As the Winter Olympics are currently happening in Beijing, China, it’s a good time to reflect on the 1960 VIII Winter Olympics that happened right here at what was then known as Squaw Valley (now Palisades Tahoe). Shortly after the games ended, the dream of many was to create a place where the story of that momentous event and its impact on the Sierra could be told.
Now finally 60 years later a local nonprofit organization is fully engrossed in planning an expanded version of this dream, a newly christened SNOW Sports Museum: Sierra Nevada Olympic and Winter Sports Museum, which will not only focus on the ski and Olympic history of the Sierra, but also have an interactive cultural center, a Winter Sports Hall of Fame, and serve as a community hub and event center.
The SNOW Sports Museum will be located at the Placer County-owned Squaw Valley Park where Highway 89 and Squaw Valley Road meet. It will be tucked into a corner of land between the upper parking lot and the pickle ball courts. The museum is slated to provide about 16,000 feet of display and meeting space, while occupying a footprint of 7,500 feet. While the plan has taken shape, there is still much work to be done to bring it to fruition.
“We have officially partnered with Placer County to finish the environmental review process for the location in Squaw Valley Park,” said Scott Keith, an advisory committee member for the SNOW Sports Museum. This process could take as long as 16 months. After that stage is completed, the next steps would be to launch a capital campaign, finalize the exhibit designs, and ideally open doors in 2025.
During her four years as SNOW Sports Museum executive director, Jill Milne has witnessed the board of directors increase in size and seen the addition of a core group of snowsport superstars recruited as ambassadors to help publicize the museum, including Jamie Anderson, Hannah Halvorsen, Travis Ganong, JC Schoonmaker, Julia Mancuso, Jonny Moseley, Anna Goodman (Sullivan), Jeff Hamilton, Bill Hudson, Eric Poulsen, Osvaldo Ancinas, Starr Walton-Hurley, and Eileen Gu, who was announced at the end of January. The project has also expanded to include a new focus on covering snow sports history throughout the Sierra Nevada region.
The board is now ready to move full speed ahead to create the project. “We are a very small team, and we would really like to stay in the eyes and ears of the public,” Milne said.
What will be in the museum
The SNOW Sports Museum will have a major exhibit on the VIII Winter Olympics Games, which were held Feb. 18 to 28, 1960, at Squaw Valley Ski Resort as well as along the West Shore of Lake Tahoe. At the time it was highly improbable that the Olympics would be wrested away from its usual European location — where it was consistently held with the exception of the 1934 games Lake Placid, New York — to the little community of North Tahoe. However, Squaw Valley owner Alex Cushing was able to win the bid even though at the time of the application there was only one chairlift at his fledgling ski area. The event went on to break new ground in Olympic history and had the flair that could only happen when the master of ceremonies was Walt Disney.
Fortunately, photographs and memorabilia depicting the Olympics and much of Sierra skiing history have been stored in various locations around the region including the North Lake Tahoe Historical Society at the Gatekeeper’s Museum in Tahoe City, the Western Ski Sport Museum on Donner Summit, and Palisades Tahoe. There are also hidden treasures in the homes of a number of individuals who are waiting for the museum to open to display them.
A cultural center at the museum will share the fascinating tales of the history of skiing and winter sports throughout the Sierra Nevada. Whether it was Washoe people traveling on handmade snowshoes, the series of highly competitive longboard races conducted in the northern Sierra by gold miners in the late 1800s, or the daring 10th Mountain Division skiers in WWII, the connection between winter sports and the Sierra is strong and impactful.
Also included at the museum will be a Regional Winter Sports Hall of Fame honoring the long list of “athletes, pioneers and visionaries of our region who have significantly enriched the sports of skiing and snowboarding,” according to the SNOW Sports Museum website.
In addition to exhibits, the museum will be a community hub and events center with spaces for films, meetings, presentations, and lectures in a new technologically and eco-friendly building. It will provide educational programs to local students and the general public. Its central location between Truckee and Tahoe City makes it a desirable meeting spot.
“The museum has been a long time coming,” said David Antonucci, SNOW Sports Museum board president, and author of Snowball’s Chance: The story of the 1960 Olympic winter games. “The 1960 Olympics was a watershed moment in Olympics history. It forever changed how they were staged and conducted. Also, the unique history of skiing in the Sierra all the way back to the miners and Snowshoe Thompson will be presented. It will really celebrate our rich Olympic and ski history and present it in a way that will be welcoming and easy to understand.”
The SNOW Sports Museum is looking for community involvement as the process advances. Stay informed by going to the website thesnowmuseum.org or contacting executive director Jill Milne at email@example.com.