top of page

Best Moments of Alpine Skiing in the Winter Games (IV). Squaw Valley 1960

Squaw Valley 1960 was held at the Squaw Valley Resort (since 2021 known as Palisades Tahoe) in California. Squaw Valley was an undeveloped resort in 1955, so the infrastructure and all of the venues were built at a cost of US$ 80 million between 1956 and 1960.

Television was not new to the Olympic Winter Games; broadcasts of events to European audiences had begun in Cortina 1956. What was unprecedented was the sale of exclusive United States television rights to broadcast the Games. The Organizing Committee decided to sell the television broadcast rights to CBS for $50,000.

During the Games when officials became unsure as to whether a skier had missed a gate in the men's Slalom, they asked CBS-TV if they could review a videotape of the race. This gave CBS the idea of inventing the now ubiquitous "instant replay".

Competing at a time when the Alpine Skiing World Cup had yet to come into existence (it made its debut 1967), the Bavarian-born Heidi Biebl was one of the greatest skiers of her generation and the finest German since Christl Cranz, the queen of the slopes in the 1930s who had been crowned the first female Olympic Alpine skiing champion at Garmisch-Partenkichen 1936. In Oslo 1960 Biebl had won the gold medal in the Downhill as the youngest female ski gold medalist of all time (thru 2013).

In a bid to increase his speed, Jean Vuarnet then honed his revolutionary “egg position”, now known as the tuck, a lower stance in which he squatted down with knees bent, arms outstretched and fists clasped together.

Though the position would be adopted by every downhill skier in the years that followed, Vuarnet was the only competitor to use it in Squaw Valley.

The Frenchman became also the first skier to win a medal on metal skis, instead of the traditional wooden ones.

During the 1959-1960 season, the French ski manufacturer that supplied the national team had provided Vuarnet with wooden skis that he found far too flexible. “It was a disaster”, he said in an interview. “So I went to their factory in Voiron and had a good look around. I came across a pair of metal skis that were just my size. They’d been tossed aside but they looked okay to me. I took them and tried them out in the Émile Allais Cup in Megève. One of the skis got bent but I still managed to finish fifth. So I called the manufacturer and asked them to send me a new pair because the Games were coming up”.

He got his hands on his new skis just a few days before the Downhill at Squaw Valley. Clocking a speed of 115 km/h over the fastest section of the course, Vuarnet crossed the finish line in a time of 2:06.0, beating German Hans Peter Lanig by half a second, with teammate Guy Périllat taking the bronze a further four-tenths of a second behind.

Ski Paradise
bottom of page