Olympic ski resort, skiers, IOC, adapt to Squaw Valley to Palisades Tahoe name change

IOC says it is consulting with the Northern California resort about how exactly to proceed. Extreme skier Dan Egan: “All of us are in an awakening to what this means to people and how important it is”

Squaw Valley 1960 Olympics torch (IOC)
Squaw Valley 1960 Olympics torch (IOC)

Questions, uncertainty, support and emotions are all prevalent as various parties adapt to a new era for the fabled 1960 Winter Olympics ski resort of Squaw Valley, which officially changed its name to Palisades Tahoe after more than 70 years.

The new name for Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows in Northern California’s Olympic Valley, announced on Sept. 14, comes more than one year after it was deemed that the term “Squaw” was derogatory and offensive to women in the local Washoe Tribe, who inhabited the area as its ancestral land.

It appears that all historical references will be to Squaw Valley, while anything moving forward will be Palisades Tahoe, however it may be slightly more complicated.

An IOC spokesperson initially stated: “We take note of the decision taken. It goes without saying that the IOC will call the city Palisades Tahoe in the future.”

Further questioned by Around the Rings for clarification as to whether the name change will be noted in historical references, documents and exhibits in the Olympic Museum, the IOC spokesperson said: “We are in contact with the city to find the best solution for implementing the change, both with regards to future and historic references.”

Palisades Tahoe 1960 Olympics sign (Palisades Tahoe)
Palisades Tahoe 1960 Olympics sign (Palisades Tahoe)

Olympic historian Bill Mallon oversees the IOC funded Olympedia.org website and database. Mallon, who added two sentences to the Squaw Valley 1960 section of the site noting the development, tells ATR that he has also been in discussion with the IOC.

“I think the name for the Olympics probably should be Olympic Valley, which is the name of town where the former Squaw Valley actually is, a name that I think came around in the 1960′s,” Mallon said. “We’ve kept the name Squaw Valley for 1960, but mentioned that it was later named Olympic Valley, and recently, because of concerns about offending Native Americans, to Palisades Tahoe.”

And how does Mallon presume that the IOC will handle the multi-faceted rebranding?

“I think they will still refer to it as Squaw Valley for 1960, but say the name was later changed to either Palisades Tahoe or Olympic Valley,” Mallon says.

“I don’t think that’s a problem – you can say things like St. Petersburg, the former Leningrad, or Istanbul, the former Constantinople – names change,” he adds.

Skiers offer their opinions

And what do the many Olympic Alpine and freestyle skiers, as well as a culture of extreme skiers that induced their adrenaline on Squaw Valley’s steep and rugged terrain, including cliffs, cornices and its famed palisades, feel about the rebranding?

Dan Egan launches off Granite Chief cornice in Squaw Valley 1985 (photo credit: Mike Neff)
Dan Egan launches off Granite Chief cornice in Squaw Valley 1985 (photo credit: Mike Neff)

Dan Egan, who along with brother John, branded themselves as “The Egan Brothers” launching their extreme skiing careers by launching off Squaw Valley’s precipitous terrain, captured by legendary ski filmmaker Warren Miller in the 1980′s, offers his perspective about the iconic resort’s transition.

“Squaw Valley stands alone in its terrain and what it did for skiers and for history, whether it’s the Olympics, or for the hot dogging, free skiing and extreme skiing movements,” Egan tells Around the Rings. “It all generates from Squaw Valley because of the terrain, the snow at the time and the sun – it has an amazing legacy.

“The name change is a sign of the times and what I think of that is not for me to say – it is way bigger than me, the fact that they did it,” says Egan, the author of 30 Years in a White Haze, much of the recently published book about his global ski adventures dedicated to he and his brother’s early days at Squaw Valley.

“Personally, my love of Squaw, my love of the name, should never have meant to be offensive to anybody and maybe it was my ignorance that it was.

“I think all of us are in an awakening to what this means to people and how important it is, so it only behooves us to embrace and be a part of this awakening,” says the 57-year-old extreme skiing pioneer.

Four-time Olympic Alpine skiing medalist Julia Mancuso, who grew up racing at Squaw Valley and is now involved in a new project outfitting the local ski team, offered her thoughts about the transformation.

Squaw Valley ski racer Julia Mancuso at the Sochi 2014 Olympics (Pinelli)
Squaw Valley ski racer Julia Mancuso at the Sochi 2014 Olympics (Pinelli)

“I’m happy for them to have an awesome new name - the Palisades are kind of like the initiation into ski hood there,” Mancuso tells ATR. “When you were a kid, you would try to ski down one of the chutes - I just remember the first time hiking up the Palisades, it was pretty awesome, so it’s pretty fitting that it is part of the new name.

“And I’m happy for honoring the wishes of the Native Americans, who were there before us.

“Of course, a name doesn’t necessarily make a place. It’s the memories and the visual part of experiencing the valley. The hardest thing will be explaining to someone and talking about the past. That’s where we’re all going to have a hard time.”

Palisades Tahoe’s official position

Palisades Tahoe skiers heading down the slope (Palisades Tahoe)
Palisades Tahoe skiers heading down the slope (Palisades Tahoe)

In a statement issued after the rebranding, Palisades Tahoe president Dee Byrne said: “It is inspiring that after seven decades in operation, a company as storied and established as this resort can still reflect and adjust when it is the necessary and right thing to do.

“This name change reflects who we are as a ski resort and community – we have a reputation for being progressive and boundary-breaking when it comes to feats of skiing and snowboarding. We have proven that those values go beyond the snow for us.”

Palisades Tahoe will also be working with the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California to give the tribe a platform to educate the public about their culture and the valleys’ origins as the ancestral land of the Washoe Tribe. The partnership also will ensure mountain access for present and future Washoe generations.

The Washoe Tribe is also leading efforts to rename the Squaw One and Squaw Creek chairlifts, an action that the resort plans to implement.

1998 Olympic moguls gold medalist Jonny Moseley, who honed his skills as a member of the Squaw Valley Freestyle Team and has served as an ambassador to the resort, lent his voice to an inspiring video emphasizing the resort’s progressive history and culture.

“Our old name didn’t match our values, our spirit of who we are,” Moseley says. “We will be known by a new name, one that we can be proud of – it carries forth the best of our past and the promise of a bright future because this place never stops progressing, and progress is impossible without change.

“As our two mountains come together under one name, join us for our next chapter.”

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