Tahoe Nugget #165:
Squaw Valley Love Story
February 14, 2009
They were in love, but not just with each other. It was more of a love triangle, between an intelligent, handsome skier, a stylish, charming debutante, and a beautiful Sierra valley cradled by
Wayne Poulsen and Gladys "Sandy" Kunau first met at the Sun Valley ski resort in Idaho during World War II where Wayne was a ski instructor and Sandy a budding skier.
Poulsen had grown up in Reno, where he was a noted ski champion. During his ski career Wayne made many trips from Reno to Lake Tahoe, which gave him ample time to marvel at the distant mountain peaks
lording over the meadows of Squaw Valley. When Wayne entered Squaw Valley for the first time in 1932, he was only 16 years old. After further exploration, he decided to acquire and develop Squaw Valley as "a
mountain community dedicated to skiing as a way of life."
As a student at the University of Nevada in Reno during the 1930s, Poulsen started the school's first ski team and actively promoted winter sports. Following his graduation, Wayne went on to coach the
University of Nevada team to an undefeated championship season in 1939.
During World War II, Poulsen's exceptional flying ability earned him a position as a lead pilot for Pan American World Airways, a military contractor for the U.S. Armed Forces. His position with Pan Am
kept him based in the San Francisco Bay Area, as opposed to Europe or the South Pacific.
Early in the war Wayne joined his pal Marti Arrougé, a former member on the Nevada ski team, who had landed a temporary job as a ski instructor at Sun Valley, Idaho. While teaching there, Wayne met Sandy
Kunau and they soon fell in love.
In many ways, they seemed an unlikely match. Wayne had grown up in Nevada, exploring the rugged Sierra backcountry, searching for the best locations to develop ski resorts. He was a fearless, talented
skier who pushed the envelope in everything he did. Sandy, however, was raised as a debutante in a world of comfort and privilege. Her family lived in a penthouse at the luxurious Sherry-Netherland Hotel, which
overlooked Central Park in mid-town Manhattan. After high school Sandy entered Smith College, a private women's college in Massachusetts, where she enjoyed weekend ski trips in New England.
Sandy was an avid skier and in December 1941 she took a train to Sun Valley, the first luxury ski resort in the West. Sandy signed up for lessons and that's when she met Wayne. The couple hit it off
right away, spending their days on the slopes and dancing in the Sun Valley Lodge every night until it closed. Wayne told Sandy about Squaw Valley and that he intended to purchase this remote alpine valley tucked
into the Sierra Nevada near Lake Tahoe. He promised that when they got married they would live and raise their family there and build a ski resort.
After their wedding, they moved to Squaw Valley where they spent the first summer in a tent, bathing in the frigid waters of Shirley Canyon and eating fresh trout. The Poulsen's eventually purchased two
surplus army barracks and converted them into a real home that could withstand the severe Sierra winters. It was the first house built in Squaw Valley and survives today as Graham's Restaurant. (A friend of mine
from high school, Rich Trottnow, is the general manager at Grahams.)
In 1948 Wayne accepted Alex Cushing as his business partner to finance the construction of the ski resort, but the relationship didn't work out. Cushing went on to develop the ski resort while the
Poulsen's began a successful career in real estate selling the land they owned there. Sandy was with her husband every step of the way. She birthed eight children and raised them in the pioneer spirit of
independence and accomplishment.
Wayne Paulsen loved Sandy and Squaw Valley, and dedicated his energy to his wife and family, as well as to the beautiful alpine valley they called home. Wayne died in 1995 after a lifetime of impressive
accomplishments in skiing and aviation. Sandy, the "First Lady of Squaw Valley", passed away in 2007.
Sandy once said that, "I grew up in New York, in a penthouse, but I ended up living in a tent in Squaw Valley. Yet I couldn't have been luckier."
After a love affair that lasted 53 years, it's difficult to separate the achievements of the couple. In 2005, the U.S. Board of Geographic Names officially designated a peak in Squaw Valley as "Poulsen
Peak" commemorating Wayne Poulsen, ski pioneer and founder of Squaw Valley.
Wayne and Sandy Poulsen were the heart and soul of Squaw Valley and although they are gone, their legacy is secure.
Photo #1: Squaw Valley in the summertime.
Photo #2: Poulsen (center) captain of the 1937 University of Nevada ski team.
Photo #3: Original Poulsen cabin now Graham's Restaurant.
Poulsen family in early 1960s. Sandy is holding infant Russell.
Photo #5: Poulsen Peak
Photo #6: Sandy and Wayne in 1995.
Photo #7: Poulsen family in 2006. Sandy in center.
Photo #8: Poulsen family
dedicated the land for Squaw Valley Chapel, which was built for the 1960 Winter Olympics. Note modern tram in background.