Proposed gondola would connect Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows

Local officials have approved a plan to build a 2.2-mile-long base-to-base gondola that will connect the Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows ski resorts just northwest of Tahoe City, California. The new lift would allow skiers to access more than 6,000 acres of skiable terrain at both resorts without having to drive or take a shuttle.

The proposed gondola would have eight passenger cars capable of transporting about 1,400 people per hour between the two ski resorts, according to the Sierra Sun, the local newspaper for Tahoe City. The proposed gondola would start at Squaw Valley and pass over private property and the Granite Chief Wilderness before ending at the Alpine Meadows base area. The ride would take approximately 16 minutes. The current plan is for the gondola to only be open during the winter season.

This rendering shows the proposed base terminal for the California Express Gondola at Squaw Valley Ski Resort. (Rendering courtesy
This rendering shows the proposed base terminal for the California Express Gondola at Squaw Valley Ski Resort. (Rendering courtesy

Improved Skier Experience

The plan includes two base terminals and two mid-stations, according to resort representatives. The base terminal at Squaw Valley will be near the current Red Dog chair lift. There will be a mid-station near the top of KT-22. One the Alpine Meadows side, the base terminal will be just southeast of the Alpine Meadows base lodge, between the Roundhouse Express and Hot Wheels chair lift. The mid-station with be just northwest of The Buttress in the northwest area of Alpine Meadows.

The gondola plan is aimed at improving the skier experience at both resorts, not an attempt to attract more skiers, according to resort officials. Estimates predict about 70 additional skiers per day during an average season, or about 211 additional vehicles on a peak ski day.

Environmentalists and Squaw Valley officials have debated the project for years because approximately 37 towers for the gondola need to be constructed in the Granite Chief Wilderness between the resorts. The Granite Chief Wilderness is a 19,000-acre wilderness area of the Tahoe National Forest that is federally protected by the California Wilderness Act of 1984. Some environmentalists feel the proposed project is a threat to the wilderness.

Years in the Making

Once owned by two different companies, Squaw Valley Ski Resort and Alpine Meadows Ski Resort merged under common management in 2011. The new company, Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, LLC, has been pursuing the connecting gondola project for several years, but needs approval from local land managers, county officials and the Tahoe National Forest. The recent approval by Placer County officials is considered one last crucial steps in the process. The Tahoe National Forest Service has approved a preliminary plan and is currently studying the project’s environmental impacts.

According to the resort, the gondola route that was selected was the most environmentally friendly of the four proposed options because it is the farthest away from the wilderness boundary in the forest. Only about 20 percent of the project would be located on national forest land.

Last spring, eight Gazex avalanche control systems were removed from the proposed project after Alpine Meadows residents expressed concern.

Costs Unknown

For now, Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, LLC, has not yet attached a price tag to the proposed gondola project, and it’s unknown when construction would begin if approved, according to officials.

At Alpine Meadows, the proposed gondola would sit just outside of the base lodge, close to Hot Wheels Express and Meadow Chair lift. Roundhouse Chair and Summit Six Chair will be located just on the other side. Rendering courtesy

Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, LLC, has also submitted an application for a $1 billion plan to improve the Village at Squaw Valley. Submitted in 2016, the 25-year village redevelopment plan would add 850 hotel and condominium units, and a 96-foot-tall Mountain Adventure Camp with an indoor water park. Activist groups have opposed this project, and claim the new project would add more than 3,000 car trips per day on local roads, as well as a number of significant environmental impacts. The activist group – called Sierra Watch – plans to await the Forest Service findings before figuring out its next steps, including further legal action, according to group representatives.

Squaw Valley at a Glance

Host of the 1960 Winter Olympics, Squaw Valley Ski Resort in Olympic Valley, California, offers world-class skiing and snowboarding across six peaks with about 4,000 skiable acres. Because of its high elevation deep in the heart of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Squaw Valley receives close to 40 feet of snow annually, and the resort is often open until mid-May. The ski area presents a variety of challenging terrain, including 170 named trails and three terrain parks. Skiers love the powder, along with the steep and narrow chutes, at Squaw Valley.

The renown ski resort has more than a half-million visitors every winter season, as vacationers flock to the area for excellent skiing and its classic mountain charm. The massive European-style village area has more than 50 retail shops, a number of restaurants, and the popular Olympic Museum. Often referred to as “Squallywood,” the luxury resort offers top-notch lodging, five-star dining, culture, arts and performances that round out a smorgasbord of to-do’s for guests.

Alpine Meadows at a Glance

Alpine Meadows opened in 1961 with three ski lifts as an alternative to Squaw Valley. The original idea was to keep the resort more focused on skiing than big business. Today, Alpine Meadows has modernized considerably, but still retains much of that down-home, mom-and-pop-type resort. Long considered a well-kept secret to California skiers, the resort has grown in popularity since the merger with Squaw Valley in 2011.

The ski area offers more than 100 runs, 13 lifts and more than 2,400 acres. The resort receives about 495 inches of snow annually, offering some of the best off-piste skiing in North America. There are also seven bowls and a number of terrain parks of varying difficulty. Snowboarders, freestyle skiers and adrenaline junkies rave about Alpine Meadows.

Alpine Meadows offers a wide range of lodging options, ranging from luxury to affordable. Vacationers often choose the resort for its great skiing, abundance of outdoor activities for families and children, price point and overall coziness.

Alpine Meadows and Squallywood may have merged in 2011, but each retains its own distinct identity, even today.

Easy Access

The Reno-Tahoe International Airport is about 50 miles from both resorts. Several airlines provide service to the airport, including Alaska Airlines, American, Delta, Frontier, Southwest and United, with nonstop flights from Austin, Boise, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, New York (JFK), Oakland, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and San Jose. 

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