Starr Walton-Hurley | Olympian Steeped in Tahoe Ski Culture

Starr Walton-Hurley skiing at Sugar Bowl in the late 1950s. | Courtesy Donner Summit Historical Society

Starr Walton-Hurley’s ski roots run deep in Tahoe. She was raised on skis and eventually became an Olympian. At age 76, she is still skiing and teaching. For Walton-Hurley, skiing and mountain life is a family affair. Her maternal grandparents built and operated the Soda Springs Hotel and Soda Springs Ski Hill in the 1930s. Her parents Madelyn and Stan built Donner Ski Ranch.

“My mom’s family and brothers Oscar and Herstle Jones were involved with the opening of Sugar Bowl and developed Rainbow Tavern and Nyack Lodge,” she says.

“Skiing is a Zen experience. It’s just you and the mountain. It’s absolutely beautiful. When you wake up in the morning and get first tracks, it’s like going to church with your inner self.”
–Starr Walton-Hurley

Her uncle was considered the first ski instructor in California.

“My grandmother did not ski, but my mother did and won the first medal of the family in the late 30s in cross-country,” she says. “For my family and I, it was our social life.”

Starr Walton-Hurley overlooking Donner Lake. . | Courtesy Starr Walton-Hurley

Walton Hurley was on skis at age 3 and won her first race at age 5. Her father was her ski coach until she made the Olympic team.

Sugar Bowl Ski Resort was her home mountain and she was its first Olympian.

“I was 14 when I won the Silver Belt the first time in 1957 and again in 1960,” she says

She was the youngest person to win the event.

Walton-Hurley has had a storied carrier full of honors. She carried the torch to Squaw Valley during the 1960 Olympics, when she was unable to participate due to a broken foot. Four years later, she competed in the Olympic games at Innsbruck, Austria. She was the top American finisher in the downhill and finished ninth overall in world rankings. In 2002, she carried the Olympic Torch at Squaw Valley for the Winter Games in Salt Lake City and in 2010, she carried the Olympic Torch at Squaw Valley for the 50 Year Olympic Celebration. In 2012, she was inducted into the McClatchy High School Athletic Hall of Fame.

Five-year-old Starr Walton-Hurley on Donner Summit, giving pointers to a much older skier. | Courtesy Starr Walton-Hurley

Hurley continues to ski every year with a group of women called the Olympic Ladies, women she’s been skiing with since the 1950s.

“I am the second youngest at 76,” she says. “I love to ski. I have passion for skiing and got it from my mom and dad.”

As a long-time ski instructor her advice when you get stuck in your head is to say to yourself: “‘I can do this.’ And when you are really afraid, don’t do it. That’s when you tense up and can get hurt. It’s all about you and the hill.”

Starr Walton-Hurley after skiing on July 4 at Squaw Valley. | Courtesy Starr Walton-Hurley

Walton-Hurley has been skiing for 70-plus years. She tells her Olympic Ladies that skiing is like making love to the mountain, start slow, go smooth and go easy.

“Good athletes and teachers need to be able ski with anybody,” she adds.

Hurley cracked her pelvis two years ago, but she’s still out skiing, although a bit more cautiously.

“Skiing is a Zen experience. It’s just you and the mountain. It’s absolutely beautiful. When you wake up in the morning and get first tracks, it’s like going to church with your inner self. You are only in competition with yourself and the mountain,” she says.

She now lives in Sacramento and has a cabin in Soda Springs that was built in the 1920s. She teaches the Women of Winter classes at Squaw Valley when her schedule permits. She is on the board of directors of the Donner Summit Historical Society, sits on the honorary council of New Zealand and represents the U.S. helping New Zealanders living in California and Americans who want to do business in New Zealand. Hurley is also involved with the Sierra Nevada Olympic and Winter Sports Museum, aka SNOW Sports Museum, in Olympic Valley as an advisory board member.

“It’s much needed in our region to keep the history and memorabilia we have in the mountains,” says Walton-Hurley, who believes in giving back to her community.

Walton-Hurley is clearly passionate about skiing and one of the greatest lessons she has learned is to truly keep passion in your heart: “My favorite mountain is the one I am skiing.”