SQUAW VALLEY, CA - The closing ceremonies for Olympic Heritage Celebration Week at North Lake Tahoe usually involve snow. Since there’s not much of that to be found this year, organizers had to adapt.
“We had an emergency meeting about 15 days ago about what we were going to do because we had no snow,” said organizer Heidi Doyle. “The concept was, ‘what would Walt do?’ because 52 years ago when Walt Disney was coming up with what to do for the opening and closing ceremonies for the 1960 Olympics they brought in members of the Washoe tribe to do a traditional dance also known as a snow dance to bring in snow. It worked, so we thought let’s repeat history.”
It’s the first time they’ve done a ceremony like that since the original. Many of the dancers are relatives of the ones who danced at the Olympics. For Peter Lahdenpera, an Olympian who competed in 1960, it brought back memories.
“It is an overwhelming feeling,” Lahdenpera said. “It’s nice to be back here because there’s a lot of history and some wonderful memories-all the way from the competition to Walt Disney. It was a magical time for us.”
Bill Briner was a photographer for the 1960 Winter Games. He says it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“I really enjoyed it, I had passes to every event and got to go to all of them,” Briner said. “In Squaw Valley you can see all the events just standing in one place. It’s the first time in history and last time that will happen and we’re very happy with that.”
And even though this years celebration was a little different from previous years, the community turned out in full force to see the ceremony at Sugar Pine Point State Park.
“I have been a part of this celebration since the beginning,” Olympian Candace Cable said. “It’s about community, it’s about supporting the community and this is what it’s all about, all these people, everybody is so inclusive here.”
Sugar Pine Point didn’t become a state park until after the Olympics. And it wasn’t until about ten years ago that the history of the land came to light.
“Fifty-two years ago the Nordic events occurred here when this was all private property,” Doyle said. “When it was made a state park in 1965 we didn’t know about our heritage. That came to light about ten years ago and we’re now celebrating at Sugar Pine Point. We have several ski trails where people can actually follow the path of the Olympians.”
History was made during those games.
“This is the location of the Nordic events, the biathlon,” author David Antonucci said. This is the world birthplace of biathlon, this was the first time the biathlon was an Olympic sport so it was born here in Lake Tahoe and that’s very significant.
And the games utilized some new technology.
“It was the first time a power tiller was used to prepare the snow surface for skiing which now finds widespread use in the western ski industry,” Antonucci said. “It’s very significant historically in terms of what happened here, the Olympic events and the technology that was invoked through American ingenuity that forever changed the western ski industry.”
Sunday’s event drew a crowd of all ages.
“It’s wonderful to see all the generations appreciating the beauty and the scenery of this place,” Larry Bienati said. His group, the Sierra State Parks Foundation, raises money to educate, interpret, preserve and restore many of the state parks around Lake Tahoe.
“This is wonderful, we expected to see a good turnout and I’m so happy we did,” Rob Weston said. His group, the West Shore Association, sponsored the event along with several other groups. “We certainly need the Native Americans to give us a good dance so we can get some snow. This region needs snow badly.”
And no one seemed to mind the last-minute change of plans.
“This is a special event because we didn’t have any snow this year; we had to cancel a lot of events so we’re holding a dance to pray for snow!” Sierra district interpretive specialist Bill Lindemann said.
So on a cold, dry Sunday afternoon the message was twofold: Pray for snow and remember the history that was made on this very ground.
“It’s important we commemorate our history and recognize that the 1960 Winter Olympics are looked on as some of the most successful Winter Olympics that were every held,” Antonucci said. “It shows the ability of this area to host Winter sports and be seen as a world-class destination.”