Beto Wetter: The Trail of Champions: Lake Tahoe’s All-Season Olympic Legacy
Tucked away in Sugar Pine Point State Park lies a remnant of a storied past; an Olympic past. Unbeknownst to the average visitor to Tahoe, just beyond the parking lot and car campsites, meanders a legacy of the 1960 Winter Olympics.
When Squaw Valley was named the host city of the 1960 California Winter Olympics on April 4, 1956, Lake Tahoe got its Olympic debut. Though the decision rightly made Californians — and Americans in general — proud, European officials were infuriated by the decision, claiming that the alpine ski conditions were not up to par and that the altitude (base altitude 6,200 feet; peak elevation 9,050 feet) would place an undue burden on the athletes. Nonetheless, the VIII Olympic Winter Games was a success and helped put Lake Tahoe, the gem of the Sierra Nevada, on the global map.
Squaw Valley is often what first comes to mind when people think of the first U.S. televised Olympic games, 16 miles south along Lake Tahoe’s West Shore, Tahoma garners the memory of locals, as it held its share of important events, mainly the cross country skiing competitions. While nearly 60 years have passed since Klas I. Lestander of Sweden won gold in the Men’s Biathlon, outdoor enthusiasts can still travel on part of the path he skied to glory on skis or snowshoes in the winter and bikes in the summer.
Outdoor enthusiasts and history aficionados alike during any season can follow part of the biathlon trail that Lestander and dozens of other Olympians raced to glory on. Of course in summer, mountain biking on the course is an especially popular activity. By following the blue diamond markers nailed on the trees by the parking lot and camp sites, bikers are guided through the same path that the skiers competed on, albeit on dirt and gravel compared to groomed snow.
Pounding the pedals and hearing the wheels grind the concoction of dirt, rocks, and sand underneath, a taste of history in the modern day rises from the pursuit. Breathing in the fresh and crisp alpine air emanating from the copious pine, fir, and cedar trees, bikers are also treated to the stunning landscape of Sugar Pine State Park. While the constantly changing terrain forces for continuous gear changes and occasional unavoidable gear slip, the 1960 Olympic path is the ideal summer-biking thrill-ride.
A major highlight of the ride is the cruise towards General Creek at the far-end of the loop. Flanked by alpine trees with the Sierra Nevada in the background, the biker traverses varying landscapes. From rocky ridges to sandy fields, the topographical variety forces you to keep your wits to prevent jamming your tires on a stump or stone.
Approaching General Creek, the biker takes flight in fright over roots that feel like walls until the rough, bouncy landing. Flying for only a few seconds, it can scare the unsuspecting biker stiff. Freezing up mid-air is not the best posture to maintain, especially when the bike jolts back to life, forcing the biker to fight against gravity as the grooves of the tires start to make it slide.
Calf muscles burn. Hands shake and shiver. Eyes rapidly scan the horizon, scouting for any objects that could act as a catapult to the ground with the wrong impact. But, the zig-zagging through an obstacle course of roots and rocks is worth it, because arriving at General Creek, pulling off at the promontory, a stunning view of the riverfront unfolds; perfect for a post-ride picnic or libation of refreshing water in a reusable water bottle. Even if scary at times, the 1960 Olympic course is a wild ride perfect for an adventure.
During a summer unlike any other, where access to the outdoors is gaining prominence in the court of public opinion, those adventure-minded locals and tourists who want to literally ride along the path of champions, while also getting a great workout, should dust of their mountain bikes and pedal to glory at Sugar Pine Point State Park.
Beto Wetter lives in Homewood.
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