Olympic Trails to be restored on Tahoe’s West Shore
The spirit of the Olympic flame is still burning on Tahoe’s West Shore. The 1960 Olympic Cross Country trails may be partially hidden by 40 years of overgrown vegetation, but the trails that stretch west and north of Tahoma are there waiting to be resurrected.
Skiers won’t have to wait much longer, as Tahoma resident Dave Antonucci will begin implementation of his Fast Trax proposal which he’s named “22 in 2000” this summer. He’s striving to have 22 miles of trails marked for skiing next season.
“I’ve skied many of them this winter. It shouldn’t be too difficult to getting them going again,” he said.
Most of the trails slated for restoration next season are already used in the summer by mountain bikers and hikers, he added. There is a potential for as many as 60 miles of trails in the McKinney Creek and General Creek areas.
Antonucci made a presentation of the trail restoration project to the Cross Country Ski Areas Association at its annual conference at Granlibakken earlier this week. He said he has broad support locally, and is now looking for ski industry support. Locally there were some concerns expressed about being in competition with other ski areas in the North Tahoe region.
One of the fears is that it could become more successful, because of the Olympic history, and overshadow other resorts.
“This is not a ‘commercial’ ski area. There will be some (trail) grooming and perhaps some fees to help pay for that, but it’s low-key,” Antonucci said.
Environmental considerations and restrictions would keep the trails from being widened to current ski industry standards, with the original trail bed being used, he said.
The area is being designed to appeal to “the 80 percent of people who cross country ski, but not at developed areas,” he said. The trails would be suited for the traditional classic (or diagonal stride) cross country ski technique, with double set tracks and no skating lane, he added. The groomed trail would be only 8 feet wide, just as it was for the Olympics.
At the association’s annual dinner, Antonucci introduced Wendell Broomhall, the original developer of the site and chief of course from the 1960 Olympics; Martin Hollay, Broomhall’s right-hand man; and Andrew “Mac” Miller, a cross country skier who competed in the 1960 Games.
This area was chosen after the original sites Broomhall had selected in Squaw Valley were encroached upon with development of other Olympic facilities. He studied some maps, snow survey reports and “just went out there looking” in the General Creek and McKinney Creek area.
“It was the ideal place, about the same elevation as Squaw Valley and could meet (International Ski Federation) specs,” Broomhall said.
“The course was mellower than they are nowadays,” Miller said during the conference at Granlibakken. In 1960, Miller placed 17th in the 50-kilometer event in a time of 3 hours, 17 minutes and 23 seconds. He also competed in the 1956 Olympics. The 68-year-old cross country skier still skis often where he lives in Colorado and Idaho and “looks the same as he did 40 years ago,” Broomhall said. Since 1960 the only other American who placed higher in international competition than Miller was Bill Koch in 1976. Miller has also competed many times recently in the Great Ski Race, the 30-kilometer cross country ski race from Tahoe City to Truckee.
“If I remember correctly there were no hills you couldn’t classic up, no herringbones and no death-defying downhills. The trails lend themselves to the average skier,” Miller said of the Olympic trails.
“They flowed under you. You could carry your speed onto the flats,” Broomhall said. The trails were designed with rolling climbs well-suited to the traditional technique and rudimentary snow grooming methods of the time, which included pulling bed springs behind a snowcat to soften the snow.
The trails were built over a span of two summers with the help of Hollay, a resident of South Lake Tahoe since the Olympics. Now a retired ski patroller from Heavenly Ski Resort, Hollay helped Broomhall with the trail work, building timing shacks, bridges over creeks and the biathlon shooting ranges. There was a crew of six men, with Hollay working for $4 an hour. He was given a raise to $6 an hour when he took on more responsibilities.
“We didn’t have to disturb the ground too much, using tractors to build the biathlon ranges and to level a few sections of trails. Most of the work was hand work, cutting manzanita and roots out of the way,” Broomhall said. By contrast, in the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, of which Broomhall was also the site/trail designer and chief of course, $8 million was spent to build and maintain cross country trails – plus an additional $2 million on snowmaking.
Antonucci said to open trails next winter the same type of hand work will be done, with little or no grading anticipated and no large trees to be removed. Most of the facilities, such as the bridges, stadium and biathlon ranges were removed after the Olympics, but the trails were otherwise left untouched. Over the years bridges were built in approximately the same places as the original Olympic bridges, at least close enough to tie into the trail system, Antonucci said.
The California-based winter Olympics broke ground in snow grooming techniques due to the extreme snow conditions, according to Broomhall. It took Broomhall from Maine to a Concord, N.H., machine shop to come up with a device that would break up the rough icy surface caused by warm afternoon temperatures and freezing nights. Borrowing bits and pieces of farm implements, and adding a few devices of their own design, the two invented the first-ever snow grooming implement that would till the snowpack for skiers.
The makeshift machine was mounted on skis from a snowmobile with a 40 horsepower engine driving a belt attached to a shaft with tines from a grain flail chopper. The 8-foot wide contraption was pulled behind a Tucker Sno-Cat.
“We spent six weeks experimenting with it. It was awkward and heavy. After redesigning it we made two more and tried to get them here in 1959 for the pre-Olympic Games,” Broomhall said. The tillers were delayed in shipping so they were first used in competition for the Olympic Games the next season.
“We didn’t think of the next step yet, we used six skiers to ‘ski-in’ the track right behind (the Tucker) when it was soft … didn’t think that far ahead yet,” Broomhall said about track setting sleds that were later developed.
“No one had ever seen a track prepared like this, it’d always been done by foot power and rakes, literally hundreds of people (footpacking),” Miller said.
“It was a perfect track, even, fast for everybody. Racers were amazed at the track, and the wax was klister on the freshly tilled ice,” he added.
Grooming and trail marking are part of Antonucci’s plans, developed by NordicGroupInternational of New Hampshire, but there are few additional amenities for the Olympic Trails Park.
While Antonucci continues his plans for Fast Trax, 22 in 2000 with almost primitive trails for next ski season, he’s also developing a Master Plan for the Olympic Trails to define the details, including a small museum and trailhead facilities and a nonprofit trails association to oversee the Olympic Trails restoration.
Some of the advantages he touts about the restoration in general are that 80 percent of the old trails are recoverable (with next year’s 22 miles using existing corridors), it’s a new low-impact amenity, it enhances recreational and cultural tourism, the trails are on publicly owned lands and there is strong community support for it.
Antonucci has garnered support from throughout the local community service groups and said people call him constantly out of the blue wanting to help his efforts to rebuild the Olympic heritage of the area. There may not be an actual flame burning, but Antonucci will be keeping the spirit of the “Lake Tahoe” Olympic flame alive as he turns his ambitious vision into reality.
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