Get a double dose of Tahoe magic at Alpine Meadows & Squaw Valley now these neighbours are one. Individually they were good, together they make a mega resort experience terrain wise, but keep a village feel to stay at. Toss in 11m+ snowfall, a super long season & easy access and you’ve got something special says Owain Price.
Back in the day, when America’s ski resort boom was on, there was a charge to stake out the best options, usually regardless of neighbours or any overall plan – it was a matter of go in hard and beat the opposition to the best locations when you spotted them. On Tahoe’s north side that saw Squaw Valley open in 1949, and come to early fame soon after as host for the 1960 Winter Olympics. One year later Alpine Meadows opened up virtually next door, competition being the American way after all.
Squaw achieved on-going fame thanks to a succession of ski & board rockstars, from Scott Schmidt through Shane McConkey, Kent Kreitler, Johnny Mosely and Jeremy Jones, to name a few, who called it home and put their stamp on a mountain they all loved for the core reason of top end terrain options and plenty of powder. Their movie feats raised the bar for locals, whether wannabees or just core riders, epitomized in the pow day mayhem that happens on the famous KT-22 lift, and the ‘Squallywood’ nickname. KT-22 has been called America’s best ski lift, and since it usually cranks up ahead of lifts to higher areas where avi control is still under way on big storm days (Tahoe gets plenty of those) it’s a lineup for first chairs to see who can nail the cliff drops first before the landings get bombed out. If you do happen to luck in on one of these feeding frenzy days while the locals head to the cliffs just sneak the easier but epic lines wide of them, and enjoy the show riding back up.
The same options rule holds true all over Squaw – there are endless steeps, cliff bands and seriously challenging runs, but all down the middle and around the main upper plateau are wide open groomed sections, some hundreds of metres across dotted with the odd big Sierra pine, which is unusual even in the States, where you don’t often get that width of treeless terrain. So it’s an all standards classic for sure, with the main progression area for beginners to intermediates actually on the upper mountain above the tram station, so everybody gets to take in the view. Tram station is not a worthy description, this is an amazing multi-level complex with outdoor hot pools, restaurants and spa treatments to rival the facilities you get at top European areas.
Squaw’s Dawn Patrol deal lets you ride the tram early for $49, for first shot at fresh or the corduroy if it hasn’t snowed off a handful of lifts for a full hour before the punters are allowed on, and includes a sumptuous buffet breakfast at the tram top station. I did it on a non-pow day and got to ski as fast as I’ve ever skied anywhere on empty groomers off the back of Granite Chief.
Despite the movie fame Squaw’s base village remains small by American standards. Being off the main highway has saved it from the tacky strip development that sprawls along Tahoe’s South Shore and the core village is a private enclave now enjoying a massive injection of funds as part of the joint resort’s ‘Renaissance’ redevelopment plans – over $USD 38 million has already been spent. New restaurants, bars and fire pits were added. It’s compact, with no mega nightlife but a couple of good bars, and staying right there gives you first shot at the goods. The lift network is awesome, built to cope with peak weekend crowds.
Alpine Meadows was founded by keen skiers who saw its potential while skiing at Squaw – they pooled resources and set it up themselves, and it grew steadily to be a firm favourite with families and skiers who appreciated the incredible powder bowl and glade skiing on offer here – 7 alpine bowls, with pitches from mellow to serious, and all slammed with an average snowfall of over 6’ per month from December through March (and a respectable 3’ plus in April and November). In metric we are talking 10m plus a season.
Sure, the vertical is not huge at 1,802’ but the quality makes up for that. Spend a couple of days bombing the backside but in bounds bowls and your legs will be jelly. There’s plenty of variety on the frontside, and great cruising for the kids.
A new mile long park opened last season too, designed by Snow Park Technologies, the crew responsible for X-Games and Dew Tour, raising the bar in a region that’s huge for park, especially in the long spring.
Alpine has never really got on Aussie skiers’ option list to date, presumably because there’s no real resort village as such in the sense of ski in/ski out hotels and the like, just private condos and cabins, and no one ever promoted it.
But now you can stay at Squaw and use the free Squaw/Alpine Express shuttle that’s changing. The Tahoe twins are terrain central, and with easy access, reliable snow, and a long season they’re a great option right through to Easter holidays.
squaw valley alpine meadows [the ticket]
getting there: Reno 74km, to stay Squaw’s village is best, for great value packages e-Australia go to snowcapped.com.au
alpine meadows stats
snowfall 10.2m top lift 2,495m base 1946m vert 549m
terrain 971ha • 35% adv/exp • 40% int • 25% beg lifts 13
squaw valley stats
snow 11.4m top lift 2758m base 1889m vert 869m
terrain 1618ha • 30% adv • 45% int • 25% beg lifts 30