Cushing showed Tahoe the ropes; now it’s time for Tahoe to follow his lead
Do you know any wealthy New York lawyers who are planning to vacation in the area?
If you do, then get them hooked on mountain sports like Wayne Paulson did with Alexander Cushing. Of course, make certain the rich lawyer doesn’t break his ankle while gliding down the mountain.
Cushing broke his ankle on a trip West in 1946, but that didn’t send him home to the Big Apple, warning New Yorkers of the perils of traversing mountains with two slabs of wood underneath their feet. Instead, Cushing scraped up the $400,000 he needed to start Squaw Valley Development Company.
Not long after opening Squaw Valley with the world’s largest double chairlift and two tow ropes in 1949, Cushing’s vision propelled the ski resort into the history books.
If Cushing would have listened to the Avery Brundages of the world, Squaw Valley never would have served as host for the 1960 Winter Games. Although Squaw Valley was undeveloped at the time, Cushing foresaw that his rustic resort could grow if the cash cow known as the Olympics grazed in his meadows.
When the International Olympic Committee selected Squaw Valley over Innsbruck, Austria in 1955 as the site for the eighth Winter Games, Cushing and Co. transformed a 50-room, one lift resort into a self-contained Olympic village.
By the time the Olympics premiered in the Western United States, $9 million in spending added three more double chairlifts, 8,500-seat Blyth Ice Arena, a speed skating oval, a ski jump, bridges, roads and an inn with a 750-athlete capacity to Squaw Valley’s landscape.
There was never any hesitation by Cushing in his push forward to serve as unlikely host of the Games. Unfortunately, resistance is as thick as the fire smoke around the lake as preparations are being made to bid for the 2014 or 2018 Winter Olympics.
“On balance, is that gain worth all the negative and the headache and everything? I don’t know the answer,” said John Wagnon, vice president of Heavenly marketing back in May when the Nevada Commission on Sports enthusiastically talked about pursuing the Games.
By splitting the Games between the North and South shores and Reno, the onslaught of visitors could be better managed despite transportation deficiencies. Where would all the spectators park? Certainly not in the meadows like they did in 1960.
Unquestionably, the ski resorts have ideal terrain to pull off the Alpine, snowboarding and freestyle events without a hitch. Accommodating figure skating, ice hockey and speedskating would pose the most problems. Then again, nobody indicated that the Olympics have to play out entirely in Tahoe. Building these facilities in Reno or Sparks would eliminate the bureaucratic red tape and allow Reno and Tahoe officials to expedite planning.
By now, Squaw Valley and Heavenly should have hosted ESPN’s X Games to get a feel for an event of this magnitude but have been scared away by the costs, work and lack of support.
Squaw and Heavenly certainly don’t need the Olympic spotlight to attract customers to their massive resorts. But how many people down the road would want to visit these resorts just to say that they carved where the Games were held?
When you consider the recent sites of the Winter Games, Reno-Tahoe certainly deserves a shot. After being turned down by the U.S. Olympic Committee in 1985 and 1989, let’s not let another opportunity slip away.
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