What you need to know about the proposed gondola connection at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows

What you need to know about the proposed gondola connection at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows

The idea of connecting Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows isn’t a new one. Talk of fusing the two Lake Tahoe resorts has been circulating among the locals there for decades. The dream began over sixty years ago with one of Squaw’s original founders, Wayne Poulsen. Monday’s agreement between Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, LLC and private landowner Troy Caweldwell shouldn’t come as a huge shock to anyone.

The resorts have been under the same season pass and branded as Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows for awhile. Since Wirth’s 2010 arrival in North Lake Tahoe and the 2011 acquisition of Alpine Meadows, he and Caldwell have been formulating a game plan for the connection. The blueprint circulated around Caldwell’s 460-acre piece of land between the two ski areas, 75 acres of which is leased to Squaw Valley by the longtime local.

Watch: Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows gondola connection.

Thanks to a deal struck in 1990 with the Southern Pacific Railroad, Caldwell is owner to some prime real estate. The land he leases to Squaw Valley includes KT-22, a mountain that Wirth describes as “not just a key part of the Squaw Valley experience, but arguably one of the key epicenters in all of North American big-mountain skiing.”

Prior to 2011, Caldwell underwent heavy legal battles and litigation with Squaw Valley Ski Corp. over disputes on the lease as well as Caldwell’s plan to develop his land into a small ski area dubbed White Wolf Mountain. That all changed when Wirth came to town that year.

“For basically fourteen years there were lawsuits and different negotiations for settlement, and luckily [in 2011] Andy Wirth took the helm at Squaw Valley and we hit it off,” Caldwell tells me on the phone as he drives over Donner Pass. “We knew what we needed to do: connect these areas. It was the best thing for my project, the economy and their company. We shook hands maybe three years ago, said ‘let’s get this done,’ and we did it. The formalities are now taking place.”

Upon arrival at Squaw Valley, Wirth wanted to make it clear to Caldwell, and all parties involved, that he wasn’t planning to go about this issue in the same manner as his predecessors. Prior to the purchase of Alpine Meadows in 2011, Wirth “sat down with Troy and his wife, and made it clear to them well in advance of the closing of the acquisition, that it would be our intent to purchase Alpine Meadows,” he explains. “The next round of conversations centered around, ‘hey what do you think? Can we actually connect these two mountains?’ He immediately embraced it. By that point we were friends and quickly found alignment in the vision of connecting Squaw and Alpine.”

And so began the road to where the proposed connection stands today. The duo toured ski resorts around Colorado, Utah and Wyoming for research on how to successfully complete the project. “We took a look at some other projects that existed in the Mountain West, went on tours and we learned,” Wirth explains. “I showed him certain projects and got his opinions. We shared notes on what we thought worked well and what didn’t.”

The biggest benefit from the connection is obvious: a combined 6,000 acres of world class terrain, accessible via a 13-and-a-half minute gondola ride with load and unload stations situated at the peaks of both mountains, giving skiers more freedom of choice on where to shred.

Meetings ensued. Wirth is glad to say the majority “were up on the mountain, on skis, hiking, trekking around the entire area.” The two came up with ideas and reviewed 28 different scenarios on how they could connect the areas by chairlift, while at the same time keeping business terms surrounding a long term lease in mind. And so came Monday’s announcement of an agreement between the two. “That’s the announcement; it’s that we’ve executed these leasing agreements that allow us to move forward on trying to connect the mountains,” says Wirth. “We’re really prideful that this is a connection of two great mountains that is not being born out of lawyers, vitriolic filings in court and judges’ decisions. This is a connection being born out of a friendship, out of many hours and days spent up in the mountains.”

The next step for the connection development will come this summer, when Squaw Alpine submits its plans to the U.S. Forest Service and Placer County.

While the majority of feedback concerning the development has been positive, this news comes at a time when Squaw Valley is in the midst of a proposed expansion of its base area. The proposal has been met with considerable pushback from the community, and the Squaw Alpine connection has also brought up certain concerns.

Pages: 1 2

Upgrade Your Inbox

Don't waste time seeking out the best skiing content; we'll send it all right to you.