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Photo courtesy of Squaw Valley USA.
"Lake Tahoe is an ideal winter resort for the red-blooded,”
Dr. J.E. Church, Jr. wrote in an issue of Sunset Magazine in 1956. “For the Viking and the near Viking, for the man and the woman, who, for the very exhilaration of it, seek the bracing air and the snow-clad forests, Lake Tahoe is as charming in winter as in summer, and far grander.”
Boating, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, tobogganing, mountain climbing, photography, hunting and camping – “for those whose souls are of sterner stuff” – topped Church’s list of popular winter activities enjoyed by tourists who then visited the Tahoe Basin. “If one asks where to go, a bewildering group of trips and pleasures appear,” he declared. “These are a ski trip from Tallac to Fallen Leaf Lake to see the breakers and the spray driven by a rising gale against the rock-bound shore, and, when the lake has grown quieter, a boat ride to Fallen Leaf Lodge beneath the frowning parapets of Mount Tallac.
“. . . Next a ski trip up the Glen to the buried hostelry at Glen Alpine, where one enters by way of a dormer window but is received to a cheerful fire and with royal hospitality . . . Then, under the skilled guidance of the keeper, a day’s climb up the southern face of Mount Tallac for an unrivaled panoramic view from its summit and a speedy but safe glissade back to the hostelry, far, far below . . . And if the legs be not too stiff from the glissade, a climb over the southern wall of the Glen to Desolation Valley and Pyramid Peak, whence can be seen the long gorge of the Rubicon . . . Finally a rowing trip along the western shore of the lake with stops at pleasure en route.”
As early as 1870, lakeshore residents enjoyed ice-skating on various lake inlets and frozen lagoons. During the 1920s and 1930s, locals and tourists alike took to the ice formed under Globin’s Al Tahoe or at a commercial rink at the Tahoe Tavern.
Gold Rush miners discovered the sport of skiing in the 1850s and planned informal downhill ski races that provided welcome winter fun. To reduce friction, increase speed, and keep their 7- to 12-foot wooden boards from sticking to the warm snow, these skiing miners invented a substance called “dope” – a secret mixture of balsam, fir, pitch, turpentine, glycerin, tallow, camphor and a number of other ingredients.
Twentieth-century construction of the Lincoln Highway, followed by improved methods of snow removal, brought an increasing number of winter visitors to the Tahoe Basin; however, prior to World War II, few had experienced the thrill of downhill skiing. In 1941, Edelweiss Resort opened at Camp Sacramento and boasted the first “ski lift” built in the area. Unfortunately, wartime rationing of gasoline kept tourists at home and the skiing industry on hold.
After the war, a great enthusiasm for the sport of skiing emerged. In 1946, Sierra Ski Ranch opened atop Echo Summit, and a year later, Echo Chalet and the Bijou Park Skiway began operations. Heavenly Valley started its rope tows in 1955, and like several other Sierra resorts, began providing ski rentals, coffee and snacks.
“It was the Olympic Winter Games at Squaw Valley in 1960 that stimulated skiing in the United States in general and skiing in the Tahoe Basin and surrounding areas in particular,” writes Lyndall Baker Landauer in The Mountain Sea: A History of Lake Tahoe. “The impact of the Olympic Games on the growth of the Tahoe Basin as a winter sports area was tremendous and in many ways, incalculable.”