When you turn into Squaw Valley and see the Olympic rings, you begin to feel the culture that still emanates from the towering peak of KT22, rising out of the spring fog in the meadow. Like Park City, this is an Olympic town born and bred to foster the dreams of athletes.
It's been 54 years since speed skater Donald McDermott carried the American flag into the Walt-Disney-produced opening ceremony at a resort the world would soon begin to know. Five years earlier the innovative Alex Cushing had made his bid to the IOC and was awarded the first Winter Olympics in the USA since Lake Placid in 1932.
Last weekend some of the veterans of the 1960 team returned to Squaw Valley for the Nature Valley U.S. Alpine Championships, rekindling friendships while memories rushed back.
It was a strong Olympics for Team U.S.A. Figure skaters David Jenkins and Carol Heiss swept gold, the Americans beat the Russiams in ice hockey and the fledgling U.S. Ski Team won three silver medals, including Penny Pitou in downhill and giant slalom, and Betsy Snite in slalom.
For the American men, it was another close call but no medal. Stowe's Tom Corcoran came ever so close, finishing fourth in giant slalom. "Tom was so close to being the first American man to medal," joked Billy Kidd, who also came from Stowe. "We were too young they wouldn't let us ski," he said. But four years later, Kidd would make history winning silver in slalom while teammate Jimmie Heugatoo the bronze. Finally, the men had won an Olympic medal.
Corcoran and Kidd were among the alumni visiting Squaw Valley. The two Stowe Olympians each went on to become the face of major resorts Corcoran building Waterville Valley and Kidd the cowboy-hat-wearing ambassador for Steamboat Springs.
The memories rushed back as the group pored through memorabilia at the Sierra Ski Museum in Tahoe City, with a remarkable collection of 1960 pieces. 1960 Olympian Bev Anderson beamed with pride as she showed her grandchildren the showcase with her team sweater at Squaw's own museum at High Camp. Joan Hannah smiled at her photo in Sports Illustrated.
It was a simpler time, for sure, but a period that has had great impact on the sport. There's a certain pride among the 1960 and 1964 athletes when they watch another generation of U.S. Ski Team athletes going for gold in Sochi.
There had been great success before that -- especially with the legendary Gretchen Fraser and Andrea Mead Lawrence. But 1960 represented a formative change in the coming together of a team. And in 1964, under Coach Bob Beattie, the modern-day U.S. Ski Team came of age with Kidd and Jimmie Heuga winning silver in slalom on the final day.
Kidd, Heuga and future Ski Team leader Bill Marolt were all just 18 years old for the 1960 Games. Heuga, a native of the Tahoe Area, came within an eyelash of making the team despite his young age for the time. Though they were the same age, Heuga had been Marolt's idol. They had met in Aspen where Heuga had been sent for high school. While Marolt hadn't made the 1960 team, he and some buddies grabbed a car and drove cross-country to Squaw Valley. It was one of those pivotal points in a young man's life when his future came into view. Marolt, would go on to ski in the 1964 Games, then dedicate his life to leading others overseeing programs that resulted in 70 of America's 95 Olympic medals over time.
Sooner or later, as it always does, the conversation drifted back to Jimmie Heuga. Despite his passing just prior to the 2010 Olympics from his lifelong battle with multiple sclerosis, Heuga remains their hero. "He was such a fighter," said Marolt, staring at his favorite photograph -- a nine-year old Heuga charging around a tree branch slalom gate with impressive racing form. "I remember when I first saw that photograph as a kid -- it inspired me."
A half century later each of the alumni still share a special pride at the role they played. All of them still love to ski -- a few, including Corcoran, Hannah, Starr Walton Hurley and Barbara Ferries Henderson, looked good in the closing Pro Am event.
There was a special pride, though, in sharing the stage with the likes of Mikaela Shiffrin, Andrew Weibrecht and Julia Mancuso at the Opening Ceremony. It was that point where history came full circle -- when the 1960 and 1964 alumni felt a sense of personal engagement. After all, they were the ones who paved the way a half century ago.
One of the most experienced communications professionals in skiing, Tom Kelly is a veteran of eight Olympics and serves as vice president, Communications, for the Park City-based U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. A Wisconsin native, he and his wife Carole Duh have lived in Park City since 1988 when he's not traveling the world with the team.