Photo: Court Leve
California Dreaming: Palisades Tahoe World Cup races provide an opportunity to continue Squaw Valley’s legacy. Truckee resident and twelve-time World Cup winner Daron Rahlves: “The stoke is high for World Cup races at Palisades Tahoe!”
“It’s exciting. It’s a big show,” Rahlves says.
Daron Rahlves would love to show Marco Odermatt around the legendary, precipitous ski terrain that made the 1960 Winter Olympic resort of Squaw Valley – now Palisades Tahoe – a mecca for generations of free skiers and ski racers.
Some 54 years after Billy Kidd raced to a slalom victory at Squaw Valley, the men’s World Cup tour will return to the venerable Northern Californian Lake Tahoe ski resort. Accordingly, men’s giant slalom and slalom races will occur In Palisades Tahoe on February 25-26, 2023.
Rahlves may have the chance to take his fellow Red Bull sponsored colleague and last season’s overall World Cup champion on a friendly tour of the iconic mountains.
“I’m excited to showcase what we have and hope to get a few of these guys to go free ski with me after the GS race, show them around a little bit,” Rahlves tells Ski Racing Media.
“Marco Odermatt and some of the younger guys that are starting to make some big waves in the sport.”
The American downhiller, a triple world championship medalist, may also have future opportunities to show the Europeans the lay of the land. Rahlves reveals: “I hear it’s more than a one-year deal, which is really important – we need to have races in the U.S. in late February and March, like this coming season.
“It’s tough in the United States for a young kid to really get exposure to the sport because everything is over in Europe. So it’s going to be really exciting to see the best GS and slalom skiers come to Tahoe,” said Rahlves, who serves as a Palisades Tahoe Ski Ambassador.
“It will be fun to have that exposure for the kids, coaches, sponsors and everybody here who supports ski racing.
“It can really encourage youth to get involved in the sport – when you see the best of the best, it’s exciting. It’s a big show.”
Red Dog’s bark and bite both intimidating
But business first, as Odermatt and fellow World Cup tech racers will need to focus their efforts on deciphering and executing upon Palisades Tahoe’s demanding Red Dog piste.
“I grew up skiing this hill Red Dog – it’s a legitimate, tough, challenging World Cup hill,” Rahlves notes. “I’d say it’s on the shorter side time-wise for men’s races, but not by that much. I think Soelden is around 1:03, 1:04, and I think that’s where Red Dog is going to be.”
“It’s a really fun hill to ski – there’s a lot of different aspects and terrain. It’s relentless at the bottom half. You have to keep fighting all the way.
“It’s going to be spectacular racing and a great showcase for the sport.”
A golden opportunity for American ski racing
As wildflowers are in full bloom in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and with eight months still to go, the level of excitement and enthusiasm in the area appears to be high. Organizers and Lake Tahoe residents continue preparations to welcome Europe and North America’s elite men’s racers to the venerable 1960 Winter Olympic resort. Furthermore, Palisades Tahoe is one of four U.S. World Cups next season.
Rahlves, 49, a versatile speed skier in his World Cup days, will wear many hats assisting the local organizing committee. Daron says he’ll do his best to ensure that the athletes are well taken care of, and entertain sponsors and guests. Additionally, he hopes to contribute creatively with course sculpting and design.
“I’m trying to get these guys to build in more accentuated terrain on the top to make it fun and exciting,” Rahlves said. “I’m pushing to make the race as fun as it can be for the athletes and that translates into being spectacular and fun to watch for the spectators.”
Rahlves commends Kyle Crezee, chairman of the Palisades Tahoe Organizing committee, the on-mountain race crew and snowmakers.
“They’re committed – even if we have an early snowstorm and cold temps late October, they’re already going to start prepping the hill,” he said.
“All of the other stuff like the music and fun parties are going to happen, but the number one priority is to provide the best race possible.”
World Cup success in 2017, bells and whistles for 2023
The historic 1960 Winter Olympic resort, located in Olympic Valley, previously hosted women’s FIS World Cup races on Red Dog in 2017. Mikaela Shiffrin swept the GS and slalom races.
After four years of drought, the major challenges at the 2017 event turned out to be too much snow, as in about 50 feet – a near record – as the event rolled around on March 9-12. Fortunately, Mother Nature cooperated as it was one of the first snow-free weekends in months. Forty resort staff organizing committee members, dedicated mountain crew and hundreds of volunteers pulled off a top-notch event.
Palisades Tahoe Director of Public Relations Kat Walton spoke of the 2017 races, while greatly anticipating the resort’s next chapter of major league ski racing.
“In 2017, the energy was like no other, so we are so excited to bring that energy back, this time as Palisades Tahoe and to Tahoe in general,” Walton said.
Walton also noted that the abundance of snow, and subsequent work involved, was not a surprise for the California resort and race organizers.
“We tend to get our snowfall in feet and not inches here, so all of our staff from the event, snow grooming, to the lift operators are really well-adapted to making things happen even when conditions make it difficult,” Walton said.
Significant infrastructure and lift upgrades are in motion and set to be completed for next season. A chairlift servicing Red Dog is being upgraded to a six-seater. A new 16-minute, base-to-base gondola will finally connect neighboring ski areas, formerly known as Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows. With the new connection, Palisades Tahoe will become the third largest ski resort in North America.
From Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows to Palisades Tahoe
The upcoming World Cup races mark the first major international event at Palisades Tahoe since the name was officially changed from Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows last September.
The name change came after more than 70 years of skiing. The term ‘Squaw’ was deemed to be offensive and derogatory to native women in the local Washoe Tribe, who inhabited the area as its ancestral land.
Like Rahlves, former U.S. Ski team stand-out Julia Mancuso also grew up racing and free riding the expansive and rugged terrain of the legendary mountains, which opened as Squaw Valley Ski Resort in 1949.
“I’m happy for them to have an awesome new name – the Palisades are kind of like the initiation into ski-hood there,” Mancuso says. “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,” the four-time Olympian added.
Rahlves also shared his thoughts and feelings about the significant change and re-branding in effect.
“It’s a tough one to accept – it was Squaw that we’ve all grown up with,” Rahlves said. “But continuing the legacy is number one, the culture, the Olympics in 1960, and the heritage of the sport, not just for ski racing, but for free skiing. “The experience hasn’t changed; in my eyes, it’s gotten better.”
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