DESTINATIONS: SQUAW VALLEY
WRITTEN AND PHOTOGRAPHED BY: Matt Harvey
Squaw is the place that dreams are made of, a place where no-name, gaper-looking fools huck quadruple-overhead cliffs, stomp it, and straight line for the lift. Itâ€™s a place where dozens of skiers paying $74/day wonâ€™t hesitate to hang out on the hill, waiting for a crazed skier like Mike Wilson to double backflip off a 60-footer. And itâ€™s a place where people ski so hard and so fast to be first off a cliff on a pow day, Mario Andretti would let them pass.
I grew up drooling of the time I would ride KT-22 on a powder day, with all that deep snow ready to be throttled under my feet, to ski with those who made Squaw legend, and to be guided by those who carry their legacy.
Iâ€™m ashamed to admit that the spring of 2009 was the first time I ever experienced Squallywood firsthand. I had just returned from a powder-fi lled trip toCanada, and wanted to continue down that road. It was Squaw or bust.
The first thing I did after booking my flight to Reno was call my good buddy, Electric and Skullcandy Team Manager, Jimbo Morgan. Jimbo IS Squaw. Heâ€™s been a local for so long, he has the biggest locker area in the most coveted area for lockers in town, the private tuning shop near the Olympic House. And he knows everybody.
I arrived at Squaw in the shittiest rental car with the shittiest tires in the midst of a dumping storm. My car parked itself in the lot (I got stuck in the middle of the road), so I dumped it there and, per Jimboâ€™s recommendation, headed for Le Chamois, the aprÃ¨s bar where Iâ€™d find myself at every moment I wasnâ€™tskiing. There, I met the bar manager, Junior, who promptly signed me up for a Nascar pool. I wasnâ€™t skiing, and promptly headed to the Dubliner to put down my new $150 to celebrate Mike Wilsonâ€™s birthday. Iâ€™ll admit it was a shameless ploy to get myself â€œinâ€ with the top dogs at Squaw. The jury is still out on its effectiveness.
Snow dropped at a rate apparently common in Tahoe â€” though bewildering by Colorado standards â€” for the first three days of my trip. In all, about four feet fell in those three days. Jimbo showed me the ropes around town, explained the nuances of the War of Two Cities (one part of the village is owned by Squaw, one part by Intrawest, and there is no logical connect between the two), and shared with me some of his coveted powder stashes. Shortly thereafter, while Jimbo took over parenting duties from his wife, I met up with Michelle Parker, Ingrid Backstrom, JT Holmes and Mike Wilson, who took me over every inch of the mountain, told me of the history, and did their best to present to me the best things Squaw has to offer.
The cool thing about these shredsters is not just that theyâ€™re the current talent that makes Squaw what it is today, but how stoked they were to show a Canadian Joey with a 40-pound camera bag like me around the mountain all week. We started on the Funitel, spun down the Headwall, and took countless laps on KT-22, the lift of all lifts. KT is sustained steep from top to bottom, and the one lift services an unreal amount of terrain. But what really makes KT so ridiculous are â€œthe Fingers.â€ Located in plain view of the lift line, directly under the chair, the Fingers are a collection of chutes and cliffs â€” some small, some big â€” that are constantly going off on a powder day. From unassuming locals to the big dogs, pow days will see a constant stream of talented skiers sending the Fingers until the powder is all dried up (and for the gapers, long after the pow turns to hardpack). It really encompasses the entire Squaw mentality of, â€œHit the big stuff when itâ€™s good, hit it hard, hit it fast, and then hit it again.”
On the fourth day of the trip, the clouds parted and it was time for the famous Squallywood scene to truly come to life. It was like picking up a rock and watching a thousand ants scatter in a frenzy. We got early ups to the top of the legendary cliff band, the Palisades, where Ingrid and Michelle pointed it down a line that I skied around, and Mike Wilson backflipped a 50-footer. It was ridiculous, and it was just the beginning. We worked our way down the mountain snapping photos here and there in the sun-lit pow, while hordes of tourists stood around and watched. The whole mountain was alive with an unprecedented amount of talent. I felt very small in the ski world, and quite honestly, in awe of the skill level of your everyday Squaw local.
After that last day of unreal skiing, I spent a couple hours digging my car out from under the storm and swerved my way out of Squaw Valley USA. Other than, â€œHoly shit this rental car sucks,â€ all I could think about was coming back as soon as possible, linking up with Jimbo and the crew, and tasting some more of this true skierâ€™s paradise. Hell, it might even be worth moving here.