Tahoma resident hopes to rebuild Nordic trails | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Tahoma resident hopes to rebuild Nordic trails

Joelle Babula

Cruising through the same runs Olympians competed on during the 1960 Winter Olympics may soon be a possibility.

But these aren’t the daredevil chutes used for competition at Squaw Valley. These trails, in Sugar Pine Point State Park and in Tahoma, were used for the first official Olympic cross country ski competition in 1960.

“Most people simply are not aware that Tahoma was the site of Olympic sports,” said David Antonucci, an avid cross country skier and general manager of the Tahoe City Public Utility District. The TCPUD is not involved with Antonucci’s work on the project.

Antonucci, a Tahoma resident, is in the process of researching the possibility of restoring these Olympic cross country trails for public use year-round.

“Literally, the Olympics came down what is now my street,” Antonucci said. “I’ve been a cross country skier since 1973 and someday I want to revive all those trails. I’m working on getting them reopened.”

According to Antonucci, there were eight cross country skiing events held on these West Shore trails, including the men’s 15-, 30- and 50-kilometer races, women’s 10-kilometer race and the men’s and women’s relay.

And, for the first time in the Winter Olympics, the biathlon was also an event. The biathlon was a combination of cross country skiing and shooting at certain targets.

“The trails there are no longer evident, they are not maintained,” Antonucci said. “Some have evolved into narrow hiking trails, others into roads and others have disappeared.”

So, why haven’t these Olympic trails been maintained over the years?

“Because cross country skiing was not popular in the United States until the early ’70s,” Antonucci said. “It wasn’t until an American, Bill Koch, won the bronze medal for cross country skiing in the early ’70s that people started to pay more attention. Before that, there was no demand for cross country ski trails.”

According to Antonucci, the West Shore was chosen as the cross country ski site in 1960 because of the terrain and the lack of population.

“The gently rolling terrain is highly suitable and the West Shore tends to have early, abundant, snow that stays,” Antonucci said.

All together, there are between 30 and 60 miles of trails between Sugar Pine Point and Homewood Mountain Resort that can be revived and maintained as a cross country trail system, Antonucci said.

“My vision is to establish some or all of the trails and provide people the opportunity to ski on an Olympic trail,” Antonucci said. “That area is the only place in the Western United States where an Olympic cross country ski event took place.”

Antonucci also hopes the trails would be accessible in the summertime as hiking and walking trails.

Currently, Antonucci has a volunteer group working with him to look into developing these West Shore ski trails. He also has a consultant coming to the area this summer to inspect the terrain and prepare a feasibility study.

“I’m in the process right now of rounding up funds to pay his (the consultant’s) fees,” Antonucci said.

So far, Antonucci has $1,000 secured from the West Shore Association for the consultant, but he needs about $5,000 more.

According to Phil McKenney, the executive director of the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association, he will propose the possibility of helping with the funding during the next Resort Association meeting April 29.

“We’ll be asking the infrastructure committee to take a look at helping with the funding,” McKenney said. “It (the trail system) would be a permanent improvement and it’s something we can market.”

Once the feasibility study of the cross country area is complete and a viable project is proposed, there is a possibility to receive grants to help fund the construction and maintenance, Antonucci said.

“After the feasibility study, I think next winter we can begin marking and identifying some of the trails,” Antonucci said. “In terms of new trails, it would be about five years.”

The land that’s crisscrossed with these Olympic trails is mostly public land and is owned by a combination of state parks, the Tahoe Conservancy, the TCPUD, the U.S. Forest Service and Homewood Mountain Resort, Antonucci said.

“More of it (the land) is in public ownership now than when the Olympics were held,” Antonucci said. “That’s what makes it so possible.”

If the trails ever do get resurrected, Antonucci would like to see a mini opening ceremony event held with individuals who were a part of the 1960 Olympics.

“It would be a mini reunion when we opened the trails up,” Antonucci said. “I’d also like to see a small Olympic interpretive center set up along with the trail system. This is just such an exciting project that really takes advantage of what Tahoe has to offer.”

Anyone interested in joining the volunteer group or helping out can contact David Antonucci at the TCPUD at (530) 583-3796, ext. 14.

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