A red carpet, a high school band, cheerleaders and some 2,000 supporters brought a taste of Sochi, Russia, to a Lake Tahoe ski resort with chants of “USA, USA, USA,” as the community welcomed home three local Olympic competitors.
The jampacked celebration at Sierra-at-Tahoe was the culmination of a sun-soaked party that included a parade that began at South Lake Tahoe High School, where gold medalist Maddie Bowman attended.
Bowman, fellow gold medalist Jamie Anderson and three-time Olympian Hannah Teter were treated like rock stars as the community and their home ski resort embraced them.
An estimated 1,200 people lined the roadway to salute the athletes.
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“Tahoe has always been special to me. Now to be kind of special to Tahoe is pretty awesome,” Bowman said before the parade.
Tahoe resident Connie Hinton came decked in a tinsel red, white and blue wig, and carried a large flag.
“We are so excited for these girls,” Hinton said along the parade route.
The celebration wasn’t the only one to honor returning Olympians. North of the lake, Northstar California Resort held its own daylong celebration for David Wise, who took gold in the men’s halfpipe skiing.
The celebrations will continue at Squaw Valley, which on Friday is scheduled to honor a number of athletes, including four-time Olympian Julia Mancuso, with a parade, video presentation, fireworks and a live band. The resort is hosting the U.S. Alpine Championships from Wednesday through next Sunday.
Area boosters say the region has been particularly fertile for Olympians. Twelve of the 230-member 2014 U.S. Olympic Team have roots in either north or south of the lake.
Teter, who placed fourth in the women’s snowboard halfpipe, is an import, having moved from Vermont shortly after high school and falling in love with the powder.
“I love Tahoe because, for the last 10 years I’ve been competing my butt off and I’ll take a break and ride tons of powder and get super-refreshed,” Teter said.
El Dorado County Supervisor Norma Santiago told the crowd that the county was adopting her.
Bowman, who claimed gold in the women’s ski halfpipe, grew up in the area. Like the others, Bowman talked about the unexpected blessings that come with being an Olympian. She attended two Academy Awards parties in Los Angeles and was thrilled to meet Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill and Ben Affleck. Teter and Anderson both appeared on the night talk show circuit.
Anderson, who took gold in the inaugural women’s slopestyle event, was home-schooled and talked about Sierra being her baby sitter. Anderson said that her favorite part of the Olympics, outside of competing, was the Opening Ceremony.
“The whole experience over in Russia was once in a lifetime,” Anderson said.
The Olympic success experienced by Lake Tahoe-area athletes came in nontraditional ski and snowboard events.
“I think the X Games has a lot to do with it. People train hard for the X Games,” said Stan Batiste, of the Tahoe Museum, about the extreme sports competition.
John Wagnon, director of marketing for Heavenly and Kirkwood resorts, said the California culture has a lot to do with the area athletes’ Olympic success.
As a destination resort, as opposed to resorts catering locals, Heavenly was a little late to the terrain park party, Wagnon said. But they are making up ground, he said. As the celebration took place, Heavenly was busy hosting a slopestyle competition for competitors below Olympic level.