Blog Post Nicolas Brulliard Jul 27, 2016

The U.S. National Park That Bid for the Olympics

It’s hard to imagine a massive event such as the Olympic Games ever taking place in a national park, but did you know one U.S. park actually bid to host the Winter Olympic Games? Hint: It was not Olympic National Park.

In its early days, Yosemite National Park was a popular summer destination, but few visitors made the trip once the winter settled in. Don Tresidder, the concessionaire at the time, wanted to change that. After he and his wife visited Switzerland’s St. Moritz during the 1928 Olympic Games, he decided that Yosemite should compete to host the following edition of the Games in 1932. To date, Yosemite remains the only U.S. national park to bid for the organization of the Olympics, said Anthony Bijkerk, the secretary general of the International Society of Olympic Historians.

The construction of what is now known as Highway 140 in 1926 was a turning point for Yosemite’s transformation into a winter resort: It gave motorists year-round access to Yosemite Valley. Winter visitors could enjoy speeding down an 800-foot slide on trash can lids and hotel trays, and winter activities expanded after Tresidder created the Yosemite Winter Club in 1928. Toboggan runs were built, and a parking lot was flooded to create an ice rink. Snow activities included sledding on nearby slopes and skijoring — where a skier is pulled by a horse — while skating, curling and hockey games took place on the ice rink, according to ranger notes on the park’s website.

Yosemite’s winter sport culture was burgeoning, and the site’s natural beauty increased the appeal of the park’s Olympic bid. But competition for the organization of the third Winter Games was fierce. Yosemite faced rival bids not only from Oslo and Montreal, but also from other locales in the United States, including Lake Tahoe, Bear Mountain, Duluth, Minneapolis, Denver and Lake Placid. That the contenders included flatland cities such as Minneapolis and Duluth is not entirely surprising. The Games were a much smaller affair then and did not feature downhill skiing, among other things.

The head of the Lake Placid bid wrote to ask his Yosemite rival to withdraw, but to no avail, according to Morten Lund of the International Skiing History Association. And so the contest came to a head in Lausanne, Switzerland, in April 1929. Tresidder had hired a Swiss winter sports director to bolster Yosemite’s bid, according to an article in Skiing Heritage, but this proved futile. The International Olympic Committee chose the Lake Placid bid.

Yosemite’s failed Olympic bid did not put an end to the park’s winter aspirations. The park did host ice skating tryouts for the 1932 Games on its rink, and the winter of 1932 saw abundant snowfalls while Lake Placid experienced one of its warmest winters on record. By the mid-1930s, the park had built a ski lodge and a small electric ski lift in Badger Pass. Today, the resort — renamed “Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area” earlier this year following a trademark dispute with an outgoing concessionaire — includes five chairlifts and 10 ski runs, as well as 90 miles of cross-country ski trails. An outdoor ice skating rink still stands in Yosemite Valley from November to March.

About the author

  • Nicolas Brulliard Associate Editor

    Nicolas is a journalist and former geologist who joined NPCA in November 2015. He writes and edits online content for NPCA and serves as associate editor of National Parks magazine.