Steve Topol’s family relocated from Reno up to Tahoe in the mid-50s. Their house was conveniently located

on Cathedral Street, in the same neighborhood as the Granlibakken Ski Area, and Steve has fond memories of spending his free time in Granlibakken’s 74 acre valley during the winter and summer seasons.

Tahoe ski history

Steve Topol's family on the deck of their Cathedral Street house in 1959. From the left: Sister Lenell, mom Lillian, nephew Gary, sister Renee, nephew Doug, father Sidney. Steve is on the far left, standing.

Steve remembers skiing at Granlibakken between the years of 1957-59, when he was about 7-10 years old. It was a great place to learn, he says, with a small bunny slope for beginners where the sled hill now is, and the larger, steeper hill with a rope tow and a Poma lift to the top. Steve took one lesson from Kjell “Rusty” Rustad, the owner and developer of Granlibakken. Rusty hailed from Norway and was an avid skier and sailor who made his home in Tahoe City. He first developed Granlibakken as a commercial ski resort in 1947, and gave the hill its name, which means “hill sheltered by fir trees”

Tahoe Ski History

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

Steve remembers Rusty as friendly and a good teacher, but strict and to the point. He describes Rusty as a good businessman, “He ran a tight ship. A lot of people in the community worked over at Granlibakken for him.” Steve took his remaining group lessons at Granlibakken with one of Rusty’s employees. Although Steve can’t remember his name, he remembers learning to ski under this young ski instructor’s tutelage at Granlibakken. Steve remembers cruising down the hill on his hand-me-down 210 Head Masters with Marker bindings—huge skis for a young skier.

The Ski and Sled Hill during Steve’s time was fairly basic—the same hill that still operates today, with a bunny ski slope where the current sledding area is. There was a Poma lift on the left side of the slope, and a rope tow to the very top of the hill on the right. On the far left was a ski jump, where Olympic hopefuls and competitors practiced. Although this jump wasn’t being used for competitions while Steve skied at Granlibakken, there were still a few locals, namely the Bechdolts (Carl and Pop), who helped coach aspiring ski jumpers. Steve never attempted the jump in his huge hand-me-down skis; the rope tow was enough for him.

Historic Ski Hill

The Granlibakken Ski Hill circa 1950s-60s

Steve and his siblings stuck to the rope tow, at first going up just halfway, and then to the top. Steve describes it, “If you were really courageous, you would go to the top—but you would have to be brave.” The rope tow could be hard to get a grip on, and once to the top, the ski hill was fairly steep. Although Granlibakken was known as the beginner hill, Steve remembers the steepness of the top of the hill being a bit intimidating.

In fact, everyone in Steve’s family skied at Granlibakken. He describes the progression of a typical Tahoe City skier at that time—learn at Granlibakken, graduate to Papoose (which was owned and operated by the Poulsons, where the lower slopes of Squaw Valley are today), and finally, up to Squaw One. Granlibakken’s hill was actually steeper than Papoose, but Squaw was more bustling, with the ski jumps and a ski lodge to hang out in.

However, getting to Squaw was a bit of a drive, which was a deterrent for busy families. Granlibakken’s slopes were practically right outside of Steve’s door. He and his brother would walk up Cathedral Road with their ski gear, head up the path to the top of the ski hill (now a fire road), and ski right down to the base of the hill, lapping the Granlibakken hill all day.

Tahoe Ski History

A photo of junior ski jumping champions in 1939 standing in front of the historic Tahoe Inn, which is now owned by Steve Topol, who operates the Blue Agave Restaurant out of the building.
L to R: Richard Carnell, Pete Vanni, Carl Bechdolt, Jr. and Bill Bechdolt

Granlibakken wasn’t just a winter destination for Steve and his family—they also had a blast on the property in the summertime. The road at the top of the ski hill was perfect for horseback riding—and a convenient loop could be made from the stables, where Tahoe City Lumber is now located, up to Paige Meadows, and then back through town and to his house on Cathedral. Steve also rode his go-cart around the property in his early teens, before he could legally drive. The Cal-Alumni Center that was located there had a campy vibe, and the valley that Granlibakken is tucked away in was perfect for exploring.

Steve has remained in the Tahoe Area, raising his own family here. He now owns the Blue Agave, formerly the Tahoe Inn, in Tahoe City. He purchased the historic property from Pop Bechdolt, who helped judge the ski jumping competitions at Granlibakken Tahoe. Today the Blue Agave is a staple in the Tahoe City downtown—serving up delicious margaritas with gorgeous lake views.

Looking back at his time spent in the area, Steve says of Granlibakken, “It’s always been a landmark for people who lived around here.” Throughout Granlibakken’s 95 years of winter fun—starting in 1922 as a winter recreation area and all the way up to today as a resort, conference center, lodge, and ski area, Granlibakken has been making memories for generations.


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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: Kjell "Rusty" Rustad, a Sailor on Skis

Read: Olympic History at Granlibakken Tahoe