When people think of Squaw Valley and its amazing history, the first name that usually comes to mind is Alex Cushing, the Harvard grad and Wall Street lawyer who put the ski area on the map with the 1960 Olympics and went on to expand its boundaries beyond imagination.

Less is known about Wayne Poulsen, a ski racer from Reno who hiked and skied those pristine canyons long before anyone ever dreamed of developing a ski area there. A charming new book by local author Eddy Ancinas offers readers a rare glimpse at the untold stories of people like Poulsen and other characters who shaped these mountains.

“Squaw Valley & Alpine Meadows: Tales from Two Valleys,” tells the story of how Poulsen hiked the valley in the early 1930s, catching fish in Squaw Creek, only to be turned back by a “gun toting cowboy from the Smith Ranch whose family had been in the valley since 1862.” By the end of the decade, the young man had an option to buy 1,200 acres of the valley he had fallen in love with.


Among the many tales in the book, my favorite is the story of the Poulsen family, especially in the beautiful way Ancinas has evoked their love of the land itself. With little more than dirt roads to access they valley, Poulsen and his wife built their home in 1947, “completing it in time for Christmas dinner, which was cooked in the fireplace with snow blowing through the glassless windows,” Ancinas wrote. “They had no running water, no electricity, and no plumbing, but they were home, surrounded by the mountains they loved.”

That home, Ancinas reveals, is today Graham’s restaurant at the base of the ski area.

The story of both ski resorts has been told before — in books and magazine articles going back half a century to the event that put Squaw Valley on the map, the 1960 Winter Olympics. But what makes this telling of the tales unique is that Ancinas lived those decades alongside many of the characters she writes about so colorfully.

Ancinas met her husband at the 1960 Games. A downhill racer for Argentina, Osvaldo Ancinas must have been just as smitten as the young Eddy because he stayed in Tahoe, and together they built a life in the mountains. The book, in fact, is dedicated to her husband with an inscription that reads, “To Osvaldo — for getting on the chairlift with me.”

The people she writes about are not just names on the page; they are friends.

“For years, I can’t tell you how many times I have skied from the top of KT down to Alpine,” Ancinas said.

The book explores that natural connection between the valleys with a detailed chapter on John Reily, who envisioned the potential for a ski area at Alpine as far back as the late 1950s.

The photos alone, including historical black-and-white shots of the valleys before the ski lifts, or even roads, had been built, make this 152-page book well worth a place on the shelf.

Ironically, when Ancinas began the writing, few people could have imagined that Squaw Valley and Alpine would be joined under the same corporate umbrella. “I said, ‘It would be a perfect ending for my book if the two valleys were joined under one ownership,’” Ancinas recalled telling a friend.

Then, as if she had ordered it up, the announcement came in November 2011 that the two valleys would be united under KSL’s management. Ancinas immediately sent a note to Squaw Valley Ski Corp CEO Andy Wirth: “You just wrote the final chapter of my book!”

“Thanks for the very kind note,” Wirth replied. “But I hate to inform you that your final chapter is going to have to be the prelude! We’re not done; in some ways, we’re just getting started.”

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  • Jackie Ginley

    Jackie Ginley is a former journalist and Moonshine editor who shelved the pen in 2013 to pursue a career in real estate. With deep roots in Tahoe, she enjoys hiking, skiing, and après-everything with friends. Jackie lives in Truckee, and is currently building a home in Tahoe Donner.

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