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.”

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