Looking Back Pt 2 – The Olympics and Lake Louise

This Thursday, January 21st,  marks a special day at Lake Louise, not only for this season but also for the history of the ski area. En route to Vancouver for the 2010 Olympic Games, the Olympic Torch will arrive at the Lodge of the Ten Peaks, where it will be handed to Lake Louise Ski Area owner Charlie Locke before making its way to B.C. for the final leg of the journey.

This isn’t the first time Olympic fever has hit Lake Louise. Recently-retired CSPS patroller Peter Spear presents the next installment of his history of Lake Louise, and looks back on Lake Louise’s Olympic ties. 

The Olympics and Lake Louise

Few skiers other than longtime locals and Calgarians, know that there is a direct tie between Lake Louise and the Olympics that have been part of three bids by the Calgary Olympic Development Association (CODA) going back some 50 years.

 CODA proposed Lake Louise as the site for alpine events. Runs had been cleared and a lift put in place that all reflect the Olympic heritage. CODA in 1959, seriously studied the situation in Squaw Valley where the 1960 Olympic Winter Games were to be held. Squaw Valley had been “built with no roads or facilities” when they got the bid, and was a blueprint for a Lake Louise site.

The Sedan lift had been built at Louise from the valley floor to Whitehorn Lodge in 1959, the first development on the Bow Valley side. CODA put in their first bid for the 1964 Games, and knew it was to get exposure on the international scene. Brad Geisler, a CSPS patroller assisted by starting and keeping continuous snow records during an eight year period, as Parks Canada had not yet started collecting data at Louise. This data was important to support the bid.

The meeting in Munich awarded the 1964 Games to Innsbruck, but Calgary was encouraged to return. In the 1962-1963 period, Parks Canada cut a road from the Bow River valley bottom to the Fish Creek bench. European experts had helped design the Men’s and Ladies Downhill courses as the Eagle Poma had been built in 1960. The top of the Eagle Poma was the start of the Ladies Downhill which started at the top of Eagle Flight, descended over the Springboard, then across Eagle Plains and then down the present day “Ladies” to Boulevard and the present base area.

From the Poma top, a high traverse across the present Flight Chutes led to the top of the old Olympic Chair and the start of the Men’s’ downhill at the top of Wrong Turn. The course took its present course across Upper Wiwaxy, then Coaches’ Corner and down Double Trouble and the same finish area as the Women’s. The Olympic Chair was built in 1967. CODA put in their second bid for the 1968 Games and felt confident in their preparation and sites A Banff citizen’s negative letter was read to the delegates, and that perhaps was the turning point as Grenoble was selected over Calgary by two votes!

CODA put in their third bid for the 1972 Games at the meeting in Rome. Excitement was building for the CODA team as Parks Canada staff attended as well as prominent Canadian politicians. A group of environmental groups and universities protested the CODA bid in Rome, but their concerns were dealt with, so CODA thought. The Olympic Winter Games in a National Park was considered a sacrilege by many. To CODA’s dismay Sapporo in Japan was selected, in a National Park, with the proviso that the facilities would be destroyed and the area rehabilitated afterwards.

Vancouver put in a bid for the 1976 Games and lost to Denver. Calgary was successful in winning the bid for the 1988 Olympic Winter Games, but the alpine events were held at Nakiska in Kananaskis Country. The games were considered the “best ever Olympic Winter Games’, a standard all following games tried to emulate. Now Vancouver in 2010 has the Games and Whistler has the alpine events. January 21, 2010, will see the Olympic Torch finally arriving at Lake Louise, 46 years after the initial bid.

Peter Spear, January, 2010


2 Comments on “Looking Back Pt 2 – The Olympics and Lake Louise”

  1. Peter says:

    Very interesting post. I always wondered why the Olympic chair was called Olympic. Was there ever discussions of Louise hosting racing for the ’88 Games? I remember some of the debate about Mt. Allan/Sparrowhawk (?) but can’t remember why Louise wasn’t in the mix.

    • Peter Spear says:

      Lake Louise was never part of the “88 bid, as Banff citizens and environmental groups had probably submarined the ’68 and ’72 bids.
      The rules had also changed, in that the IOC had dictated that the athletes could “not sleep and then compete more that one hour from their residence”.
      That would have meant an Athletes’ Village in Banff for a Lake Louise alpine site (a no-no).
      As it was. in ’88, a small Athletes” Village was built in Canmore for the cross country and biathlon competitors.
      Nakiska was used for the alpine events in’88, as the Athletes’ Village was at the University of Calgary, a fast one hour drive away.
      Peter S

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