North Tahoe celebrates its Olympians

North Tahoe/Truckee is known as a world renowned tourist destination that is often packed to the gills with visitors. But underneath the weekend crowds are small communities which get pretty dang excited when their hometown kids make it to the Winter Olympics. We coached them on soccer teams or in cross-country ski programs. They went to school with our kids, and perhaps we went to school with their parents. In many ways watching a slew of Tahoe locals competing in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics felt like our own kids made the journey across the world. And while it certainly would have been a bonus if those Tahoe locals came home with medals, that is not what it is about. It’s about them getting a chance to be there…and of course it feels pretty good when an announcer on national TV says, “JC Schoonmaker, from Tahoe City, CA.”

“We have had so much support and love from our community, particularly the Kings Beach Elementary School, North Tahoe Middle School and North Tahoe High School,” said Dana Hurt, whose daughter AJ Hurt competed in the giant slalom and slalom in her first Olympics in Beijing.  “She has been having a lot of fun with all of her friends. She didn’t feel like she did her best skiing, but it has been a great experience,” said Hurt. 

JC Schoonmaker and AJ Hurt part of Tim Hauserman’s Strider Glider class – image: courtesy of Heidi Bushway Verkler

Tahoe has a long history of sending top alpine skiers and snowboarders to the Olympics, this year that included two North Tahoe standouts, Travis Ganong and Bryce Bennett. But for the first time we had a cross-country skier from Tahoe City and another one from Truckee that made their way to the Winter Olympics. JC Schoonmaker was a classmate of AJ Hurt at North Tahoe High School. In fact, this author remembers both of them in the same class he coached in the Strider Glider cross-country ski program about 11 years ago. 

Schoonmaker did quite well at his first Olympics, qualifying for the semi-final in the men’s sprint race and racing to a 9th place finish in the sprint team race. Oh, and to say JC is a Tahoe local is an understatement. HIs great-great grandparents lived in Tahoe City, including Carl Bechdolt, Jr. who was a very successful alpine, cross-country and ski jumper in the 1930s. He might also have made it to the Olympics but he caught polio, and the Olympics were cancelled in both 1940 and 1944 because of World War II.

“I could definitely feel all of the excitement and hype from home when I was over in China,” said Schoonmaker. “Seeing the posters that were put up in town and the support from everyone back home was awesome. It really made me proud to be over there representing the Tahoe Truckee community and be in the company of all the other Olympians who came from our home. For me, a huge part of my motivation in skiing comes from wanting to make my friends, family, and community proud so seeing all of them getting pumped about the Olympics made the whole time over there just a surreal and fun experience,” said Schoonmaker.  

Poster in the middle of Tahoe City – image: Tim Hauserman

Truckee’s Hannah Halvorsen is the oldest of six cross-country skiing siblings, and an amazing story of recovery. Shortly before what she hoped would be her break out winter she was severely injured in December 2019 when she was hit by a car while crossing the street in Anchorage, Alaska. After a lengthy and grueling recovery, she brought herself back up to make the 2022 Olympic Team.  

“What an experience of a lifetime! I was almost nervous going into the games because it has so many expectations. I have been dreaming about this my whole life. How could it possibly hold up to what I have built up in my head for the past 15 years? But it did! It was truly unbelievable. It doesn’t come without the expected stressors of Covid and travel and pressure, but I still felt overwhelmed by all of the magic and overwhelmed with gratitude for all the people who helped me get there,” said Halvorsen. 

The community support comes because these Olympic athletes have been part of this community their whole lives. Long time local Laura Read is married to Doug Read, one of the founders of the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team, the group which goes out in blizzards to save lost skiers. One of its longest serving members is Dirk Schoonmaker, JC’s Dad. 

“Doug and I have known JC since he was born,” said Read. “We live in the same neighborhood as Travis Ganong and his fiance, Canadian Olympic downhiller, Marie-Michele Gagnon. As for Hannah Halvorsen, I bought a pair of Solomon skate skis from her, and think of her every time I ski on them. I’ve seen these athletes working so hard, year-round. All of those people are super kind, super humble people.” 

North Tahoe Community Spirit- image courtesy of Heidi Bushway Verkler

How supportive was the Tahoe community for its Olympic athletes? Sunnyside Lodge near Tahoe City had a watch party when Schoonmaker and Halvorsen were set to race. Between 250-350 people showed up filling the restaurant.  “It was a lot of fun, it felt like we had the whole town over,” said Derrick Morales, Sunnyside’s General Manager.“It’s really cool to be a part of this close knit community. You could really see it the two weeks of the Olympics. This is what makes Tahoe special,” said Morales.  

For Alpine skier Travis Ganong, Beijing was his second Olympics. After returning to Tahoe he was interviewed at Palisades Tahoe by Deidre Fitzpatrick for KCRA News Sacramento. He told her that at the Olympics “I really felt the home town support and love,” but also that he couldn’t wait to come home and ski for fun all the runs he skied as a kid.

Fitzpatrick asked Ganong if he had any words for the young kids from Creekside Charter School that could be heard playing in the background. “I was exactly like them growing up.I remember riding the chairlift as a kid talking to my friends about how we were going to the Olympics.” Ganong said that a crucial part of his making it to the highest level of alpine skiing was “having that mindset, knowing it’s possible for us, that people have done it from here.”

North Tahoe Community Spirit- image courtesy of Heidi Bushway Verkler

While it’s easy to focus on controversy in regards to the Beijing Winter Olympics, lots of Tahoe folks were just ecstatic and proud to see our athletes competing, especially those who were born and raised here. Proud that they earned the honor to make the trip. Proud they are competing with the best in the world, and living out their dreams. 

Tim Hauserman is a nearly life-long resident of North Lake Tahoe. He wrote the official guide to the Tahoe Rim Trail, the recently published 4th edition. He also wrote Monsters in the Woods: Backpacking with Children and writes frequently on a variety of topics. In the winter, he runs the Strider Glider after-school program at Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area. Support Tim’s work in the Ally.

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