The man and woman sipping tea (opposite) within the vibrantly red confines of their living room at Squaw Valley are Alec and Justine Cushing, a uniquely endowed couple in the world of American skiing. Emigrés from what some people consider the right part of Manhattan (the East Side), they moved 12 years ago to what some other people consider the wrong part of the Sierra (anywhere outside the Sugar Bowl). In the intervening years, they have created splendor unmatched among U.S. winter resorts.
Consider, first, the setting. On a clear day, a visitor seated in this room can count at least eight different shades of red or red derivatives. These do not include Alec's purple sweater and red kerchief. Arranged against this background is a collection of baroque Italian mirrors and Chinese objets d'art, the most spectacular of which is the gilded Buddha placed just in front of the window.
The scene within the living room, however, pales beside the spectacle outside. Outside are the Winter Olympics, the biggest and most expensive Winter Games in history. They are there because Alec brought them there. And he did it at a time and in a way that no one thought possible.
It was in early 1955 that Alec first made his bid for the VIII Winter Games. Squaw Valley was then nothing but a small, badly run ski resort surrounded by some of America's deepest snow and finest ski terrain. There was one chair lift, billed ambiguously as the World's Largest (somebody else put up a longer one). There was a lodge and a large measure of ill will which Alec had earned by ignoring or insulting a fair number of the guests who paid to stay at his lodge. Overriding all these defects, however, were the ferocious determination and bland self-confidence of Alec Cushing.
February 15, 1960
Cushing flew to the crucial Olympic conference in Paris armed with a fanciful brochure of Squaw Valley, a 6-by-12-foot contour model of his proposed Olympic plant, and a promise of $1 million from the California legislature—provided he got the Games. He came back with the Winter Olympics, but he received no hero's welcome.
Avery Brundage and assorted U.S. Olympic officials were horrified when they got their first look at Alec's still primitive valley. Sierra natives grumbled because an Easterner was about to make a killing on the mountains they had discovered. And the California legislature was suddenly faced with a $15 million proposition for which it had so far earmarked no more than $1 million—which few people had thought they would have to produce.
Nevertheless, the job has been done, and done so well that even the most violent critics may yet find themselves backwatering. Brundage and company should be happy: they have a site with the most compact,
modern and efficient layout the Winter Games have ever seen. The Sierra natives are enjoying an Olympic business boom that has already brought them $50 million in business and capital improvements, including a four-year speed-up in the four-laning of Route 40 across the mountains, and a shiny new air terminal in Reno.
As for the California legislature, it is now deciding what to do with the vast Olympic plant it will inherit the day the Games are over. One state official, Will Rogers Jr., says flatly, "When you make a bad deal, admit it. Let's get rid of Squaw Valley." His is a strong opinion, but probably a minority one. Many of the lawmakers have come grudgingly to realize that Cushing, while cutting his own slice of the cake, has left more than a few crumbs for the state. So they are inclined to retain nominal ownership, at least of the state-built skiing facilities, and lease them out to Cushing. What will happen to the rest—the ice arena, the speed skating rink, the jump, the Olympic village and the administration building—is still anyone's guess. Maybe Alec will get them, maybe he won't. In any case, it is a sure bet that Squaw Valley will keep pulling millions of dollars into the High Sierras. Former Nevada State Senator Ken Johnson perhaps summed it up best: "A lot of people around here are cursing Alec Cushing. But 10 years from now they'll want to put up a monument in his honor."