11 Historical Facts About Granlibakken
- Granlibakken Conference Center and Lodge at Lake Tahoe’s west shore was once called Olympic Hill and is known as Lake Tahoe’s oldest ski resort.
- Granlibakken is a Norwegian name meaning a “hill sheltered by fir trees.” The beginnings of the resort, initially called Tahoe Tavern, had 223 rooms and opened around the 1890s during a time when the Tahoe Steamer ship — and later the Lake Tahoe Railway — would transport mail, goods and passengers to the sparsely populated area.
- While commercially operated skiing and snowplay sprouted around Truckee, it wasn’t until 1928 when the Tahoe Tavern stayed open all winter. The hotel had become a center of Tahoe’s social life, and offered winter fun to its guests who arrived by the “Snow Ball Special” train from Truckee.
- Also in 1928, the Tahoe Tavern hotel built a double toboggan slide. Horse-drawn sleighs shuttled guests to and from what became known as “Olympic Hill.” The Tavern even turned their garage into an ice rink.
- At about the same time, a group of Norwegian skiers, including seven-time national champion Lars Haugen, were touring the west and giving ski jumping exhibitions. The Tahoe Tavern directors hired Haugen to design a 60-meter ski jump at Olympic Hill, which took two years and $10,000 to complete.
- The Lake Tahoe Ski Club, founded in 1929, helped organize events and exhibitions at Olympic Hill throughout the 1930s, including winter tryouts for California and Nevada skiers competing for the 1932 Winter Olympic Team, the United States Ski Championships in February 1932, the 1936 California State Championships and the 1939 National Ski Association meet.
- It wasn’t until after World War II, however, that a recreational ski resort was developed there. Kjell “Rusty” Rustad, a retired sea captain and former ski jumper, had moved from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe because it reminded him of his home in Norway. With the goal of providing local skiing for Tahoe City residents, he secured a land use permit from the U.S. Forest Service and purchased 74 acres in the Olympic Hill valley. Rustad renamed his property Granlibakken, cleared an area for the ski slope, installed a 450-foot rope to the top of it, and constructed three buildings for overnight guests as well as a day lodge.
- In 1947, Rustad began bringing skiers from the road to his resort aboard a surplus World War II landing craft (rented from Squaw Valley’s Wayne Poulsen) that could navigate the snow. Granlibakken continued to attract ski jumpers, as well as downhill skiers, thanks to construction of a small jump, next to the wider slope, in 1952.
- In 1953, Rustad sold acreage across the road to University of California (UC) Berkeley’s International House. The organization’s volunteers built a lodge there. Bought by the UC Alumni association in 1958, the lodge became a year-round education and recreation center with dining room, swimming pool and beds for 150.
- In 1968, a New York publisher, Hugh Miller, bought the property. Changing the name to the Four Seasons at Lake Tahoe, he built the first condos in the valley.
- In 1978 Bill and Norma Parson purchased the resort, reviving it and the original name. Known worldwide for its history and winter plenty of winter activities, the Parson family continues to operate Granlibakken today, expanding it into an all-seasons resort and modern conference center and lodge. With more than 200 rooms and conference space for an estimated 500 people, Granlibakken hosts groups year round, ranging from ski clubs to international academic organizations seeking a secluded getaway in an inspiring area.
Tags: Tahoe Tavern, winter activities