On the Olympic trail | SierraSun.com

On the Olympic trail

Courtesy photo/Sierra SunA nordic racer crosses the finish line at the 1960 Winter Olympics. Trails located on Tahoe's West Shore, which ran behind neighborhoods in Tahoma and Homewood, hosted all of the games' cross-country events.

While the Olympic torch burns steadfastly at the entrance to Squaw Valley, the historic presence of Tahoe’s 1960 Winter Olympics can also be seen in the miles of Olympic nordic trails that have been restored on the West Shore.

The West Shore Association is tossing around preliminary ideas for a festival that would celebrate the watershed event’s 50th anniversary and salute the West Shore’s Olympic heritage.

Cross-country skiers poured out their blood, sweat, tears and glory on the trails that hosted the Olympic’s nordic events, which included the men’s 15-kilometer race, 50-kilometer marathon and biathlons, as well as the first women’s 10-kilometer race in Olympic history.

But over the course of the next 50 years, the Olympic glory faded. While the forest paths remained open to the public for hiking, biking and classic nordic skiing, their Olympian legacy was looked over.

That is, until Tahoma resident Dave Antonucci did some research.

“I spent a lot of time hiking around behind our house and stumbled across these trails that seemed to me to have no explanation,” said Antonucci. “So I did some research. And yes indeed, there was a whole trail network out there.”

Personnel with California state parks knew the Olympics here hosted at Sugar Pine Point, but Antonucci said it wasn’t until he looked into the matter that they learned the exact routes.

Since 2000, Antonucci and several other volunteers from California State Parks and the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association have restored 12 kilometers, or roughly six miles, of Olympic trails in Sugar Pine Point State Park south of Homewood. The trails are now groomed and open to the public for classic nordic skiing.

But another 30 kilometers of aging, overgrown trail remain to be refurbished, Antonucci said.

“It’s just a loosely organized group of volunteers with not much of a budget. So, it’s a slow, steady process,” Antonucci said. “But there’s been increasing interest in this now that were getting closer to the fiftieth anniversary.”

With the anniversary approaching in 2010, the West Shore Association is making plans to celebrate an event that could capture national and international attention, said Homewood business owner Rob Weston.

“All I’m trying to do, really, is trying to get this kind of thing going,” Weston said. “That’s just what I’m trying to do ” get people talking about it.”

Weston said he wants to reach out to neighboring communities to involve the entire region in the festival’s promotion. Steve Teshara, the resort association’s executive director, said the group has discussed the possible event and is interested in participating further.

“It’s an opportunity to showcase some of the traditions here when it comes to the Olympic sports and sports endeavors,” Teshara said.

The West Shore Association’s primary focus, however, is to bring Olympic recognition back to Tahoma’s quiet trails, Weston said.

“The Olympics are commonly referred to as just being in Squaw Valley,” he said. “When in fact, there were actually more cross-country events than there were Alpine and downhill events.”

When the games were first scheduled in 1954, Squaw Valley was initially proposed as the location for the nordic trails, Antonucci said. But when preparations began a few years later, officials found that some of the land zoned for the cross-country events had been subdivided and paved over with roads.

And so, the nordic events came to the West Shore, which “turned out to be a good thing,” Antonucci said. “At that time, believe it or not, cross-country skiing was more popular in the world than downhill skiing. … The popularity of downhill skiing was just starting to increase.”

While an American racer placed 17th in the 50-kilometer men’s marathon, athletes from Norway, Sweden, Finland and the former Soviet Union swept all of the nordic medals in the 1960 games, Antonucci said.

Work to restore the rest of the trails continues. Antonucci hopes his efforts will lead to two sets of Olympic trails, one based in Sugar Pine Point and the other in Homewood, with another trail to link the groups.

“I want to see everybody on cross-country skis,” he said. “The more trails we have, the more likely we’ll see people on cross-country skis.”

To take the next step, Antonucci said supporters need to complete a master plan and conduct an environmental analysis. While many trails lie within stream zones, other stretches were destroyed with the construction of subdivisions in Tahoma, McKinney Estates and Chamberlands after the Olympics.

“The whole idea is to keep it low-impact, low-key, and look at which trails can be saved,” Antonucci said.

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