The athletes are home now, some bearing medals from Sochi and some not, but all contributing to global recognition of Lake Tahoe -- and the town of Truckee, in particular -- as a world-class center of winter sports.
Former alpine racer Daron Rahlves, a 12-time World Cup champion and four-time Olympian who lives in Truckee, was among those cheering on the 16 ski and snowboard athletes with Tahoe ties.
"Watching the Olympics on TV, you heard 'Tahoe' and 'Truckee' every time a ski event came on," he said. " It makes me proud to see so many others out there representing our town and putting it on the map."
The Olympics no doubt will give traction to Rahlves' Banzai Tour, a four-stop, open-to-the-public version of the daredevil ski- and boarder-cross competitions that produced the most spectacular crash of the Sochi games when competitors in the men's ski quarterfinal wind-milled to a chaotic photo finish. (Remaining Banzai Tour dates are March 8-9 at Alpine Meadows and March 15-16 at Sugar Bowl).
The action in Russia also served to energize Truckee businesses that otherwise would have suffered more than they have from the severe drought engulfing Northern California. Hotels sold out, ski shops ran out of rentals and parking places in the downtown shopping/dining/entertainment district were as scarce as USA medals in the Nordic combined.
And it wasn't just the resorts and restaurants that stayed busy. Young skaters with stars in their eyes whirled until after dark on Truckee's municipal ice rink, while down the road at Woodward Tahoe, the action-sports training facility at Boreal Mountain Resort, future Olympians inspired by TV coverage lined up to slide down indoor ramps and throw aerial tricks into foam pits.
"Thank goodness for the Olympics; it helped bring out a lot of pent-up energy to drive business not just to the resorts but to the town," said Tom Just, part owner of Mountain Home Center, whose headquarter location on Brockway Road houses a swoon-worthy collection of high-end fireplaces, spas and furniture targeted to affluent Tahoe homeowners.
"The people not skiing are shopping," he added. "We fell off a cliff during the recession, but this year, business is back up above pre-recession levels."
Even midweek, downtown Truckee is bustling with shoppers and diners who in late February were peeling down to T-shirts as afternoon temperatures topped 50 degrees. One of the weirdest winters on record has produced nights cold enough for resorts to make snow and crystal-clear, bluebird days perfect for other pursuits. With no chain controls to put the damper on travel from lower elevations, visitors who might otherwise not risk driving in snow are making the trip up the hill and finding some surprises in store.
"We normally draw a huge cross-country clientele, but not this year -- not yet, anyway," said Patty Baird, who with her husband, Jeff, owns the recreationally focused Cedar House Sport Hotel. "What we've been recommending instead is snow shoeing -- or hiking where there's not enough snow. The weather has been perfect for hiking."
Not that snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing are totally out of the question. Tahoe Donner Cross-Country, with a base area at 6,700 feet, has remained open even on days when there's not enough coverage to set tracks at the lower elevations.
"We've been fortunate enough to be right at the borderline for snow, and at the top we've gotten six-foot drifts," says Peter Werbel, the resort's assistant manager. "A lot of people were checking in with us during the holidays because the alpine resorts were so crowded. At Christmas, we had entire families trying Nordic skiing for the first time."
Tahoe Donner's biathlon clinics, an introduction to the winter sport showcased in the Olympics, have been sellouts, Werbel added. Sessions combine Nordic skiing with marksmanship using laser rifles closely modeled on those used in sanctioned events.
Contact Janet Fullwood at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grab your cowbells and start clanging: Tahoe Olympians just home from Sochi will be welcomed home later this month with two Tahoe events that promise to bring out the crowds.
South Lake Tahoe plans a city-wide party on March 15, while Squaw Valley USA will incorporate a March 21 welcome-home ceremony into a five-day alpine racing event in which several returning Olympians are expected to compete.
South Shore festivities begin at 1 p.m. March 15 with autograph signings and live music at South Tahoe High School, followed by a fire-truck procession down Highway 50 to Myers and on to the Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort. There, on their home slopes, Olympians Jamie Anderson (gold in snowboard slopestyle), Maddie Bowman (gold in freestyle skiing halfpipe) and Hannah Teter (fourth in snowboard halfpipe) will be greeted by marching band and choral performances. All three Olympians hail from the tiny town of Myers, population 3,000.
In all, some 16 athletes with Tahoe ties competed in the Sochi Winter Games.
Squaw will welcome all comers in celebrations folded into the March 19-23 Nature Valley U.S. Alpine Championships, a major race event bringing together the U.S. Ski Team and more than 250 club athletes from around the country. Returning Olympians will be feted the evening of March 21 with a parade, fireworks, autograph sessions and live music.
Squaw Valley athlete and 2010 Olympic gold medalist Julia Mancuso, who took third in Sochi, will be competing on home turf, as will Olympics competitors Marco Sullivan and Travis Ganong.
"It's great to get to race at my home mountain and it's awesome to have Squaw's support for ski racing," Mancuso said in a press release. "They did an exceptional job last season, so I definitely look forward to some more great races on home snow during Nationals."
Also expected on the hill are Sochi medalists Bode Miller, Ted Ligety, Andrew Weibrcht and Mikaela Shiffron.
Information: sierraattahoe.com, squaw.com/us-national-alpine-championship
-- Janet Fullwood