OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. — Initial reaction from local residents, business owners and skiers is mixed regarding a plan announced Monday to connect Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows using a base-to-base gondola.
“I’m totally in favor of the whole thing,” said Michael Pavel, owner of Mtn. Mike Sports in Squaw Valley. “ ... It really denotes that this is going to be the largest ski area in the United States, so it will attract a lot more people, more skiers.”
Meanwhile, Truckee resident Camille Bishop, who skis at Squaw, Alpine and other local ski areas, is unsure how she feels about the resort attracting more people.
“I don’t know how I feel about it bringing extra business to Alpine,” she said. “Alpine has its own feeling. Alpine is different from Squaw. It’s less touristy, and I think (the gondola) would bring a different clientele to the mountain, and I don’t know how I feel about that.”
Yet, both agree linking the mountains could increase user convenience, and they are not alone.
“It will make more terrain easily accessible to locals and tourists alike, and I think that is what its all about at the end of the day,” said Truckee native Marco Sullivan, a four-time winter Olympian and a one-time World Cup winner in alpine skiing. “... There are so many of us who have been loyal to one mountain or the other, and I think its exciting to break down that barrier and enjoy both resorts for all they have to offer.”
However, Robb Gaffney, a local doctor, skier and author of “Squallywood: A Guide to Squaw Valley’s Most Exposed Lines,” said he can envision the linking effort creating barriers.
“For (Squaw Valley Ski Holdings) and the local ski community, the gondola issue will be akin to a married couple fighting over dirty dishes in the sink,” he said. “It’s not as much about the dishes as it is the relationship between the two.”
Meanwhile, JT Holmes, a longtime Squaw Valley skier, BASE jumper and mountain supporter, said he’s “psyched to see this finally happen.”
“It’s long overdue, and I think it will provide a huge service for the Squaw/Alpine community on so many levels,” he said via cellphone Monday evening while en route from Switzerland back to his home in Olympic Valley. “It’s absolutely awesome to see these two mountains connect, and I’m all for it.”
Squaw Valley Ski Holdings announced Monday morning it reached an agreement with Troy Caldwell, owner of the private land dubbed “White Wolf,” located between Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, to aerially connect the two mountains.
“A lot ... have envisioned tying the two ski areas together,” said Squaw Valley resident Eric Poulsen, whose father, Wayne, dreamt of developing the surrounding mountains into a world-class ski resort. “... My father was interested in connecting the two. He had his own plan the way he would have done it, but that was back in the ‘50s.”
Today’s plan to connect the two mountains includes the possibility of a high-speed, detachable gondola that would operate between the base of Squaw Valley and the base of Alpine Meadows, traveling over the KT-22 peak.
There are no plans to allow skiing or other activities along the lift route or on White Wolf terrain.
“Connecting Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows through White Wolf is literally bringing my long-time dream to fruition,” Caldwell said in a statement. “I’ve waited years for this to happen, and (I) am pleased to have reached an agreement with Squaw Valley Ski Holdings to allow skiers and riders to easily move between these two incredible mountains.”
He and Squaw Valley Ski Holdings will work with mountain planners at the SE Group — which recently worked at Lake Tahoe creating a master plan proposal for Diamond Peak Ski Resort in Incline Village — to design and construct the gondola connection, with the aim to minimize the environmental footprint and visual impacts.
To accomplish this, design elements include minimizing the number of lift towers and eliminating the need to construct access roads.
“The plan itself 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,” Michael Gross, director of environmental initiatives for Squaw Valley | Alpine Meadows, said in a statement. “Our guests will no longer have to drive from one mountain to the other to choose where they would like to ski. They will have the ability to simply ride a gondola to experience these two iconic, diverse mountains.”
A project completion date will be subject to Placer County and U.S. Forest Service approvals once applications are submitted.
“We really see the base-to-base gondola connecting Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows as bringing our resort, and even more importantly the entire Lake Tahoe region, back to the place it held in skiers minds back in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s when skiers across North America and the world coveted a trip to our mountains,” Andy Wirth, president and CEO of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, said in a video promoting the gondola.
Sierra Sun freelance reporter Jenny Goldsmith contributed to this report.