A general view of the finish area at Palisades Tahoe as Mikaela Shiffrin competes in the women's slalom at the FIS World Cup on March 11, 2017 in Squaw Valley, California.
In 1960, ten U.S. athletes won medals at the Olympic Winter Games Squaw Valley. Since then, this lovely resort in California’s Sierra Nevadas has nurtured several more Olympic skiers, including gold medalists Julia Mancuso and Jonny Moseley.
Now, the legendary Olympic site has a new name. Squaw Valley has been renamed Palisades Tahoe. The word squaw is a derogatory term for Native American women, and the new name sends a message that racism and misogyny are no longer tolerated at the legendary resort. All are welcome.
“We were compelled to change the name because it’s the right thing to do, especially for the generations yet to come, who will grow up without having to use a slur to identify the place where they chase their dreams down the mountain,” said Ron Cohen, former president and COO of Palisades Tahoe. “We know how much people love this place, and so we spent more than a year making sure that we were doing right by the community in choosing a name that would honor the past and reach out to the future.”
But the Olympic past may be hard to honor without reference to the Games in the new resort name.
While many sports teams and locations around the country have dropped offensive names and mascots in an effort to address the oppressive history and pain these terms have caused, Palisades Tahoe’s history will require more than renaming lifts and lodges in the Olympic Valley, so named after the resort won the Olympic bid in 1955. Olympians who won medals at the 1960 Winter Games, Olympic museums, and the International Olympic Committee, among others, must decide how to refer to those Games and make changes where necessary.
“We take note of the decision taken,” said an IOC spokesperson. “It goes without saying that the IOC will call the city Palisades Tahoe in the future.”
Museums and Olympic historians will likely follow suit, using Palisades Tahoe going forward but still using the former name in reference to the 1960 Games, with an asterisk or added paragraph reflecting the name change (as Olympedia, an Olympic history and statistical database has done in the near term).
“No one would understand a reference to the 1960 Palisades Tahoe Olympics,” noted Jeff Leich, executive director of the New England Ski Museum. “It seems historically inaccurate and confusing to apply a new name retroactively after some sixty years.”
Penny Pitou, who won two silver medals in alpine skiing at the 1960 Olympic Winter Games, believes the name should be changed but wishes the new name honored the resort’s Olympic history.
“I think it should be Olympic Valley,” she said by phone from her office at Penny Pitou Travel in New Hampshire.