An inspiration for Whistler and a message to the IOC


One of the inspirations for Whistler passed away a week and a half ago at his summer home in Rhode Island. Alex Cushing, the founder and chairman of Squaw Valley Resort, was 92.

Cushing was a Navy war veteran and Wall Street lawyer when in 1946 he and a few friends took a four-day train trip from the East Coast to the Sierra Nevada. On his first day skiing at Sugar Bowl Cushing broke his ankle.

At the urging of his friends, who apparently needed a fourth for bridge, Cushing hung around Sugar Bowl, watching other skiers and swapping tales on the sundeck. There he heard about a nearby place that reportedly had the best skiing in the country. Cushing went to Squaw Valley with his friends and, on crutches, watched from the valley while they hiked and skied the mountain.

Three years later he opened the Squaw Valley Development Company, with the world’s largest double chairlift and two rope tows. And four days after the resort’s grand opening in November of 1949 a flood closed everything down. But with Cushing and his skeleton staff working 18-hour days the resort was back open by Christmas.

Avalanches then destroyed the Squaw One chairlift each year for the first three years of operation.

Cushing was stubborn and persistent, rather than mad – despite questions raised by his first wife. When Cushing asked if she would like to move to the mountains Justine Cutting, described by the New York Times as "an heiress and a top amateur golfer," reportedly replied: "Are you out of your mind, Cushing?"

Others apparently had similar thoughts when he announced in December 1954 he was launching a bid to bring the 1960 Winter Olympics to Squaw Valley, a town with no mayor and a ski resort with few lifts and a single 50-room lodge. By January 1955 Cushing had convinced the U.S. Olympic Committee to support Squaw Valley’s bid, which prompted IOC President Avery Brundage to say to Cushing: "The USOC obviously has taken leave of their senses." Another IOC member told Cushing he was "on a wild goose chase. Innsbruck has the 1960 bid locked up."

But Cushing travelled the world lobbying IOC members, including South American delegates who usually took little interest in the Winter Olympics. He succeeded, according to an online history of Squaw Valley, "through the power of an idea – a return to the Olympic ideals of simplicity with a focus on athleticism and diversity."

And in Paris in the spring of 1955, IOC delegates awarded the 1960 Games to Squaw Valley by a 32-30 margin over Innsbruck.

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