Spring skiing is in mid-winter form thanks to ‘March madness’ snowstorms

The summit at Sugar Bowl is sporting a base depth of 100 inches, made possible by more than 300 inches of snowfall this winter. (Photo courtesy Sugar Bowl Resort)

The spring ski season is on big time in the Sierra.

Thanks to a “March madness” of epic storms, several ski resorts have extended their closing dates. And those that typically shut down Memorial Day or later – Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, Mammoth Mountain – will be open at least until the late May holiday, weather and snow conditions permitting.

Heavenly is set to close a week later than usual – April 22. Mt. Rose also will stay open later – until April 29 – marking yet another six-month season at the Lake Tahoe resort. Homewood has pushed out its shut down date to April 15.

Other resorts are undecided on a closing day, so check with them before you head up the mountain.

Most Sierra resorts enjoyed a March miracle when 18 to 20 feet of snow blanketed the slopes.

Liesl Hepburn, spokeswoman at Squaw and Alpine, recalled a major dump around March 1 that brought seven feet of snow and a mid-March storm hit with another five feet of white gold.

Sugar Bowl, where nearly 100 runs were still open earlier this week, is another resort continuing to benefit from the late winter/early spring snowfall.

Mike Pierce, director of marketing at Mt. Rose, stressed that “we had an excellent season despite the general vibe that Tahoe had a lean snow start. With a high base elevation and extensive snowmaking, Mt. Rose opened on Oct 27. We also experienced a 40-inch (snow) storm in November when others received rain.”

Kevin Cooper, a senior communications official for Heavenly and Kirkwood, said March had some huge crowds because of all the pent-up demand. There was mostly clear driving on mountain highways which helped resorts attract thousand of skiers and riders during peak holiday periods.

“Our snowmaking systems were absolutely critical this season,” said Hepburn. “While we shut them down earlier in March when ‘Miracle March’ started rearing its head, our snowmaking and grooming teams truly carried the weight for much of the season. We got a lot of comments from guests who noticed the day-to-day additions that our snowmakers were able to make.”

Thea Hardy, communications manager at Sierra-at-Tahoe, added that “we do not yet have a projected closing date. Traditionally, we close in mid/late April. Closing date depends on the longevity of the current snowpack as well as temperatures and changing conditions.”

Northstar, which also benefited from a large snowmaking system, will close April 15.

Many resorts typically have enough snow to stay open longer than they do each season. But when the warm days of spring arrive, many skiers and riders turn their attention to golf, tennis and other pursuits, making it tough for resorts to attract enough guests to turn a profit.

Some of the smaller Sierra resorts, such as Dodge Ridge and China Peak, had a rough time financially this season. Andy Wirth, president and CEO of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal in mid-March stating that Squaw and Alpine revenues were down about 20 percent from a year ago.

Mt. Rose noted that its revenues and crowds for the season were up about four percent from the previous season.

The Nevada resort is wasting no time planning for next season, announcing that the 2018-19 ski and snowboard season will start on Oct. 26, 2018.

Squaw Valley partners with Tesla for a mountain-top power storage system

A new battery storage system will help Squaw Valley take advantage of renewable energy sources to power operations, including running the ski lifts. (Photo courtesy Squaw Valley Ski Resort)

By Bob Goligoski

Squaw Valley plans to team up with Tesla to bring Tesla’s battery technology to the slopes and create a microgrid power storage system. This would create a new way to store surplus energy which would be delivered to the Liberty Utilities grid that serves the North Lake Tahoe region.

The announcement comes on the heels of a recent Squaw Valley Ski Holdings (it owns Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows) revelation that it plans to get all of its electricity from solar and other renewable sources by December 2018. This would make the corporation the first ski operator in the U.S. to power its operations without fossil fuels, according to ski industry sources.

Squaw Valley and next-door neighbor Alpine Meadows, with a total of 42 uphill lifts, are power-hungry creatures. The batteries will come conveniently from the Tesla battery plant, which is about an hour away on the outskirts of Reno.

The battery storage system would be housed in a structure in the upper mountain Gold Coast area at Squaw Valley. It would be owned and operated by Liberty Utilities.

The project is subject to review and approval by the California Public Utilities Commission and Placer County. No date has been set for the start of construction.

“Battery energy storage can facilitate use of renewable energy sources,” said Greg Sorensen, president of Liberty’s west region. “Battery storage can also improve service reliability and help offset purchases from fossil fuel sources during times of high electricity demand, saving money for our customers.”

Hopefully those savings might trickle down to skiers and snowboarders in the form of more stable lift ticket prices.

Andy Wirth, president and COO of Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, said the project “will bring tangible, long-lasting benefits to the power grid that supplies our entire community and the entire Tahoe Truckee region.”

The battery energy storage is designed to kick in should a power shortage hit. It will provide four to six hours of power to the resort and Olympic Valley residents.

Gondola planned to link Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows

A planned gondola would cut the travel time between Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley for skiers and snowboarders, along with reducing the amount of vehicle traffic between the two resorts. (Photo courtesy Alpine Meadows)

By Bob Goligoski

It’s been talked about for years, and now solid plans have been announced to build a 3,000-foot-long gondola linking Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows ski resorts, thus producing what would be the largest ski complex in California with more than 6,000 skiable acres.

KSL Capital Partners., which owns both resorts, is optimistic that it can get the gondola up and running for the 2019-20 ski season pending environmental approvals from county, state and federal agencies. It must also survive possible court challenges from environmental organizations.

The gondola, which would connect the base areas of both resorts, would be named the California Express. The two resorts’ many lifts would take skiers and snowboarders to some 270 marked runs plus the famed open bowls at Squaw and Alpine.

A steep ridge separates the two resorts. About 30 years ago, a local skier and developer – Troy Caldwell – bought a 460-acre parcel of land on the ridge that abuts both resorts.

Caldwell and the two resorts have an agreement under which the gondola would be allowed the cross that private land thus making the linkage possible.

Land that the gondola would sail over is right next to the Granite Chief Wilderness. Sierra Watch, a nonprofit that opposes over-development in North Lake Tahoe, maintains that the project would threaten the value of the wilderness zone.

There are a number of small lakes in the area that are very popular with hikers. Squaw and Alpine note that there are no plans to operate the gondola in the summer and thus lessen the wilderness experience for the hikers.

Eli Ilano, forest supervisor for the Tahoe National Forest, then enters the picture with this update that was provided to the Sacramento Bee. “We’re in the middle of preparing our draft of the environmental impact statement, which we anticipate coming out late this winter or early spring. Depending on comments and appeals, we have the potential to make a decision at some point during 2018 or 2019.”

Right now, it can take 20 to 40 minutes – depending on conditions – to drive from one resort to the other. Andy Wirth, president and COO of Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, noted that the gondola would reduce car and shuttle traffic between the two resorts.

He stressed that the gondola would avoid crossing into the Granite Chief Wilderness boundary. Visual impact of the gondola towers would be minimized by limiting the number and height of the gondola towers.

And no access roads would be needed to cut through the woods as gondola builders would use helicopters and overland crews for construction.

A resort spokeswomen said the cost of the project has not been determined yet as currently “multiple alternatives are being studied.”

Some locals, who happily frequent both resorts, have started calling the new venture “Squawlpine.”

At Mammoth Mountain, winter is making an encore appearance

In a scene that could pass for the middle of winter, this is what Mammoth Mountain looked like this morning near one of the lifts. The resort received 20-26 inches of fresh snow overnight. (Photo courtesy Peter Morning / MMSA)

By Jerry Rice

It’s spring, but someone apparently forgot to tell Mother Nature because about 2 feet of fresh powder fell overnight at Mammoth Mountain – and even more is expected during the next 36 hours.

By the time the storm passes through Saturday evening, according to a National Weather Service forecast, there could be another 2 to 4 feet of snow at the top of the mountain.

So far this season, more than 560 inches of snow has fallen at Mammoth Mountain’s Main Lodge, where the base is 165 inches. At the 11,053-foot summit, the base is 320 inches, the deepest of any resort in the country, according to a spokesman.

Other resorts, including Heavenly, Kirkwood and Squaw Valley in the Lake Tahoe area, have a base of 183 to 247 inches, and in Utah the resort with the most snow is Alta, which was reporting a 124-inch base this morning.

Back at Mammoth, sunny skies were expected to return by Sunday, when highs will reach the upper 30s. The 10-day forecast shows another possibility for snow next Thursday and Friday.

The resort is selling 2017-18 season passes at an early bird rate that allows skiers and snowboarders access to the slopes for the remainder of this season, which is expected to continue at least through July 4.

Snow brings good news and not-so-good news to Sierra ski resorts

Thanks to lots and lots of fresh snow this winter, Mammoth Mountain is expected to be open for skiing and snowboarding through at least the Fourth of July. Other California resorts also are planning to extend winter activities into late spring and early summer. (Photo courtesy Peter Morning/Mammoth Mountain Ski Area)

By Bob Goligoski

It is a “feast or famine” season for many Sierra ski resorts.

The “feast” part is the deluge of snow that has fallen in the first half of this season. As of early February, the Sierra snowpack was the deepest it had been in 22 years for the mid-point of a ski season, according to state officials.

One example: Mt. Rose near Reno. In early February, it reported that its season-to-date snowfall total was 555 inches, breaking its total seasonal average and “putting us on track for one of our snowiest years in history.”

The “famine” part came on some days when skiers and snowboarders could not get to resorts because either they had shut down due to conditions or guests could not get to the slopes because of closed roads or violent storms. One especially vexing period occurred in early February when Highway 50, the main artery connecting the Bay Area and South Lake Tahoe, was closed following a huge landslide, and I-80, the link between the Bay Area and North Lake Tahoe, was mostly shut down at the same time due to another slide.

Two examples: Mt. Rose was closed on nine days prior to Feb. 1 because of storms and road closures. The cross country ski area at Tahoe Donner was shut down for six days during that period “due to heavy snowfall and power outages.”

Michael Reitzell, president of the California Ski Industry Association, said, “Despite all the challenges, most resorts are having a very good year. The Christmas season was quite good and business generally also was strong on Martin Luther King weekend.”

Because of all the snow, he noted that “some resorts likely will stay open later this year. Unless of course, everything drys up.”

That is unlikely, according to several resorts, considering that February-April weather patterns indicate a lot more snow is coming.

“The odds are that we will be open through mid-May. It really depends of demand,” said Mike Pierce, director of marketing at Mt. Rose. “Right now, the storms are continuing to come in, confidence in the Tahoe snow product is high and in great demand.”

Lauren Burke, a spokeswoman for Mammoth Mountain, said, “It looks like we are still  heading into a record-breaking season and will be skiing well into July.”

In mid-February, Mammoth double-checked the snow depth at the 11,000-foot level and concluded that the base depth there was 28 feet at the time.

Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows are two other resorts that typically are open into the summer months after copious amounts of snow fall.

Marcie Bradley, senior communications manager at Northstar, stressed that “January was an incredible snow months and folks were very patient when at some points we had to dig out of 80 inches of snow at one time. All of this bounty has allowed us to open special terrain like White Rabbit and Sawtooth Ridge, which is a huge surprise and delight for our guests.”

Homewood ski area, which is in a somewhat protected area on the west side of Lake Tahoe, was only closed for two days prior to Feb. 1 because of storms and power outages that affected the region.

The return of a big winter to the Sierra has brought to the mountains many winter sports enthusiasts who have not traveled there for some time.

Derek Moore, a spokesman for Tahoe Donner, noted, “We are seeing a lot of new folks taking lessons at both our downhill and cross country resorts. The buzz around all the snow Tahoe has received this year is driving a lot of visitors to the resorts to enjoy great skiing and riding conditions.”

Reitzell was asked if additional profits the ski resorts should tally this season will translate into spending money for new lifts and runs this summer.

“It is possible we may see more capital improvements,” he said. “But the process for these projects often takes two years or more because you usually need approvals from the Forest Service and local agencies.”

North Lake Tahoe is enjoying its snowiest January in decades

Snow totals at Homewood Mountain Resort range from about 3 feet at the base to more than 7 feet at the 8,740-foot summit. (Photo courtesy Homewood Mountain Ski Resort)

Snow totals at Homewood Mountain Resort range from about 3 feet at the base to more than 7 feet at the 8,740-foot summit. (Photo courtesy Homewood Mountain Ski Resort)

North Lake Tahoe ski resorts have experienced an incredible start to 2017 after a week-long snow storm that coated the Sierras with not just inches, but multiple feet of fresh snow. With more than 7 feet of powder reported at Donner Summit, 136 ski lifts and 347 runs open across the North Shore, this is the snowiest January North Lake Tahoe has seen in more than 45 years.

Just in time for National Learn to Ski & Snowboard month, conditions in North Lake Tahoe will remain ideal throughout January. Beginners will enjoy discounted learn-to-ski packages as low as $39 at multiple resorts, complete with lift tickets, lessons and rentals.

Here’s a quick look at the summit snow levels at North Lake Tahoe resorts.

  • Boreal Mountain Resort: 85 inches
  • Diamond Peak: 72 inches
  • Donner Ski Ranch: 72 inches
  • Homewood Mountain Resort: 92 inches
  • Granlibakken: 20 inches
  • Northstar California: 50 inches
  • Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe: 93 inches
  • Squaw Valley | Alpine Meadows: 117 inches
  • Sugar Bowl Resort: 81 inches
  • Royal Gorge: 81 inches
  • Tahoe Donner Downhill Ski Area: 64 inches
  • Tahoe XC: 20 inches

Tahoe Donner Downhill
The First Timer Learn to Ski or Snowboard Month packages are offered Jan. 9-13 and 17-20 for $39. These packages are only for first timers, which include an all-day lift ticket, rental equipment, and a one hour, 45-minute group lesson for anyone ages 7 and older.

Tahoe Donner Cross Country
Discounted private lessons and private lesson packages are offered any midweek, non-holiday day from Jan. 9-31. Two-for-one private lessons and private lesson packages are available any midweek, non-holiday day from Jan. 9-31. For $59, get a friend in on the fun for an hour of private instruction. $89 includes a lesson, day ticket and equipment for two people.

Alpine Meadows
Learn how to ski or snowboard for just $99 at Alpine Meadows any midweek day for ages 13 and older. Package Includes beginner lift tickets, equipment rental (skis, boots, poles or snowboard, boots) and a two hour, 30-minute beginner lesson.

Diamond Peak
For $39 from Jan. 9-13, for ages 7 and older, the Ski and Snowboard School will have Learn to Ski and Burton Learn to Ride packages for $39. The package includes a beginner lift ticket, rental equipment and one-hour 45-minute lesson beginning at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe
All beginner packages include a lift ticket to the dedicated beginner lifts, Flying Jenny, Wizard and Galena, beginner rental equipment (ski or snowboard) good for the entire day and a two-hour group lesson. Package starts at $135. In addition, Mt. Rose offers the Flight Plan Package: a two-consecutive-day lesson with lift tickets, rentals and instruction.

Homewood Mountain Resort
Homewood Mountain Resort’s $59 Learn to Ski & Ride Package offers first-timers a half-day lesson along with all-day equipment rental (helmet not included in package but available at an additional cost) and beginner lift ticket.

Sierra ski resorts mix snow with turkey for Thanksgiving weekend

Sugar Bowl Resort, which has already received more than 6 feet of snow, opened Friday with top-to-bottom skiing and riding. (Photo courtesy Sugar Bowl Resort)

Sugar Bowl Resort, which already has received more than 5 feet of snow, opened Friday with top-to-bottom skiing and riding. (Photo courtesy Sugar Bowl Resort)

By Bob Goligoski

It took a last-minute flurry of minor snow bursts but many of the Sierra ski resorts got their big wish – a Thanksgiving weekend opening. And with long-range forecasts promising off-and-on snow for December, along with temperatures dropping enough to make snow, it looks like the resorts will enjoy a white Christmas.

Mt. Rose and Boreal actually opened a little earlier in mid-November. But turkey weekend was the season debut at Heavenly, Squaw Valley, Sugar Bowl, Northstar, Alpine Meadows and Kirkwood. As usual, Mammoth opened in early November.

Initially, skiers and riders will not find all of their favorite lifts and runs open on their first visit. But more terrain and lifts will be opening all the time so be sure to check with your target resort as to how much of the mountain is open.

Some resorts were luckier than others. Sugar Bowl, perched at the top of Donner Pass, opened with top-to-bottom skiing and riding. Mt. Rose, with the Tahoe region’s highest base elevation at 8,260 feet, had numerous runs open early.

Some later season openings include Homewood on Dec. 9, June Mountain on Dec. 10 and Diamond Peak on Dec. 15.

Thanks to the long drought the Sierra experienced in recent years, many resorts expanded snow-making networks. Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, now under the same ownership, spent $8 million on snow-making equipment over the last six years and then paid out another million to beef up snow-making even more for this season.

Sam Kieckhefer, a spokesman for the two resorts, explained that “snowmaking can occur once air temperatures drop below 39 degrees. However, as relative humidity increases, the ambient temperatures required to make snow decrease.”

The California Ski Industry Association noted that “history suggests a snowy winter ahead. For example, when the Lake Tahoe region receives more than 8 inches of rain in October, the region has above-average snowfall more than 75 percent of the time. More than 19 inches of rain fell on Tahoe in October.”

Squaw Valley gets Placer County approval for billion-dollar expansion

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Placer County’s Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a 25-year, $1 billion Squaw Valley development plan that calls for the construction of condos, shops and restaurants. While die-hard skiers and snowboarders welcomed the 4-1 vote, it also drew the objection of many local residents. (Photo courtesy Squaw Valley)

By Bob Goligoski

They were doing a major victory dance at Squaw Valley on Tuesday night. And why not? Earlier in the day, the Placer County Board of Supervisors had given final approval to the long-waited expansion of Squaw Valley, a project with an estimated cost of up to $1 billion.

Although some local residents and incoming Sen. Kamala Harris opposed the expansion, the board gave it the OK on a 4-1 vote. Harris and others had argued that the project would add to pollution, noise and traffic woes. The Placer County Planning Commission had earlier signed off on the project.

Squaw’s Valley’s approved master plan would in effect turn Squaw into a four-season resort. It is already a prime winter ski resort with more than 170 trails and runs spread out across 3,600 skiable acres.

Under the plan, nearly 1,500 motel rooms, condos, timeshares and retail space in Squaw’s Olympic Valley would be built over the next 25 years. A 90,000-square-foot indoor adventure center and water park will be built.

Andy Wirth, president and CEO of Squaw Valley Holdings, said that 90 percent of the development will happen on existing asphalt parking lots at the base of the mountain that are already zoned for such development.

He stressed that the expansion “will position the resort as a true four-season destination, provide more year-round jobs, off-site affordable workforce housing, tens of million of dollars in other benefits to our local community and assist in stabilizing the North Lake Tahoe economy.”

There is no pending litigation at this time that would potentially block the project.

How soon will construction start? “With the project passed, we will initiate the detailed design work necessary to refine the plan and create buildable plans and begin the search for developers to work within the project design guidelines,” said Liesl Kenney, public relations director at Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows.

It is estimated that $22 million in annual tax revenue will be generated by the project. The money will help fund public services including schools, road improvements, transit services and public safety.

The resort also issued a statement: “In response to community feedback, the Village at Squaw Valley redevelopment plan has been reduced by 50 percent and is now only 38 percent of what is allowable per the Squaw Valley General Plan and land use ordinance.”

It’s been a blockbuster ski, snowboard season for Sierra resorts

Abundant snowfall this winter at Mt. Rose resulted in lots of scenes like this, which was taken on Jan. 15. The resort reported one of its best winters for skier visits in several years. (Photo by Billy Jesberg for Mt. Rose)

Abundant snowfall this winter at Mt. Rose resulted in lots of scenes like this, which was taken on Jan. 15. The resort reported a record year for visitors. (Photo by Billy Jesberg for Mt. Rose)

Bob Goligoski

Frequent snowfalls, early and late snow, well-timed storms, few highway shutdowns and pent-up demand from skiers and snowboarders added up to a blockbuster season for Sierra resorts in California and Nevada.

“We had a fantastic winter,” said Ashley Quadros, marketing content coordinator at Tahoe Donner. “This was the best season in history for both our cross country and alpine areas. Mother Nature was very good to us.”

Most Sierra resorts do not reveal visitor numbers but the California Ski Industry Association predicts that this season will far surpass the long-term average of 6.5 million visits a year at the Sierra resorts.

Association president Michael Reitzell said that the number so far this season is well past the 4.6 million visits recorded last year.

“With a number of resorts open into May, we have a chance at a record year,” he said.

The old record was set during the 2004-05 season when about 8.5 million visits were recorded by the resorts.

“We had great snow all over California,” Reitzell added. “From Shasta and Dodge Ridge to China Peak, Mammoth and the Tahoe resorts, it was a phenomenal season.”

Most of the resorts are closing around mid-April, but Mammoth, Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows and Mt. Rose will be open into May.

“Mammoth hasn’t closed before Memorial Day in 28 years and that streak won’t end this year,” said Tim LeRoy, a resort spokesman. “With a healthy base of 200 inches (at the summit), Mammoth will remain open through at least Memorial Day and likely later. In years with similar snowfall totals, Mammoth has remained open all the way to July 4.”

I was at Northstar in March and noticed that the coverage was amazing. By that time, it had snowed more than 400 inches; as of earlier today, the total exceeded 455 inches.

Communications manager Marcie Bradley noted that “with all this snow, we are having a great season.”

So many riders and skiers had come to Mt. Rose by early April, officials there said that the resort had broken its visitor records.

“We are still enjoying mid-winter conditions on the mountain,” said Mike Pierce, Mt. Rose director of marketing. “The skiing and riding is so great, we’ve decided to extend the season into May (closing May 8), pushing the ski season to over six months and making this the longest season in Mt. Rose’s history.”

Similar comments came from Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, now under the same ownership.

“We will be Tahoe’s longest-running resort this season,” said Liesl Kenney, public relations manager for the two resorts. “And with Squaw’s High Camp hot tub and parties across the mountain, the spring skiing capital will be in full swing. With the closing date scheduled for May 30, conditions permitting, this will be the longest season we have had in the last 10 years.”

While much improved compared with recent years, Sierra resorts did not enjoy a huge snow season. Totals were pretty much close to what was average before 2010, when a multi-year span of skimpy snow seasons started.

Kevin Cooper, senior communications manager for Heavenly and Kirkwood, explained that snow fell in perfect increments, arriving at a rate of 4 to 9 inches at a time. No storm dropped several feet at once, shutting everything down.

“At Tahoe, we had the best snow in the country this season,” he added. “On Christmas Day, we had 24 inches of powder. A lot of people did not get up to the mountains in the last two or three years, so many people were quite excited to get out and ski or snowboard again.”

Sugar Bowl Resort presented a scenic winterscape in mid-January. (Photo courtesy Sugar Bowl Resort)

Sugar Bowl Resort offered a scenic winterscape in mid-January. (Photo courtesy Sugar Bowl Resort)

Kevin Mitchell, general manager at Homewood, said that “the snow continued to pile up all season long and gave us the ability to launch new initiatives including our snow-cat skiing operation and on-mountain drone photography program.”

Peter Avedschmidt, the marketing and sales manager at Sugar Bowl, said that the resort, which is high atop the Donner Pass, “had more powder days than we have had in years. We had high skier counts and this was our best season in the last five years or so.”

The resort caught some of the state’s best snow this winter. As of April 1, some 547 inches had fallen, exceeding the annual average of 500 inches.

Paul Raymore, marketing manager at Diamond Peak, said there is “actually a chance that we’ll break our all-time record of 163,000 skier visits by the time the resort closes.”

Marc Gendron, a spokesman for Bear Valley, noted that “it is the timing of snowfall that is most important, and this season could not have been better. We hit every holiday and most weekends perfectly.”

It was difficult to determine if this winter’s profitable season will result in capital improvements this summer. Most resorts reported that any plans about more lifts or runs had not been finalized.

One spokesperson noted that a big source of spending at many resorts is making snow, but thanks to the generosity of Mother Nature, snow-making equipment was silent much of the season, which added to the bottom line at many resorts.

Planned gondola linking Alpine, Squaw resorts moving closer to reality

There's plenty to love about the skiing at Alpine Meadows, and once the gondola between the resort and Squaw Valley is operating it will open new opportunities for skiers and snowboarders at both resorts. (Photo courtesy Alpine Meadows)

There’s plenty to love about the skiing at Alpine Meadows, and once the gondola between the resort and neighboring Squaw Valley is operating it will open new opportunities for skiers and snowboarders at both resorts. (Photo courtesy Alpine Meadows)

By Bob Goligoski

The long-awaited gondola between Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows has been put on a fast track to completion, with resort officials saying that once construction starts it will take only about 10 months to finish the job.

Work cannot start until the owner of the two resorts – Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, LLC – wins approval from Placer County and the U.S. Forest Service. Applications were submitted to the county and agency, but it is unclear how quickly they will act on the proposed gondola.

I don’t know of any major opposition to the project. It does not appear to be controversial, so I suspect approvals may come quite quickly.

The gondola, which would run between the base areas of both resorts, would entail putting up about 37 lift towers and be some 13,000 feet in length. The land on the Alpine side is covered by a use permit on the Tahoe National Forest while the Squaw part of the ride would glide across lands owned or leased by Squaw Valley Ski Holdings.

No skiing, snowboarding or other on-the-snow activity would be permitted along the gondola route. Standing at the top of Squaw and gazing down into the Alpine base area, one is impressed by the steepness of the terrain going down to the Alpine lifts.

Resort officials pledged to take many steps to reduce the environmental impact of the gondola. The eight-passenger gondola will be operated at a relatively low speed; skiers and riders will have about a 13-minute trip to get from one resort to the other.

A typical high-speed lift transports at least 2,000 people per hour, while initial plans call for the gondola to move 1,400 people an hour. This is being done to minimize the number and height of the lift towers.

The gondola cabins will be removed from the gondola cable each summer to “reduce impacts on the surrounding view shed.”

A Q&A document released recently by the project builders would be of interest to many who frequent the slopes of Alpine and Squaw.

That document states that there are no plans under which the gondola cost would result in any increase in lift ticket prices or season passes. The gondola, it states, “would simply make it easy for skiers and riders to explore both mountains with a single lift ticket or season pass, without needing to travel between the two by car.”

It also notes that guests will be able to disembark at the Saddle mid-station on the Squaw side and then ski or snowboard down to the bottom of Squaw Valley.

Some skiers and riders like the slower pace on the slopes at Alpine Meadows but bemoan the fact that the resort has limited commercial activity. Once it starts operating, they will be able to ride the gondola to the Squaw Valley village and enjoy the 50 to 60 restaurants, bars, shops and art galleries located there.

When the link-up is completed, visitors will have access to 42 lifts and 270 trails spread across more than 6,000 skiable acres.