When Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, LLC announced plans for a new base-to-base gondola connecting Squaw and its neighboring resort Alpine Meadows, it was the latest bombshell in a ski industry that's been all about big announcements lately. In Utah a few weeks earlier, Vail Resorts had announced approval for their plans to connect Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons Resort via a gondola, thereby creating the largest ski area in the United States. Indeed, it seems we're living in the age of the mega-resort, where more skiable acreage equates to more skier visits and better revenue for resorts. But in the tight-knit community of Squaw Valley, a place no stranger to controversy, locals and visitors alike are split on whether a gondola from Squaw Valley to Alpine Meadows is a good or bad idea. Curbed Ski breaks down what exactly the proposed plan is, who opposes it, who's in favor, and asks you to weigh in: yay or nay on the Squaw-Alpine Gondola?
The Proposed Plan:
The idea of connecting the two Lake Tahoe ski areas isn't a new one. It was even discussed by one of Squaw's original founders, Wayne Poulsen. But in order to build a base-to-base gondola between Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley Ski Holdings had to reach an agreement with the owner of private land located between the two resorts. Troy Caldwell owns a 460-acre parcel of land known as "White Wolf," and he already leases 75 acres of the land to Squaw Valley. The new high-speed, detachable gondola would travel through this land and over the KT-22 Peak on a 13.5 minute journey with load and unload stations at the peaks of both mountains. According to Squaw Valley, there are currently no plans to allow skiing along the lift route or in the White Wolf terrain.
Squaw Valley says that they plan to try to minimize the overall footprint and visual impacts of the gondola to the adjacent Granite Chief Wilderness. Solutions include minimizing the number of lift towers and eliminating the need to construct access roads. The proposed plan is subject to Placer County and US Forest Service approvals once applications are submitted.
Proponents of the Gondola:
Squaw Valley Ski Holdings believes that a connection between the two ski areas would make it easier for skiers to explore both mountains without needing to travel by car, thus also reducing overall vehicular emissions. The resort's plan has even received support from Olympic skier Julia Mancuso, who penned a rather bland letter about how she's excited about the proposed gondola (read the letter in its entirety, here).
There's no doubt that the ski area believes the gondola will also be a boon to marketing, as the project would (and already has) garnered significant attention. The combined resorts would clock in as one of the largest resorts in North America, with 6,000 acres of world-class terrain. Andy Wirth, president and CEO of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, has argued that the gondola would return Squaw and Alpine back to the glory days of the 1960s-1980s. Some have even questioned whether this isn't a plan to bring the Olympics back to the Tahoe region.
Opponents of the Gondola:
Opposition to the plan has been swift and most of it has centered on its impact on the high alpine environment. In particular, Sierra Watch, a nonprofit based in Nevada City, California is against the development. Concerns include:
The Granite Chief Wilderness Area: The main area of concern is the Granite Chief Wilderness Area. Within the Granite Chief area sits Five Lakes, one of Tahoe's most popular and most trafficked backcountry zones in the summer. Sierra Watch has reported that the gondola will go through the eastern corner of the federally protected Granite Chief Wilderness Area. Andy Wirth disputes this claim and has even gone on a personal attack of Sierra Watch's Executive Director Tom Mooers. At various times, Wirth has said two separate things: 1. That the proposed gondola route does not infringe on the wilderness boundary, and 2. That the land in question is privately owned and therefore does not fall under USFS jurisdiction.
It's important to note that Sierra Watch is not disputing Wirth's second point. Instead, Mooers and company argue that it goes against the intent of the original Wilderness Act to develop on protected land. As he stated in a letter to Unofficial Alpine's Mark Fisher, "The issue we're raising is not one of jurisdiction, it's an issue of values. We value wilderness, and we think that a federal designation of wilderness, as a statement of national commitment to a specific landscape, matters."
Other criticisms of the proposed gondola include:
· Unofficial Alpine has suggested that unloading and loading at the gondola's mid stations will provide access to terrain on Alpine Meadows that is currently hike-to terrain. Many expert skiers would rather access The Buttress or Bernie's Bowl with a hike to preserve snow quality.
· Some have criticized the fact that the gondola won't open up any new terrain.
· Some locals believe that a connection between the two ski areas will ruin each mountain's individual culture.
· Others fear that Alpine Meadows will be overrun by crowds of skiers from Squaw.
Finally, opponents view this latest proposal from Squaw Valley as one more attempt at unsustainable development in Squaw. The issue of a new gondola can't be removed from the larger issues that have plagued the two ski areas for the past few years: the fight over a new base village at Squaw and a grassroots movement to incorporate Squaw Valley into a new town called Olympic Valley.
No matter which side you land on, there's no doubt that the Squaw community seems deeply divided over the proposed gondola. So now we're turning it over to you, Curbediverse:
Have more to say? Let us know in the comments.
· Conservation group opposes Tahoe-area ski resort gondola plan [LA Times]
· Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows [Official Site]
· The Squalpine Gondola Connection: A Community Divided [Unofficial Alpine]
· The Gondola Squawble Continues [Unofficial Alpine]
· Will Squaw Alpine gondola hurt wilderness? [RGJ]
· Squaw Valley Plans Gondola Connecting Alpine Meadows [Curbed Ski]
· The Rise of the Mega-Resort: Is This the Future of Skiing? [Curbed Ski]
· New Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows Ski Pass Tackles Drought [Curbed Ski]
· Inside the High-Dollar Fight to Save California Skiing [Curbed Ski]