Squaw Valley’s visionary passes
August 20, 2006
Alexander C. Cushing, founder and chairman of Squaw Valley USA and the force behind bringing the 1960 Winter Olympics to California, died Saturday from pneumonia at his summer home in Newport, R.I.. He was 92.
The New York City-born lawyer first saw the valley and mountains in 1946 as a guest of Wayne Poulsen. Two years and $400,000 later the pair formed the Squaw Valley Development Company and in 1949 the ski resort was opened with a double chairlift, a rope tow and a 50-room lodge.
“Alex has left his vision for Squaw Valley USA’s future with his wife and current President of Squaw Valley Ski Corp, Nancy W. Cushing, as well as the board of directors to fulfill,” David Robertson, Squaw Valley Ski Corp Trustee, said in a press release.
Following service in World War II, Cushing was working on Wall Street when he ventured West on a ski vacation. At Sugar Bowl Ski Resort Cushing met Poulsen, who developed Mt. Rose Ski Area and a property owner in Squaw Valley. Poulsen took his new acquaintance to Squaw Valley and the rest is history.
“I wanted a change. I had to get out of the city,” Cushing said in a press release about Squaw’s 50th anniversary. “Frankly, I would never have embarked in the ski business if it hadn’t been for my wartime experiences. The war taught me how interesting life could be, that there were far more possibilities than sitting in a law office on Wall Street.”
In 1954 Cushing submitted a proposal to the International Olympic Committee to host the 1960 Winter Games. On the 45th anniversary of the 1960 Olympics, Sierra Sun columnist/historian Mark McLaughlin wrote that Cushing believed that even if he failed to bring the Olympics to Squaw, the exposure would inspire financial support for his plan to build a world-class ski resort.
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Despite Cushing’s best lobbying efforts, resistance remained. McLaughlin wrote that European delegates, led by Albert Mayer of Switzerland, claimed that Squaw Valley was a “business corporation run by private interests and therefore not eligible to stage an Olympiad.” Olympic rules state that the games can only be awarded to a town or municipality; at the time only a small lodge and a few houses were located in Squaw Valley.
The IOC had already decided to award the games to Innsbruck, Austria, but Cushing refused to quit. According to the Nevada State Journal, during a one-hour secret session, Cushing gave the delegates what IOC Chancellor Otto Mayer called “a brilliant explanation of municipal organization in the United States.”
After a heated five-hour session in June 1955, McLaughlin wrote, a second IOC ballot gave Squaw Valley a narrow victory of 32 votes versus 30 for Innsbruck.
An elated Cushing said, “I am very glad we won. I think moving the Games to the United States will give a tremendous boost to winter sports there. The state of California is very much aware of the great responsibility that has been handed us.
We intend to do a first-rate job.”
The 1960 Games were marked by many firsts in Olympic history. They were the first to be held in the Western United States, the first to be televised, the first where all athletes were housed under one roof ” the Olympic Village Inn ” and the first where computers were used to tabulate results.
In 1959, leading up to the Squaw Valley Olympics, Cushing was on the cover of Time Magazine and heralded as the pioneer of skiing in the U.S. In 1999 he was inducted into the Ski Industry Hall of Fame.
Later years saw Cushing install North America’s largest aerial cable car, 1969, and in 1985 the resort constructed several state-of-the-art, high-speed, detachable quad chairlifts. In 1998 Squaw Valley installed North America’s first and only Funitel.
In the spring of 2000 Intrawest broke ground for the resort’s pedestrian village, changing the complexion of Squaw Valley and ushering in another era.
Alexander Cushing was born Nov. 28, 1913 in New York City to Howard Gardiner and Ethel Cochrane Cushing of Boston.
He is survived by his wife Nancy, his three daughters, Justine Cushing, Lily Kunczynski, and Alexandra Howard, his six grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
He attended Groton School, Harvard University, 1936 and Harvard Law School, 1939. He practiced law for the New York firm of Davis, Polk and Wardwell and also for the U.S. Dept. of Justice, where he argued a case before the Supreme Court. The day after Pearl Harbor he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was a member of the first officer training class at Quonset. He served in South America and the Pacific for five years, retiring as a Lieutenant Commander.
A memorial service will be held at Squaw Valley at a later date, according to Savannah Cowley, spokeswoman for Squaw Valley USA. In lieu of flowers, Cowley requested that donations be made to the Tahoe Forest Hospital or the Squaw Valley Ski Team.