Don Rogers: Olympian ski resort, whatever the name

So. Palisades Tahoe. Um, OK.

I get that squaw is an offensive word, and that is nothing new. It was derogatory before Squaw Valley was named. The valley, the creek, the ski resort.

Apparently it began with a French butchering of Algonquian words for female friend, woman of the woods, little woman baby. And “squaw sachem”: female chief. This contrarian view is from Vincent Schilling, an Akwesasne Mohawk and associate editor at Indian Country Today, making a case in 2017 that the word was not originally disrespectful. Other indigenous writers over the decades have written similar essays.

The dictionary definitions today, however, uniformly paint the word as a slur. And it sounds like a slur in old movies, old books, historic texts. Or if not a slur exactly in its old usage, certainly not a sign of great respect, either. Probably why Minnesota in 1995 passed legislation to rename all geographic features in the state bearing the word.

Anyway, the Washoe people native to the valley don’t like it. They praised the ski resort for at last changing the name this week.


The new name came from more than a year of research, surveys, focus groups and the best marketing minds in the industry.

For the resort, Palisades echoes the granite outcroppings forming the mountain’s legendary chutes and cliffs, the extreme stuff we mortals only gawk at — the terrain of McKinney, McConkey, Mosely. There’s a thrill.

Locals no doubt get it straight away. The Palisades. Well, of course. But the former Squaw Valley is an international draw, not primarily a locals mountain. I can’t imagine many vacationers getting it. Not ahead of some other connotations, anyway. And that’s too bad.

If the granite massif doesn’t come immediately to mind with respect to the resort’s new name, what does?

I mean, you have to live in western Colorado to understand the sweet meaning of a Palisade peach, and a lot more people eat peaches than ski or snowboard.

Is there a more common name for a development that fashions itself highfalutin’ — a subdivision, a gated community, a condo building, a spa — than Palisade? Palisade Gardens, Palisade Terrace, The Palisades at Squaw Valley, all real places.

Must you be academic to think first of the dictionary meanings and connotations: fortress, fenced-off, defensible space, impending combat?

The greater ouch for me, cringing a little, is the liberal reference to this word in the history of Indian wars. Pioneers defend palisades they’ve thrown up against the natives.

So no, can’t say I was a fan at first hearing the name. Less so upon reflection.


But like the important thing for some voters in the past presidential election, anything other than the incumbent name is a positive step.

So if Palisades doesn’t roll smoothly off the tongue and hearkens images of something gated and spiky, at least it’s no longer Squaw.

Granite Chief might still have been problematic, though there’s a real ring to it. Olympic Alpine might lack creativity, I suppose, since it came too quickly to my mind and Squaw Valley already went routinely by Olympic Valley.

Tahoe is in the name, which links nicely to the lake, of course. If Palisades is pure vanilla, at least Tahoe gives a geographical cue to the uninitiated. Still, it also contributes to the problem with the name, doubling down on generic if you don’t happen to be steeped in local lore.

But the resort formerly named Squaw is hardly generic. This is easily the pearl of the region, the one that always gets the nod for the best skiing in Tahoe. It will stay this way, of course, whatever the name.

It may also serve as evidence that the sweet promise of crowd sourcing boils down so easily to too many cooks in the kitchen.

Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at or 530-477-4299

Support Local Journalism


Support Local Journalism

Readers around Lake Tahoe, Truckee, and beyond make the Sierra Sun's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User