Walt's Games: The 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Olympics

In 1958, planning for the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley was in full force. The International Olympic Committee had awarded the games to the struggling ski resort based on the promise that a dynamic new athletic venue would spring from the blank canvas and that the result would be an Olympic village like none that had ever existed. Instead, the limitations of the small space turned out to be so great that the bobsled event had to be canceled for the first time ever due to the expense of creating a run. Many wondered if awarding such a high profile event to Squaw Valley, an unincorporated village, had been a mistake of Olympic proportions.

Walt Disney had been retained to oversee all pageantry and entertainment aspects of the event. This included everything from the torch relay and opening ceremonies to entertainment for the athletes. Art Linkletter, who interestingly had hosted the telecast that covered the opening of Disneyland five years earlier, was named second in command. This was to be the first televised Winter Olympic Games and who better to lead the production that Walt Disney, himself. Walt's daughter Diane and her husband Ron Miller were on hand for the month preceding the games and throughout the event with Walt making trips between Disneyland, the Studio, and Squaw Valley to try to juggle his many projects.

1960 Squaw Valley Olympics Set The Standard1960 Squaw Valley Olympics Set The Standard

As can be expected from any large-scale event, issues ranging from minor hiccup to complete catastrophe were bound to happen. The Olympic Torch couldn't be lit in Greece and instead had to be flown to Norway before arriving in California. There was not enough snow and then there was too much snow, which first threatened the ability to hold the skiing events and then thinned the crowds who would experience the event. With Squaw Valley ski resort owner Alexander Cushing's team coming apart at the seams, he turned again to Walt Disney and his pageantry team for help. Given their expertise in crowd management at Disneyland, Walt and his team were ultimately put in charge of everything from parking to security.

Walt and Lilian Disney at Squaw ValleyWalt and Lilian Disney at Squaw Valley

"Walt's Olympics" earned the committee the designation of hosting "the greatest games ever staged" from Avery Brundage, then chair of the International Olympic Committee. In many ways, Squaw Valley has been the model for all modern Olympic Games since 1960. Walt's ability to bring the principles that inspired Disneyland to the outside world and make a floundering event of this magnitude thrive would ultimately give him the confidence to extend the concept of Disney design and innovation to the World's Fair just four years later.

A big thanks goes out to Guest Author Holly L. for sharing a little bit of her knowledge of Disney History with us, and images from her trip to the Walt DIsney Family Museum. If you'd like to read more about Holly's Disney Adventures, you can find her sharing on our member forum.

Kristen K. wrote on Fri, 02/05/2016 - 13:27:

Kristen K.'s picture

Great article Holly! I didn't know most of this :-)

alicemouse wrote on Sat, 02/06/2016 - 02:38:

alicemouse's picture

This is just one of many fabulous exhibits at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. I think I could have spent 3 days just in that museum!

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