The gondola would make Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows the largest ski area in California.
The gondola would make Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows the largest ski area in California. (Photo: Matt Palmer)

Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows Strike Deal for Gondola Connection

Combined ski areas would create the largest resort in California

The gondola would make Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows the largest ski area in the United States.

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Squaw Valley Ski Holdings announced Monday plans to build a gondola linking the Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows ski areas. Once connected, the combined mega resort near Lake Tahoe would encompass 6,000 acres of skiable terrain, placing it third in the U.S. behind Utah's Powder Mountain and the Canyons/Park City connection in Utah happening this summer.

Squaw Valley purchased Alpine Meadows in December 2011, and since then a lift ticket or season pass at one resort offered access to both. But skiing the two mountains in the same day has required a 15- to 20-minute drive or shuttle ride between the base areas. Though they’re close to one another, roughly 460 acres of private land separates the resorts. The gap, known as White Wolf, is owned by Troy Caldwell, who bought the parcel from the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1990 for $350,000. Squaw leases its celebrated KT-22 peak from Caldwell, and the parties have now reached a deal on running a gondola over White Wolf.

It’s a dream long in the making. Squaw Valley founder Wayne Poulsen wanted to connect the two mountains since he first laid eyes on them in 1932. And it’s been Caldwell’s goal to have White Wolf serve as a path between the two, though the road to an agreement hasn’t always been smooth. He told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2008 that Squaw Valley filed a lawsuit against him in county court once he started building a chairlift on his property.

Relations have improved since then. Caldwell told Outside that he and Squaw Valley Ski Holdings CEO Andy Wirth shook hands on a deal four years ago, soon after Wirth took the helm. 

“This is not a connection of two mountains that has come about from some court action,” Wirth told Outside. “This has been two folks working together and sharing the same vision.”

The gondola will stretch about two miles along the edge of Caldwell’s property, between the Squaw and Alpine base areas. “It roughly cuts the time in half going from base to base,” Caldwell said. It will also cut down on traffic on the road that leads from Squaw to Alpine. Wirth says he anticipates that they’ll be able to scale back the shuttle service as well. 

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge. (Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows)

Squaw Valley is well into the planning of the gondola, but the completion date depends on Placer County and U.S. Forest Service approval of applications. There are no plans yet to open White Wolf to skiers or snowboarders from Squaw or Alpine.

“We looked at so many different scenarios as to how to most effectively connect the mountains,” Wirth said. “We think we’ve achieved that.”

Once it’s completed, the gondola will make Squaw/Alpine the third largest ski resort in the States, behind only Powder Mountain's 7,000 acres and Park City/Canyons. “Acre-for-acre, turn-for-turn, these 6,000 acres are only rivaled by Whistler,” Wirth says, referring to the 8,171-acre resort in British Columbia.

The announcement comes on the heels of the news that Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows will compensate season pass holders for unused days during the 2015/16 season. 

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Lead Photo: Matt Palmer