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Lake Tahoe History

History Of The Ultimate Ski Destination

1856 John A. "Snowshoe" Thompson became synonymous with skiing when, as a local postman, he carried upwards of 60 pounds of mail across the Sierra. He traveled on two 9 foot skis, called snow shoes at the time, and a long pole. His path took him along the Mormon Emigrant Trail from Placerville to Genoa and back, and it took him 3 days heading east and only 2 days coming back from Genoa.

As one of the first skiers in the Lake Tahoe region, he not only delivered mail but was also responsible for rescuing stranded people along his route.
1910 Truckee ski hill opens
1924 The first ski resort in the Lake Tahoe basin was built in Tahoe City near the Tahoe Tavern for hotel guests. It was originally named Olympic Hill, and is now called Granlibakken in Norwegian it means "a hillside sheltered by fir trees".
1927 Donner Ski Ranch was first utilized for skiing, located at Donner Summit.
1929 Sierra Winter Expedition was published and the ski industry began to grow.
1931 U.S. Olympic Committee chooses Granlibakken as the Olympic trials location held in February. Reno competitor Wayne Poulsen, future Squaw Valley developer, placed third in the ski jumping event.
1932 Southern Pacific Railroad begins the weekend "Snowball Special" to Norden, Truckee and Tahoe City (Granlibakken). This was subsequently halted during WWII.
1936 In Tahoe City Bill Bechdolt establishes a 1,300 long rope tow across from the junction of Highway 28 and 89.
1941 Edelweiss Resort at Camp Sacramento, the largest of the small resorts, with a chairlift and 3 rope tows located on either side of what is now Highway 50. Lutz Aynedter, the 1946 downhill ski champion of Germany teaches skiing here.

During WWII
Most snow skiing was halted during WWII.

Post WWII
Gasoline for cars became available and the desire to play after the war increases.

People begin purchasing Army surplus snow ski equipment. Ski Clubs are revived and plans for snow skiing within the Lake Tahoe basin begin.
1946 White Hills Ski Resort at Spooner Summit is founded by William M. Bliss of Glenbrook, NV at the junction of Highways 50 and 28. It consisted of a ski jump, T bar and in the early 1950's, a chairlift. Three of its four first winters were very light. In 1952 the snow came hard, and the entire basin was closed for three weeks. The resort never reopened after that winter, and the equipment was later sold to Badger Pass in Yosemite National Park.

 

Alpine Meadows

1961 John Riley founds Ward Peak, known as Alpine Meadows Ski Resort, as an alternative to its 'fast paced' neighbor, Squaw Valley. San Francisco families pool resources to develop a ski resort near Tahoe City less as a business venture and more for their love of skiing. Alpine Meadows opens with 3 lifts during the 1961-62 ski season.

 

Heavenly Mountain Resort

1947 Bijou Skyway Park (future Ski Run Blvd.) operated by Lee and Daisy Miller. Tow rope first 1000 feet; the second went almost to Saddle Road.
1951 Bijou Skyway Park leased to Bill Southerland
1955 Chris Kuraisa purchases Bijou for $1,950, moves lift operations up the hill and renames the area Heavenly Valley.
1955 Chris Kuraisa, and casino owners George Canon, Rudy Gersick, and Curly Musso opens Heavenly Valley's California's Base Lodge and one lift.
1960 Expanded with more ski lifts
1962 Tram was added
2005 Heavenly celebrates its 50th anniversary

 

Kirkwood

1864 Zac Kirkwood's dairy is the oldest establishment along the Carson Emigrant Trail. It operates strictly as a trading post in the early pioneer days.
1864 Alpine County officially formed, which was cut from existing El Dorado, Amador and Calaveras Counties. Kirkwood's milk house and barn are in Alpine County, and the Kirkwood Inn and log house being split by all three counties in the bar area. Kirkwood's "Old Time Resort" became a popular summer resort for families.
1966 Zac Kirkwood's family sells to Kirkwood Meadows Inc.
1972 Kirkwood Ski Resort opens

 

Mt. Rose - Ski Tahoe

1930 Reno locals began skiing in the area currently known as Mt. Rose-Ski Tahoe.

Shortly after World War II, a lodge called Sky Tavern was built in the area where a few surface lifts had run since before the war. Sky Tavern has since been sold to the City of Reno and is now used for junior ski programs.
1950s The Reno Ski Bowl was built on the east slope of Slide Mountain (currently the East Bowl of Mt. Rose), and at one point was connected to the Sky Tavern area by the old Ringer Chair.
1964 The north side of Slide Mountain became Mt. Rose Ski Area, and Reno Ski Bowl becomes Slide Mountain Ski Area.
1987 Slide Mountain and Mt. Rose begin operating as one resort.

 

Northstar-at-Tahoe

1949 A tree farm is started on Mt. Pluto, where Northstar is currently located.

1972

The Fibreboard Corporation started the Northstar-at-Tahoe mountain resort.

 

Sierra-at-Tahoe

1946 Vern Sprock opens up Sierra Ski Ranch on Highway 50
1968 Sierra moved to its present location when the California Department of Transportation widens the highway.

1993

New owners Fibreboard Corporation rename Sierra Ski Ranch to Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort.

 

Squaw Valley USA

1937 Wayne Poulsen purchased 1,200 acres in Squaw Valley for a ski resort.
1946 Alex Cushing takes trip to Sierra with friends and falls in love with Squaw Valley
1947 Skiers were pulled by snow cat up the hill.
1949 November 24, 1949, less than three years after his first visit, Alex Cushing opened the Squaw Valley Development Company. Skiers could ride the world's largest double chairlift, Squaw One and rest at the then unfinished Squaw Valley Lodge.
1955 Alexander Cushing flies to Europe to present the International Olympic Committee with a 3,000 pound model of Squaw Valley, and was selected to host the 1960 Winter Olympics.
1956 Squaw Valley Lodge burns down.
1960 Winter Olympics held at Squaw Valley USA

1999

2009

Squaw celebrates its 50th anniversary

Squaw celebrates is 60th anniversary.

Additional Resources

Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority
North Lake Tahoe Resort Association
Hubbard, Jim, Skiing in the Tahoe Area - the Early Years
Landauer, Lyndall Baker, The Mountain Sea: A History of Lake Tahoe
McLaughlin, Mark, MicMacMedia
Scott, E.B., The Saga of Lake Tahoe
Stollery, David J., Tales of Tahoe
Wendt, Nancy, Squaw Valley USA: The First Fifty Years

Special thanks to David Borges for his contributions to this section.