Tahoe ski history

The Tahoe Tavern Ski Jump, constructed with the help of Lars Haugen

With the 2018 Winter Olympic Games starting today, we are looking back on Olympic history here at Granlibakken Tahoe.

Granlibakken's first foray into winter sports began in 1922, when it was called "Ski Canyon" and used as a winter recreation area by locals. In 1926, The Tahoe Tavern, located a half-mile from Ski Canyon, stayed open for its first winter season. The "Snowball Special" run by Southern Pacific Railroad transported guests from Sacramento and San Francisco to the Tahoe Tavern, where they would take a horse-drawn sleigh the half-mile to Ski Canyon.

In the early days of ski competitions, jumping was hugely popular. As a spectator sport, it was adrenaline-inducing and easy to understand-important for a sport that so few were able to participate in. Prior to the construction of resorts, rope tows, chairlifts, and modern skis, many spectators had never been on a set of skis--but they understood ski jumping. Recognizing the attraction that a ski jump would be, the owner of the Tahoe Tavern, lumber and mining magnate D.L. Bliss, appropriated $3,000 to a ski jump. The jump was built in 1929 under the supervision of Lars Haugen, a celebrity in the ski jumping world, and a professional ski jump consultant. The jump constructed by Lars Haugen and his team was used for ski jumping exhibitions, and put Lake Tahoe as well as California as a whole on the map for ski jumping and winter recreation.

Tahoe Ski History

The Lake Tahoe Ski Club

With the development of this new ski area, the California Chamber of Commerce lobbied for Ski Canyon, which was renamed Olympic Hill in the late 1920s, to be the site of the 1932 Winter Olympics. The 1932 Summer Olympics were held in Los Angeles, and it seemed logical that the Winter Olympics also be held in California. However, years of promoting Southern California's sunny and warm climate now worked against this goal. The Winter Olympics were awarded to Lake Placid, NY, as the Olympic Committee did not believe that California had the snow to host the winter games.

Despite losing the bid for the 1932 Winter Olympics, Olympic Hill (formerly Ski Canyon) was the site of a dual meet in February 1931. This meet was the Olympic Ski Jumping Trials, and also served as California's first ski jumping state championships. It is estimated that about 3,000 people attended the event-the largest crowd to meet at Lake Tahoe up until that time.

Olympic Hill had another win in 1932--due to the hard work of Wilber Maynard, who served as manager of the Southern Pacific Hotel in Truckee and was the western vice president of the National Ski Area Association (NSAA). Maynard convinced members of the NSAA to host the 1932 National Ski Jumping Championships at Olympic Hill February 26-28, 1932-directly following the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. Showing the members of the NSAA photos of the ski jump at Olympic Hill and arguing that California does indeed have snow, Maynard managed to convince the committee. The National Ski Jumping Championship was awarded to the Lake Tahoe Ski Club, to be held at Olympic Hill. This Ski Jumping Championship was notable-it was the first to be held west of the Rockies, and is to this day the only National Ski Jumping Championship held in California.

Tahoe Ski History

Before start of Women's 30 K race
February 26, 1932

At the National Ski Jumping Championship, over 200 competitors representing 109 ski clubs from around the nation competed. Cross-country ski races around the 74 acre wooded valley were also held, and women's ski jumping exhibitions were hosted at the jump. Sigrid Stromstad, a strong downhill and cross-country skier as well as a local celebrity in the Tahoe region for her athletic talent and her helpful ski lessons offered to Tahoe Tavern guests, jumped and competed in the cross-country ski championships.

Between 1932 and 1936, Olympic Hill was selected to host three California Ski Jumping Championships, and held a number of other tournaments hosted by the Lake Tahoe Ski Club. Many of these tournaments drew the leading ski jumpers at the time, and huge crowds.

In 1939, the Lake Tahoe Ski Club further developed the hill, building a rope tow, a more robust warming hut, and a 1,000 foot jump. However, WWII all but stopped all ski jumping competitions in the region. After the war, in 1947, a Norwegian ski jumper, sailor, and graduate of the Royal Norwegian Naval Academy, Kjell "Rusty" Rustad, assumed operations of Olympic Hill. Renaming the area to "Granlibakken," which means "a hill sheltered by fir trees" in Norwegian, Rusty maintained the jumps--including a novice jump on Granlibakken grounds. In 1952, the Junior National Ski Jumping Championship was held at Granlibakken.

Tahoe Ski History

Rusty, who helped keep ski jumping alive at Lake Tahoe, on the Junior Jump at Granlibakken

Rusty also further developed the ski area-adding lodging, a warming hut with a snack bar, grooming, night skiing, and more rope tows to access the terrain. Despite larger resorts opening in the area, Granlibakken remained one of the foremost areas for ski jumping and was a great hill for novices to learn on before they moved on to the larger slopes.

Today, Granlibakken honors its history in this region. The 1960 Olympic Nordic Ski area was not far from Granlibakken at what is now Sugar Pine State Park, and Squaw Valley, host to the 1960 Winter Olympics, is just an eight mile drive from Granlibakken. Although Granlibakken itself never hosted the Olympics, a number of Olympic athletes and hopefuls have competed and practiced on the slopes.  The jumps are gone, and many of the legends only exist in memories, but Granlibakken still holds a special place in the Tahoe region as a historic resort where generations of locals and visitors alike have learned to ski, race, and jump on two planks.

This year, Granlibakken is celebrating 95 years of winter fun with 5 months of prizes, giveaways, and more.  Click here for details.

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This blog is part of a series that looks back on skiing at Granlibakken Tahoe through the years, commemorating 95 years of winter fun at Granlibakken, which has been used as a winter recreation area since 1922. These blogs are based on interviews with people who have memories of skiing at Granlibakken. 

Do you have memories about Granlibakken Tahoe? We would love to hear them, you can share your memories by commenting below.

Here are links to other blogs that may interest you: 

Read: Learning to Ski with Rusty at Granlibakken Tahoe

Read: Granlibakken: The West Shore's Playground

Read: Kjell "Rusty" Rustad, a Sailor on Skis




This blog is part of a series that looks back on skiing at Granlibakken Tahoe through the years, commemorating 95 years of winter fun at Granlibakken, which has been used as a winter recreation area since 1922. These blogs are based on interviews with people who have memories of skiing at Granlibakken. 

Do you have memories about Granlibakken Tahoe? We would love to hear them, you can share your memories by commenting below.

Here are links to other blogs that may interest you: 

Read: Kjell "Rusty" Rustad, a Sailor on Skis

Read: Olympic History at Granlibakken Tahoe

Read: Granlibakken Tahoe: The West Shore's Playground

Paul Rogers learned to ski under Kjell "Rusty" Rustad's tutelage, and shares his memories of Granlibakken Tahoe here.

Some things never change. Paul Rogers remembers learning to ski at Granlibakken—for many of the same reasons that people choose Granlibakken today. He says that learning to ski at Granlibakken in the 60s was the obvious choice because “other resorts are so big-it makes sense to start small.” Today, with affordable ticket prices and approachable terrain, Granlibakken remains a great ski area for families and beginners alike.

Learn to ski at Granlibakken

Paul Rogers with his brothers, working on their James Bond look at the Granlibakken Ski Hill.

One thing has changed since the days that Paul and his brothers whizzed down the Granlibakken slopes on their 200cm Head skis—Rusty is no longer offering lessons. Kjell “Rusty” Rustad, a Norwegian skier and sailing enthusiast, first developed Granlibakken as a stand-alone ski resort, building lodging onsite, expanding the existing ski area, and giving what was then known as Ski Canyon the name “Granlibakken,” which means “hill sheltered by fir trees” in Norwegian in 1947.

Paul describes Rusty as “demanding, but very interested in capturing the energy of the teenagers that he taught.” Learning to ski on long skis—200cm skis, the pupils learned to ski without the luxury of poles, gloves, and were required to keep a paper plate secured between their knees when learning under Rusty’s tutelage. The lack of poles and gloves encouraged better balance, and the paper plate encouraged what was considered good form—with legs close together to manage the huge skis. Paul says that even now, when he skis the slopes of Alpine Meadows with his brother, they will comment “You looked like Rusty going down that slope!” It was a distinct way of skiing, made necessary by the long skis and ingrained in the youth by Rusty’s firm teaching methods.

Ski at Granlibakken Tahoe

You can find Paul today skiing with his family at Squaw.

Rusty was also known for his jumping. He had set up jumps for various ability levels, and Granlibakken was known as the best place to learn to jump in the region. Paul’s twin, more of a daredevil, enjoyed this component of Granlibakken’s hill, but Paul describes “the rope tow might have been the scariest part of learning for me!” The original rope tow that Rusty constructed is gone, but in its place is a Poma platter lift, still a challenge but well worth the ride to the top of the hill.

Paul even remembers learning to drive on Granlibakken road. His father piled the family in their station wagon with snow tires, and told Paul that this was his opportunity to learn to drive in the winter. Typical of Sierra winters and small streets at the time, a lot of snow had fallen and Granlibakken Road had not been plowed. The station wagon got stuck a ways down the road, and the family had to wait until help came to get unstuck.

Paul describes Granlibakken as a rustic resort, fun for families, with memories being made all winter. He says “Rusty was quite the legend. Although he is gone, a lot of memories of him and Granlibakken live on through the people he taught.” Paul certainly has many memories of his time at Granlibakken, and of Rusty, the man who propelled Granlibakken into local fame. For generations, people have learned to ski and ride at this modest hill, making memories and sharing laughter and good times. This tradition continues today, and although some of the local legends have passed on, their memory lives on.

Join us in celebrating 95 years of family fun at Granlibakken Tahoe. Click here for details.

Keep in touch! Click here to sign up for our email list, and be the first to know about deals, events, and more!


This blog is part of a series that looks back on skiing at Granlibakken Tahoe through the years, commemorating 95 years of winter fun at Granlibakken, which has been used as a winter recreation area since 1922. These blogs are based on interviews with people who have memories of skiing at Granlibakken. 

Do you have memories about Granlibakken Tahoe? We would love to hear them, you can share your memories by commenting below.

Here are links to other blogs that may interest you: 

Read: Learning to Ski with Rusty at Granlibakken Tahoe

Read: Granlibakken: The West Shore's Playground

Read: Olympic History at Granlibakken Tahoe

Article written by Marion Tobey Rustad, Rusty's wife, for publicity purposes in 1949

Lake Tahoe History

Rusty's wife, Marion, and her daughter Binth on Rusty's sailboat on Lake Tahoe.

Ceramists, painters, seamstresses, and woodcarvers have something tangible to sell when they decide to amok their hobbies pay.  But Kjell Rustad didn’t.  His hobbies are sailing and skiing and when he decided to make is living our of them he had to carve out his own career with no precedent to follow and no handbooks to guide him.

Even if he couldn’t count on handbooks he could count on two excellent qualities of his own--a wonderful personality and perseverance.

Today Rustad, better known as Rusty, owns and operates a ski hill

one mile from Tahoe City, California, in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  When the skiing season ends he turns to his second love, sailing on Lake Tahoe.  Since he was born and raised in Norway, these two sports are second nature to him.  All he had to do to pursue them in this country was select an area with good snow conditions and a body of water to sail on.  He chose Lake Tahoe.

“This is so much like Oslo,” Rusty grins.  “Warm summer days with

Lake Tahoe History

The ski hut built by Rusty.

cool nights and seventy nautical miles to sail.  And in the winter you have wonderful snow conditions.”

The Rustads have learned to love Tahoe not only because of its beauty but because it is an inland body of water with no currents, no barnacles to cling to the boat, and steady wind almost every summer afternoon.  Rusty’s log for the summer of 1948 showed only five days of absolute calm and twelve days with no wind in the morning.

No one could give this information to Rusty when he first came to Tahoe.  When he inquired about sailing conditions the old timers shook their heads gloomily.

“It can’t be done,” they said.  “The wind comes from every direction at once or we have no wind at all.  The lake is treacherous and no one sails it.”  Indeed, Rusty could look out over the lake and see for himself there were no white sails etched against the cobalt blue waters.  Motorboats sped along close to shore, but where were the sailors?  They weren’t on Lake Tahoe.

This didn’t stop Rusty.  His own rich background on the sea gave him enough experience to judge for himself.  His grandfather and father had sailed all their lives and he had been raised on talk of the sea.  His father sailed for pleasure on the Oslo fjords, around the coasts of Sweden and Denmark in the Baltic Sea, and visited the coast of Germany with his sons aboard as crew on many of the trips.  Rusty learned to handle a sailboat at the age of nine and grew up to be a member of the crew when his father entered his boat in races.

Rusty & Marion Sailing Lake Tahoe

Rusty & Marion Sailing Lake Tahoe

It was natural for Rusty to enter the Norwegian Royal Naval Academy.  He graduated in 1927 after satisfying their requirements of 32 months at sea, 12 months of which he spent on a four masted Baroque and 12 months on a freighter engaged in foreign trade.  By 1940 he held the rank of Lieutenant Commander.

So he said nothing to the old timers at Lake Tahoe.  He selected his boat, a Bear made by Nunes Brothers in Sausalito, California, and launched it in May, 1948.  It is a graceful 24 foot boat which can attain a speed of eight knots.  Bunks for four, a galley, and toilet make it comfortable for weekend cruises.  Rusty claims it cannot capsize because of its 2,100 pound keep.  He thinks it is great fun to go out on the lake in the blowiest day he can find and the unseaworthy motorboats have to bob at their moorings.  the heavy chop is too much for them.

With an eye to business, Rusty persuaded Nunes Brothers to make him their agent at the lake.  He was sure he could sell boats in spite of the prejudice and he wanted to make boat pay for itself.

No one knows what the old timers muttered to themselves.  They watched the Polaris with gloomy interest for the first summer and in spite of no mishaps they still refuse to climb aboard for a sail.  Once Rusty sailed into one of the biggest harbors on the lake built to accommodate motorboats and asked the owner, strictly a motorboat man, to come aboard.  rusty grins when he tells this and won’t quote what the gentleman said.  It was evident from his florid face he was not complementary about the invitation.

Even today amazed speedboat owners circle the Polaris to stare openly as if they had discovered a whale in Tahoe’s waters.  Nevertheless, Rusty sold one sailboat in July, 1948, and sold two more this last summer.

Newcomers who haven’t heard all the dire predictions about sailing have implicit faith in Rusty’s skill and knowledge.  He is a man wo inspires that faith.  You know as soon as you see him he belongs to the outdoors.  He is a quick moving person whose every motion spells vitality and strength.  Sailing parties in Rusty’s boat--and Rusty is an engaging host--are a highlight of anyone’s vacation at Tahoe.  The more interested novices take lessons from Rusty and learn to said a boat with skill.

The Polaris

The Polaris

History reveals n the early days there were sailing schooners on the lake engaged in the lumber business.  They disappeared before 1900 and sailing was forgotten.  Rustad is a pioneer in introducing sailing as a sport to Tahoe.  “We need one more sailboat and then we can hold a regatta,” Rusty says jubilantly.  The dream is fast coming true.

Afraid to sail Tahoe?  How could a man who has sailed many waters and served as a wartime skipper on a patrol ship between the Finnish boarder and North Cape to destroy mines be afraid of calm, lovely Lake Tahoe?  He even minimizes the experience hs and his wife had when Norway surrendered to Germany and they managed to get aboard a freighter bound for England.  The boat was bombed the second day out.  They clung to some oars in the water for five hours and spent  twelve chilling hours in a lifeboat until they were miraculously picked up by a British destroyer.  No, Rusty has no fears.

The Polaris skims the lake until Rusty can sniff snow in the air.  Then she rides quietly at anchor, not because Tahoe can’t be sailed in the winter, but because you can’t keep Rusty off skis when there is snow.

Two years ago Rusty leased property from the Forest Service in Tahoe National Forest.  He cleared the timber from the slopes by himself, a job in itself.  The logs were limbed and peeled with the help of a Scandinavian friend (Bert Broland) and they built a warming hut at the foot of the ski slope with them.  It is a simple sturdy log hut facing the hill.  A merry fire in the fireplace warms the skiers when they come in for a snack.

A weasel shuttles back and forth to the highway to bring skiers in and out of the ski area.  A newly built lodge with kitchen and bath in each apartment accommodates guests.  Skiers with sleeping bags are welcome and families are especially welcomed.

The location is in beautiful forested country.  Appropriately, Rusty and his wife named their ski area “Granlibakken” which means, when translated from the Norwegian, a hill sheltered by firs.  Included in the lease and adjacent to Granlibakken is Olympic Hill where Olympic tryouts were held in 1932.  Ski jumping contests are help yearly at Olympic Hill under the sanction of the Far West Ski Association.  Last year Rusty redesigned the hill to permit jumps of 200 feet.

Ski Jumping at Granlibakken

Ski Jumping at Granlibakken

If you go to the meets you can see Rusty’s influence in the techniques used by the young contestants.  Many of the natives feel Olympic team skiers will develop under Rusty and are watching his protégés with interest.  The Lake Tahoe Ski Club asked Rusty to advise and coach its members and most of the school children head for Granlibakken on sunny winter afternoons to take lessons from Rusty and watch his flawless skiing.

It is not surprising Tahoeites are taking advantage of Rusty’s knowledge. In Norway when he was eighteen, nineteen, and twenty Rusty took sixty-eight cups in skiing contests.  Five or six were for second and third places and the remainder were first place.  He modestly admits that at that time he was one of the five top jumpers in Norway.

Today you can see Rusty make exhibition jumps at Sierra Nevada ski meets with other famous veterans such as Sig and Arne Ulland.

Historic Ski Hill

Granlibakken Ski Hill

Rusty’s ski hill is floodlighted and he recalls an amusing experience he had in Oslo the first time he jumped on a lighted hill.  He and some of the younger jumpers wanted to take the first jump easy, but Sigmund Ruud, a famous jumper, scoffed at the idea.

“And really,” laughs Rusty, “the lights were so bright you could see better than at day.  Or so it seemed.” One by one they jumped the 200 feet and one by one they fell at the bottom--on a hill they knew by heart.  They were soaring up above the lights and the terrific glare on the snow below gave them the eery feeling they had lost the hill and there was no place to land.

If you ask Rusty when he learned to ski he smiles and say, “Oh, I

don’t know.  As soon as I was able to walk, I believe.”  When you watch him ski this is easy to believe.  He really looks as if her were born on skis.  His four year old daughter takes after her father.  Diminutive Binth skis down kill skillfully and sometimes shouts, “Bend knees!Bend knees!” to less proficient skiers.

Ski School Tahoe

Ski School Article

Rusty’s easy grace inspires his pupils.  they learn quickly under his tutelage and most of them learn to adore him at the same time.  Last year he gave lessons to groups of youngsters from Tahoe Lake Elementary School.  A ski meet was held for the youngsters at Granlibakken and later a party was given at school to pass out awards.  In addition to the silver pins the winners received, they were given photos of themselves and Rusty.  One little girl raced home with he pin and photo and proudly showed her mother.

“But, honey, you look so glum in this picture.  Why didn’t you choose another one?” her mother asked.

“Oh, I couldn’t do that,” the little girl said solemnly. “I took this picture because it was the best one of Rusty.”

Rusty’s success in making his hobbies pay is largely due to the fact he wasn’t afraid to dig in and do everything from wielding an axe to using his head and finding out his own facts after everyone told him “it couldn’t be done.”

Join us in celebrating 95 years of family fun at Granlibakken Tahoe. Click here for details.

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Weddings at Granlibakken TahoeA stunning forested setting, award-winning catering, lodging onsite, and an experienced events staff will ensure that your wedding day at Granlibakken Tahoe is memorable and elegant. Granlibakken Tahoe’s location in a 74 acre wooded valley just one mile from Tahoe City and the shores of Lake Tahoe is convenient to get to year-round, and is breathtaking in all four seasons.


Granlibakken Tahoe offers lodging and event space onsite that can accommodate groups of up to 350 people. Lodging options range from standard bedrooms to three-bedroom townhouses-perfect for groups of all sizes. Indoor and outdoor venues-from the spacious Mountain Ballroom to the tree-lined Big Pine Lawn offer spaces that complement Granlibakken’s forest setting.


Catering and event services are offered onsite by an award-winning staff. Granlibakken’s wedding coordinator will work with you to ensure that all details of your special day are executed flawlessly. Granlibakken’s Executive Chef and kitchen staff prepare delicious dishes in a variety of styles, and the beverage list with options for signature beverages will guarantee a good time had by all.Weddings at Granlibakken Tahoe


Make the weekend memorable—Granlibakken offers a variety of activities onsite and nearby, from the Treetop Adventure Park ropes course to an onsite ski and sled hill. Hiking and biking trails abound around the property, as well as river-rafting, kayaking, swimming, and sightseeing. The newly renovated Soul Shelter yoga and meditation space is a perfect place to hold a group yoga class, or to take some time to rejuvenate and relax in the heart of Granlibakken’s property.


Get married under the snowy pines with Granlibakken Tahoe’s Winter Wedding Special. Get 50% off venue fees for weddings held between November and April each year. Granlibakken’s wooded mountain setting and onsite activities will make your winter wedding unforgettable.


Airport transportation to and from the Reno airport is available, and Granlibakken Tahoe is just a few hours’ drive from San Francisco and Sacramento—convenient for guests arriving from near and far.

Learn more about weddings at Granlibakken Tahoe.

Contact Granlibakken Tahoe's Special Events Team to inquire about pricing and availability.

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Granlibakken Tahoe, as a part of their Sierra Soul Series of Wellness Events, will be hosting two wellness retreats in 2018. These retreats are designed for health enthusiasts of all levels and abilities. Featuring workshops and seminars covering a variety of topics and practices, these unique events offer ample opportunity to learn, grow, and practice under the tutelage of some of the Tahoe region’s best wellness practitioners.

Granlibakken’s unparalleled setting in a wooded valley a short distance from Lake Tahoe offers the perfect setting for health and wellness retreats, and their relationships with health and wellness experts in the Tahoe region allows visitors and locals alike to engage with the Tahoe wellness community in an intimate and personalized way.

Restorative Arts and Yoga Festival, June 1-3, 2018

The second annual Restorative Arts and Yoga Festival (RAY), is designed to inspire and teach yogis and health enthusiasts of all levels of experience and practice. This unique event capitalizes on the expertise of Tahoe and Truckee based healers, wellness practitioners, and yoga instructors for three days of classes, seminars, and outdoor activities.

The schedule for RAY 2018 was just released, and features a variety of classes—from daily sunrise yoga classes to an interactive drum circle to close the weekend. RAY 2018 offers an unparalleled experience focused on the restorative arts. Many of the seminars focus on meditation, introspection, and inward and outward connections—to one’s self, to the earth, and to others. There is also ample time to connect and socialize with other event attendees—from an opening intention-setting ceremony to nightly fire pit socials and tastings offered by local breweries and wineries.

Discounted lodging is available onsite at Granlibakken Tahoe. The full weekend of events is just $276 when booked prior to February 28. Prices go up on March 1. Learn more here.

Wellness Weekend, November 9-11, 2018

In 2017, the sixth annual Wellness Weekend (formerly Women’s Wellness Weekend) opened registration to men as well as women, and made some significant changes to the schedule that had been used in previous years. More changes can be expected for 2018—with more movement classes, a focus on interactive education, and a third day of activity classes added. This event will remain open to all genders and ages, and will continue to focus on education in Eastern and Western philosophies and modalities.


Discounted lodging is available onsite at Granlibakken Tahoe. An early-bird rate of $260 for the full weekend of events is being offered for a limited time. Learn more here.

Keep in touch! Click here to sign up for our email list, and be the first to know about deals, events, and more!


Written by Carol Van Etten

Carol Van Etten is a Tahoe research historian who has been studying and writing about Lake Tahoe history for over 30 years.  Her love of Tahoe and its history date to childhood summers spent at the family cabin in Rubicon Bay, where she first heard stories of the lake in earlier times.  She is a 1970 graduate of UC Davis and attended University of Chicago graduate school in English Literature.

An important aspect of Van Etten’s research has been the collecting of oral history interviews.  Since 1982 she has recorded over 100 conversations with Tahoe’s ‘old timers’, adding greatly to the information available through written records.

Van Etten has written 5 books on Lake Tahoe history subjects, including Meeks Bay Memories, Tahoe City Yesterdays (out of print), Prewar Wood, Lakers and Launches, and Lake Champions.  More information can be found at her website, TahoeHistory.info.

Lake Tahoe History

Toboggan run built by D.L. bliss at Ski Canyon

Although the Sierra Nevada’s first snow sports activities can be traced to the late 19th Century, the Winter Sports Grounds of the Tahoe Tavern, a grand resort built by Duane L. Bliss near Lake Tahoe’s Outlet in 1901, are the ski area in longest continuous use of any in these mountains. Today this ski area is known as Granlibakken.

In December 1926, following the Tahoe Tavern’s sale to the D.M. Linnard hotel interests of Pasadena, Southern Pacific Railroad (Linnard’s parent company) converted the hotel’s 16-mile narrow-gauge line to Truckee to standard gauge, providing the all-weather access essential to a successful winter season.

A canyon southwest of the hotel was chosen as the Tavern’s Winter Sports Grounds, and Manager Jack T. Mathews hired local residents to build a toboggan slide and warming hut on its east slope. He hired international ski-jumping champion Lars Haugen to design and oversee construction of a ski “trajectory” farther up the canyon.

Mathews hired professional ski jumpers from the Chicago area to

Tahoe Tavern

Sleigh rides at Tahoe Tavern

perform exhibition jumps for weekend crowds who arrived at the Tavern via special SP trains and were delivered to the Sports Grounds aboard six-horse sleighs. The toboggan slide was iced nightly for speed, and sledders and skaters could thaw out with hot beverages in the warming hut.

Despite these attractions, the Tavern’s first Winter Season was a financial disappointment, and the next two seasons were shortened to several weeks at Christmas plus the weekend of Washington’s Birthday. Truckee’s annual Sierra Dog Derby, which debuted in February 1929, was the only significant winter event that year and the next.

Exhibition jumps performed on the “Tavern hill” inspired the local children to participate, and community enthusiasm grew, though the future of the Tavern Winter Season looked bleak. A bid by the newly-formed Lake Tahoe Ski Club to stage the 1932 Winter Olympics lost out to Lake Placid, New York. Snow in California? Preposterous!

Lake Tahoe Ski History

Skiing at Ski Canyon

However, at a dinner at Tahoe Tavern in January 1931, Wilbur Maynard, Truckee resident and SP Winter Sports Manager, announced that the National Ski Association had selected Lake Tahoe as the site of the 1932 National Ski Tournament. With less than a year to prepare, the LTSC scheduled a State Championship meet for February 1931.

The 1932 meet at newly-christened Olympic Hill was a moment of glory for Tahoe ski-sport enthusiasts. Governor Rolph was on hand, as was popular actress Anita Page, Queen of the Meet. Early February storms threatened to cancel the event, but abated just in time for local residents to foot-pack the hill to perfection.

The successful staging of the Nationals brought confidence to the LTSC and Ski Canyon would be the scene of dozens of tournaments prior to the outbreak of WWII. The Tavern’s owners, however, sensed that their financial opportunities from local snowsports had peaked, and their Winter Sports Grounds, though still used by LTCS members for recreation and competition, would not see another Winter Season for 17 years.


As the world returned to peacetime following World War II, retired

Tahoe City History

Kjell "Rusty" Rustad, Granlibakken's founder

Norwegian Naval Officer Kjell “Rusty” Rustad was searching for a postwar enterprise to suit his two favorite pastimes: skiing and sailing. He was expert at both, and Lake Tahoe seemed to offer opportunities worth pursuing.

In 1947 Rustad leased the parcel once known as the Tahoe Tavern Winter Sports Grounds from the Forest Service and, working alone with an axe and handsaw, began to prepare the north-facing slope for use as a ski hill. The following year Rustad hired local carpenter Bert Brolund, and worked with him to build a log warming hut using the tall, straight red fir trees removed from the hill. A living quarters for the Rustads and two dormitory-style rentals followed.

Rusty was also working to revive the old Olympic Hill, site of the 1932 National Ski Jumping Championships, and on March 7, 1948 the LTSC held its first state-sanctioned meet there.

On January 22, 1949, Rustad, his wife Marion and daughter Binth held an Open House to introduce the community to their new ski venture, which they named ‘Granlibakken’ (a Norwegian phrase meaning “a hillside sheltered by fir trees”). Rusty arranged to teach the students of Tahoe Lake School to ski, extended the existing rope tow and added a second tow for beginners, while Marion took care of the business.

At that time, what is now Granlibakken Road was not plowed in

Granlibakken Ski History

The weasel at Granlibakken Tahoe

winter, and access to the ski hill was by a military surplus Weasel, which could tow a sled carrying 12 passengers. About 1952 an auto bridge over the Truckee River was constructed on Tahoe Lumber Company property, briefly affording better access, but in the soggy winter of 1955-56, high water carried it downstream, and the Weasel was reinstated.

The hard work of Rustad and other volunteers to prepare a second, smaller ski jump for the use of local youngsters paid off on March 15 & 16, 1952, when the Junior National Ski Championships were staged at Granlibakken.

In 1953 Rusty and Marion divorced, and she and Binth left Tahoe, while Rusty continued to promote the ski venture alone. That year, Rusty sold acreage across the road from the ski hill to UC Berkeley’s International House, whose volunteers built a lodge there. In 1954 Rusty married Jeanette Gorham, who joined him in the operation of the business.


Cal Alumni Center Granlibakken

Cal Alumni Center

In December 1958, the Cal Alumni Association announced its purchase of the International House property, where it planned to build a ski lodge for the use of UC Alumni, including new kitchen facilities, a 150-person dining hall, a swimming pool and two buildings to provide sleeping accommodations for families. Built and staffed primarily by UC students, the Alumni Center was completed in 1960.

In 1968, the Alumni Center was sold to New York publisher M. Hughes Miller, who built the canyon’s first condos and developed The Four Seasons, a popular dinner house. In 1974, Miller would be riding the wake of his company’s huge best seller, The Joy of Cooking. However, his Tahoe venture did not fare so well, succumbing to bankruptcy in 1976.

Bill and Norma Parson purchased the resort in 1978, reviving it and

Granlibakken condos

Granlibakken Tahoe

the original name. Today the Parson family continues to operate Granlibakken, hosting international conferences as well as the general public. Among the amenities still available to all is the ski hill with the marvelous pedigree.

Join us in celebrating 95 years of family fun at Granlibakken Tahoe. Click here for details.

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Thank you for joining us at Wellness Weekend 2017. We had an amazing weekend with you all. We hope that you enjoy these photos from Wellness Weekend 2017. Click here to learn more about Sierra Soul Wellness Events.