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.

North Lake Tahoe resorts primed for MLK weekend skiing, snowboarding

Mother Nature helped set up Lake Tahoe resorts perfectly for skiers and snowboarders before the long Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. Northstar, for example, received 18 inches of fresh powder. (Photo courtesy Northstar)

Mother Nature helped set up Lake Tahoe resorts perfectly for skiers and snowboarders before the long Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. Northstar, for example, received 18 inches of fresh powder. (Photo courtesy Northstar California)

Conditions couldn’t be better for skiers and snowboarders in anticipation of the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. North Lake Tahoe ski resorts are reporting more than a foot of new snow in the last 24 hours, while a storm system is headed toward the region late Friday into Saturday morning followed by yet another possible system moving in Sunday.

All resorts are reporting 100 percent open terrain, weather conditions permitting. So far this season the region has received about 19 feet of total snowfall at the upper elevations, sitting at 142 percent above normal according to the Nevada Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Here are the latest 24-hour snow totals at North Lake Tahoe resorts:
Alpine Meadows: 13”
Boreal Mountain Resort: 16”
Diamond Peak: 12”
Donner Ski Ranch: 12”
Granlibakken: 11”
Homewood Mountain Resort: 14” at the summit
Mt. Rose: 13” at the summit
Northstar California: 18”
Soda Springs: 11”
Squaw Valley: 11”
Sugar Bowl / Royal Gorge: 13” at the summit
Tahoe Donner: 12″

Out of the bindings, children and kids at heart have access to sledding hills at North Tahoe Regional Park, Soda Springs Snow Park and also have tubing opportunities at many ski resorts. Information: www.GoTahoeNorth.com/sledding

For last-minute deals at North Lake Tahoe resorts during Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, visit www.GoTahoeNorth.com/deals.

Lake Tahoe ski and snowboard resorts get a fresh coat of white

It's beginning to look a lot like winter at Heavenly Mountain Resort, where Comet Express was covered in snow this morning. (Heavenly Mountain Resort photo)

It’s beginning to look a lot like winter at Heavenly Mountain Resort, where the Comet Express lift area was covered in snow this morning. (Heavenly Mountain Resort photo)

Ski and snowboard resorts in the Lake Tahoe area were greeted this morning by several inches of snow — with more on the way — thanks to the first winter storm of the 2015-16 season.

Up to 7 inches of snow were forecast at the 7,000-foot level, which includes Echo and Donner summits, with a foot or more of fresh powder expected to blanket the mountains at 8,500 feet, according to the National Weather Service in Reno.

Resort operators are noticeably upbeat.

“It’s snowing in Tahoe and the temperatures are dropping so we are putting our legendary snowmaking system to work as we prepare to kick off an extraordinary 2015-16 season,” said Pete Sonntag, chief operating officer at Heavenly Mountain Resort.  “Signs of El Niño are popping up across the Sierra and we’re pulling out all the stops to provide our guests with the best early season snow conditions.”

Several California resorts have announced opening days for the upcoming season, including Mammoth Mountain (Nov. 11), Heavenly and Northstar (Nov. 20), Kirkwood (Nov. 21) and Squaw Valley (Nov. 25).

In addition, resorts are enticing skiers and snowboarders with lift and lodging deals. Among those is the Tahoe Local Pass, which offers access to the runs at Heavely, Northstar and Kirkwood for $519, a discounted price available through Nov. 22. Click here for information.

Squaw Valley sends Siberia Express packing to launch a new lift

Squaw Valley's Siberia Express chairlift will be on its way out during the summer and replaced with a high-speed six-passenger chairlift. (Squaw Valley photo by Scott Sady)

Squaw Valley’s Siberia Express chairlift will be on its way out during the summer and replaced with a high-speed six-passenger chairlift. (Squaw Valley photo by Scott Sady)

The Siberia Express, one of the most popular chairlifts at Squaw Valley, will be undergoing an extensive upgrade during the summer.

Currently a high-speed quad, the Siberia Express will become a high-speed six-passenger chairlift designed to improve reliability, efficiency and operational effectiveness, according to a resort spokesman.

“Our team is committed to continually enhancing the mountain experience at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, and providing our guests with access not only to the best skiing and riding in Tahoe, but to an incredible recreational experience in an iconic destination,” said Andy Wirth, president and CEO of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, LLC, the parent company of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows mountain resorts.

“Upgrading the Siberia Express lift is guaranteed to have a positive impact on the skier experience on the upper mountain at Squaw,” he added. “In addition, the lift has been designed in a way that will improve its ability to operate during inclement weather.”

The chairlift is used primarily by intermediate and advanced level skiers and riders to access Siberia Bowl, Mainline and the Mainline Terrain Park, as well as the sprawling Gold Coast area. The lift will be replaced in its same location during the summer, and will open during the 2015-16 winter season.

Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows to get long-awaited linkage

By Bob Goligoski, Correspondent

The long-awaited linkage of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, two legendary Lake Tahoe area ski resorts, will finally take place, according to a report from Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, LLC, which owns both resorts.,

Andy Wirth, president and CEO of the firm, said that it has reached an agreement with Troy Caldwell, owner of a rugged sliver of land separating the two resorts, which will allow the consolidation of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows.

Under the plan, the two resorts will have a base to base connection via a new, high-speed, detachable gondola.

“This base-to-base gondola,” said Wirth, “will offer our guests the ability to easily explore and experience the unique attributes of these two mountains via a brand new aerial connection, while simultaneously reducing vehicle traffic between them.”

The drive between the two resorts is probably a good 6 to 8 miles. Right now, skiers and riders at Squaw Valley can gaze down a steep mountainside into the base facilities at Alpine Meadows. The new gondola will travel over KT-22 peak at Squaw Valley.

Caldwell’s private land between the two resorts has long been known as “White Wolf.” There are no plans currently being contemplated to allow skiing or riding down the steep terrain along the gondola route on Caldwell’s land.

The planned connection between the resorts will result in a sprawling winter mecca of more than 6,000 skiable acres, making it one of the largest ski areas in North America. The ski complex will boast 42 lifts and 270 runs and trails.

The plan must be approved by Placer County and the U.S. Forest Service.

Completion date of the project will depend on when the applications are submitted and when government approvals are made.

Michael Gross, director of environmental initiatives for the two resorts, said, “The plan will be executed with incredible care and concern for our environment, and with the intention of taking cars off the road, effectively reducing vehicle travel between the two mountains. Skiers and riders will be able to explore both mountains with a single lift ticket or season pass.”

Design elements in the plan call for minimizing the number of lift towers and eliminating the need to construct access roads.

Surprise snowstorm hits Squaw Valley – season extended

By Bob Goligoski, Correspondent

A surprise spring storm has dumped 20 inches of snow on Squaw Valley and prompted the resort to extend its season to April 19, a week later than the previously announced April 12. Resort spokesman Michael Radlick noted that “there is the potential to offer skiing and riding beyond that April 19 date should conditions permit.”

With the new snow, which fell on the upper mountain, the snow depth base is now 45 inches. Squaw has several chairlifts running on the upper mountain with 37 runs open ranging from novice to expert.

Alpine Meadows, which is just over the ridge from Squaw Valley, closed for the season several days ago. It is owned by the same corporation that bought Squaw Valley several years ago.

With the skiing and riding somewhat limited, Squaw has greatly reduced lift ticket prices. Walk-up adult tickets are $59, children pay just $34 and really old skiers and riders (super seniors) get in for $34.

Radlick added that people who have season passes at other Lake Tahoe area resorts “can present their season passes at Squaw Valley and receive a day pass for a discounted rate of $39.”

Some rain is predicted for the April 12 – 17 period in the Bay Area and this easily could result in more snow in the Sierra as the storm sweeps to the east. As an inducement to lure skiers and riders to the slopes, several live music shows will be staged in the village at the base of Squaw Valley during April.

Superb snow at Squaw Valley despite warm temps

By Bob Goligoski, Correspondent

I could have been playing 18 holes along the Pacific. Or biking around the bay. Or just working on a tan at the nearby beach.

But as a dedicated ski writer for 45 years, none of that would work for me. I just had to get to the Sierra to see if we still had a ski season. Recent temperatures in the 60’s on the slopes had left the perception that maybe the season was melting away in February.

It was 64 degrees on Feb 18 when I arrived in Truckee, some 10 miles from Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows. But on my next day at Squaw Valley, it had probably cooled down about five degrees.

I was quite amazed at the scene at Squaw. Some 23 of the 29 lifts were operating and the snow was in superb shape.

Keeping mostly to the north-facing slopes and looking for runs where the trees protected the runs from the sun, I skied for about five hours before I noticed the first signs of soft, slushy spring-like snow. In all that time, I only scraped across one rock.

The next day at Alpine Meadows, 10 of 13 lifts were humming along but a number of runs that I favor were closed because of thin snow cover. There was plenty of skiing, some of the runs had a boiler-plate like surface while others had loose snow or were turning quite soft about noon. There were a few rocks but they were easy to avoid.

Mid-week, walk-up adult lift tickets were $119 at both resorts but Squaw was a much better buy. The two resorts are owned by the same corporation.

Melissa Matheney, public relations coordinator for the resorts, smiled as she looked at the large crowds of skiers and snowboarders. It was a semi-holiday week as there was no school for many children.

“We are still counting on more snow,” she said, “as we get about half of our annual snowfall in February and March. Business has been strong recently and the great weather here is one of our main attractions.”

Unfortunately, Squaw Valley has had to cancel a week of World Cup skicross and snowboardercross races set for March 4 – 8 because of the scarcity of snow. This was the first World Cup-level event scheduled for Squaw Valley since 1969.

The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association Hole Shot NorAm and U.S. Revolution Tour skicross and snowboardcross events planned for March 9 – 13 at Squaw Valley also have been cancelled.

I asked Matheney about the rumors that Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows will be merged into one huge resort with the erection of a lift between the two resorts. She responded that talks are on-going about that possibility “and we hope to make an announcement in the future.”

North Lake Tahoe resorts are decorated in a fresh coat of white

Squaw Valley received nearly 2 feet of snow during the weekend, and the resort has 14 lifts running, accessing 23 runs. (Squaw Valley photo)

Squaw Valley received nearly 2 feet of snow during the weekend, and the resort has 14 lifts running, accessing 23 runs. (Squaw Valley photo)

Thanks, Mother Nature.

A snowy weekend has resulted in a wealth of skiing and snowboarding opportunities at North Lake Tahoe resorts. Seven locations in the area have opened a combined 230-plus runs – with excellent conditions reported on terrain ranging from beginner to expert.

Here are the numbers for each of the resorts:

Alpine Meadows
Storm total: 16 inches
Lifts: 7
Runs: 36

Boreal Mountain Resort
Storm total: 15 inches
Lifts: 4
Runs: 23

Diamond Peak Ski Area
Storm total: 22 inches
Lifts: 5
Runs: 15

Mt. Rose Ski Resort
Storm total: 30 inches
Lifts: 5
Runs: 40

Northstar California Resort
Storm total: 19 inches
Lifts: 13
Runs: 70

Squaw Valley
Storm total: 23 inches
Lifts: 14
Runs: 23

Sugar Bowl Resort
Storm total: 18 inches
Lifts: 3
Runs: 31

For information about snow conditions in North Lake Tahoe visit, www.gotahoenorth.com. For lodging, activity and ski deals, visit www.gotahoenorth.com/cooldeals.

Lake Tahoe resorts score big during the holidays

By Bob Goligoski

Blessed by early December snow storms and sunny bluebird days during the Christmas-New Year’s Day span, Lake Tahoe area resorts saw the biggest holiday crowds in four years.

“The ski resort business in the Sierra over the holiday period was up substantially over last year, and the resorts had more people coming since the holiday season in 2010-2011,” said Bob Roberts, CEO of the California Ski Industry Association.

Cold nighttime temperatures during most of December allowed the resorts to generate plenty of additional snow with snow-making systems that resorts have been expanding in recent years.

A report from Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows corporate headquarters was typical of comments from Sierra resorts. “With all of the early season snow – 110 inches total at 8,000-feet in December – we saw great crowds over the holidays and New Year’s, including locals driving to the resorts and visitors staying in the Village at Squaw Valley,” said Melissa Brouse Matheney, a spokeswoman for Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows. “We were even able to run the aerial tram until 7 p.m. Dec. 27-30 so guests could get some turns in under the lights.”

In years gone by, many Sierra ski resorts collected a third of their annual revenue during the Christmas holiday season. But now, explained Roberts, a resort may generate half of its annual ticket sales with the early season sale of annual lift passes.

Many skiers and riders have discovered that if they only get out on the slopes five or six days a season, that pretty well pays for the price of an annual pass, he added.

All of the 27 ski resorts in the association had enough snow to open for the holiday season.

Squaw Valley opens 3 glades by removing trees

By Bob Goligoski, Correspondent

Squaw Valley has removed more than 5,000 dead or diseased trees from its lower mountain enabling it to open three new glade area for skiers and snowboarders.

About 100 acres of new terrain was added to the slopes with the addition of the three new tree skiing areas – Red Dog Glades, Paris Glades and Heidi’s Glades.

The tree removal project, which employed the use of helicopters to remove the trees, also added a new connector trail off the Champs Elysees run to give skiers and riders easy access into the new glades.

All the new terrain, rated upper-intermediate to expert, is in the Red Dog region of the resort. Access into the area previously had been very limited because of the dense population of standing or fallen trees.

“The current drought and the King Fire bring into sharp focus the issue of forest health and how it affects our community right here in Squaw,” said Peter Bansen, Squaw Valley fire chief.

“Thinning provided valuable benefits by effectively utilizing the available water for the most viable trees and the removal of dead or diseased trees dramatically reduced the risk of fire,” Bransen said.

He added, “While this work was expensive for a private landowner, our community will benefit from Squaw’s investment in fuels reduction and forest health and I commend the company for doing the right thing.”

Most of the trees were processed for timber use and other tree material was chipped for further use at the resort. By using helicopters for the work, there was no need to skid or drag the fallen trees along the ground in sensitive areas, thus minimizing adverse environmental impact.

“Our goal was to return the forested areas in the Red Dog region back to a more natural and healthy state by removing potentially dangerous overgrowth and deadfall. Although the project was costly, it was worth the investment to improve the environment while also improving skiing and riding at the resort,” said Mike Livak, executive vice president of Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows.