000-seat arena, a ski jump area, three outdoor skating rinks and a 400-metre speed skating oval.
Access roads were also improved, including the construction of a four-lane freeway stretching nearly 80km, while the Reno airport in Nevada was expanded to accommodate international flights and hotels and restaurants were also built to house the extra visitors.
Richmond believes that without hosting the 1960 Olympic Winter Games, Squaw Valley would now be a very different resort. "It’s because of the Winter Games that Squaw Valley is what it is today", she says. "There are a lot of factors to consider and I’m sure there would have been more than one chairlift today, even without the Games, but the bid for the Games happened so early in the resort’s history that it was really a defining moment".
Hosting the 1960 Olympic Winter Games also helped establish the Lake Tahoe region as a major ski destination, with TV coverage in the USA helping to put Squaw Valley and western America’s other ski resorts on the map.
"The 1960 Olympic Winter Games in Squaw Valley really changed the way people thought about skiing in the western United States", says Richmond. "Skiing was popular in Europe and it was popular in New England, in the northeast of the country, but it really wasn’t that popular in the west, although several ski resorts did exist (...) Squaw Valley was the first Winter Games to be televised live in the USA, so when everybody watching television saw the terrain, the snow and the clear skies, that was what led to a lot of other ski resorts – including Whistler – being developed and also led to a lot of people coming skiing in the west. So it extends beyond what was happening just in our region; I’d say the 1960 Winter Games really drove the popularity of skiing in western America".
"I think (the ’60 Games) changed California and skiing forever", said Nancy Cushing, the former chairman and CEO of the Squaw Valley resort in 2010. "Before that, a lot of people didn’t think there was skiing in California".
Today, the Lake Tahoe region is home to North America’s largest concentration of ski resorts, which in turn have inspired a new generation of skiers, including the USA’s Turin 2006 giant slalom gold medallist Julia Mancuso, who grew up in nearby Truckee."Growing up in Squaw really gave me the Olympic spark", said Mancuso recently. "It was such an amazing place because I had so many great role models to look up to".
Squaw Valley is located on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada (California). Squaw Valley is one of the largest ski areas in the United States, and the second-largest ski area at Lake Tahoe after Heavenly. Squaw receives heavy maritime snowfall. The Average Annual Snowfall is 450 inches (11.5 m).