Tahoe Ski History



The weather has been quite cold and unsettled this week with frequent, but generally modest snowstorms dropping powder on Tahoe resorts. Snow quality has been excellent since that big rain event a couple of weeks ago and ski conditions are outstanding with fluffy skier-packed powder and corduroy groomers. Two potent storms expected next week may add several more feet to the substantial early season snowpack.

Skiing and snowboarding have been great this week with cold powder conditions and plenty of snow on the upper slopes — Alpine Meadows on Dec. 13, 2012, looking north towards sister resort Squaw Valley.

This past summer the United States Olympic Committee decided against an American bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics and instead will focus on either the 2024 Summer Games or 2026 Winter Games.

Entities associated with a Reno-Lake Tahoe bid for a future Winter Olympics were disappointed, especially since they were feeling bullish about their position against other western contenders such as Bozeman, Montana; Denver, Colorado; and Salt Lake City, Utah. (Utah again? Already?) 

Our Olympic legacy lives on at Squaw Valley, but there are many people who want another shot at hosting the Winter Games in the Tahoe-Reno region.

By 2026 it will have been 24 years since this country hosted an Olympic Games and the wheel of fortune is likely spinning back to an American venue. Most communities lunge at the opportunity to bid for the Olympics; they bring world recognition and a lucrative tsunami of capital improvements and enhanced infrastructure.

Many people remember that Squaw Valley successfully hosted the 1960 Winter Games, an event that showcased the area’s sheer natural beauty and boosted the image of the Tahoe-Truckee region as a year-round playground.

Front cover of 1960 Winter Games program captures the soaring spirit of Olympic sport.

Fewer folks, however, are aware that Tahoe’s failed bid to host the 1932 Winter Games changed how California promoted winter sports. That missed opportunity helped launch an alpine skiing revolution in the Sierra that benefitted from better skis and equipment, and conveyances like rope tows that eliminated the long uphill climb and made downhill skiing much easier and more fun.

By 1928, Northern California businessmen were keenly interested in expanding the state’s nascent winter sports industry. Truckee had its downhill ski area and towering wooden scaffold jump at Hilltop across the river from downtown, where imported spruce skis could be rented and a “pull-back” lift was ready for whenever customers showed up.

This pull-back lift, an uphill conveyance designed for paying tobogganists near Truckee so they didn’t have to climb back up after every run, became North America’s first mechanical ski lift when skiers hoppped on board, years before the development of rope tows. The idea was to hook your toboggan on one of the posts, sit down, and ride it backwards up to the top. 

Not to be outdone by Truckee, Tahoe City established a Winter Sports Grounds just west of town and built a trajectory jump that marketing agents dubbed “Olympic Hill.” Soon after the United States was picked to host the 1932 Olympics (both summer and winter).

Competition to host the first Winter Olympics in the United States grew into an intense contest between three established winter snow play areas; Yosemite National Park, North Lake Tahoe, and Lake Placid near Whiteface Mountain, New York. Yosemite had opulent lodging at the Ahwahnee Hotel, Lake Placid promised to construct modern facilities, and Lake Tahoe promoters boasted of a $3 million bankroll that could build anything that the Olympic Committee wanted.

The jump at Olympic Hill outside Tahoe City was epic. During this international jumping competition held in 1932, foreign competitors arrived from Europe and Scandinavia. The deep snow, sunny skies, and views of Lake Tahoe over the forest canopy converted many skeptics that the region really is a world class winter playground.

In California the odds were stacked against Tahoe. Yosemite enjoyed a well-deserved reputation for scenery and unparalleled political clout — support that ran all the way to the White House and the director of the National Park Service. So it wasn’t a surprise that the California selection committee chose Yosemite as its bid site over Big Blue.

California had managed to secure the 1932 Summer Games for Los Angeles, but the state’s Winter Olympics movement ran into stiff opposition. State and private enterprises were heavily invested in marketing the Golden State’s famed mild climate. They feared the emphasis on snow and mountains would harm their efforts.

The European-dominated International Olympic Committee chose Lake Placid over Yosemite partly because of their perception that California basks in a year-round Mediterranean climate. Ultimately, Lake Placid was picked because of its location in upstate New York’s snow country where winter sports were common. The rejection was disappointing, but it served as a catalyst for the emergence of California as a winter sports powerhouse.

The Lake Tahoe Ski Club boasts more National Champions and Olympians than any other ski club in America. L to R James Worden, Charles Henrikson, Carl Bechdolt, Jr., Oliver Henrikson, and Al Henry, Jr., circa 1936. 

After the State failed to secure the 1932 Winter Games, the Chamber of Commerce switched gears and began to embrace winter sports as a viable, economic and popular commodity. It hired Jerry Carpenter, an enthusiastic skier and writer from San Francisco, to promote the development of the Golden State’s winter sports industry.

During winter months the focus of the chamber’s publication switched from sunshine and citrus to snowflakes and sliding. Carpenter wrote, “California offers her residents and tourists a complete program of winter sports that promises to equal, and in some respects exceed, the winter sports of the most famed European, Canadian and Eastern [U.S.] Resorts.”

Psyched-up boosters for a Reno-Tahoe Olympiad better hope that the U.S. Olympic Committee takes that Olympic Heritage to heart for 2026.


After the 1932 Olympic rejection, the Golden State began aggressively marketing winter sports — California Style.


This week there was enough snow for expert riders to hit the chutes of Idiot’s Delight at Alpine Meadows. Not bad for mid-December!