It's not unusual to hear a first-time skier at Squaw ask "Where are all the trails?" and it's true that Squaw is unique in the U.S. as it offers wide-open bowl skiing rather than traditional, named ski trails. The vast lift-served acreage is the fifth largest U.S. resort and you are actively encouraged to use the lifts as a reference. Lifts are rated beginner, intermediate and advanced, based on the type of terrain that they access. In that respect, the area offers 25 percent beginner, 45 percent intermediate and 30 percent expert terrain, encompassing 16 open bowls and well over 100 runs. The highest elevation is 9,050 feet (2,758 m) while the lowest elevation is 6,200 feet (1,889 m)-that's a vertical drop of 2,850 feet (868 m).
This ski area is famous for terrain ranging from the tamest to the toughest. The high peaks and bowls are treeless, but lower down much of the terrain is lightly wooded. Skiers and snowboarders will delight in the variety. The steep chutes and dynamic descents of KT-22 (22 kick turns to make it down safely) beckon the wild freeskiers while miles of groomed trails and wide open mountain bowls for cruising cradle the novice. And two beginner areas (one at peak level, one at base level) satisfy all other levels of skier. Mix in long intermediate cruisers, expanded terrain parks, halfpipes and panoramic views of Lake Tahoe, and Squaw Valley is surely a must-visit ski destination.
The more advanced "expert only" skiing is not for adventurous intermediates nor for the foolhardy, who could easily find themselves in serious difficulty (or worse!) with cliffs and potentially fatal falls waiting for the unwary. Just about everything is visible from the lifts, but newcomers wishing to venture into unfamiliar expert sections are well advised to join an Advanced Ski Clinic or find a guide. There's no need for beginners and intermediates to be put off by Squaw's reputations for ski extreme, though: the ski area is well marked with a variety of safety markers including "slow" signs, ropes, bamboo poles and markers that explain a range of the terrain's characteristics. In addition, members of the Ski Patrol regularly ski the mountain to ensure the safety of guests and offer assistance if needed.
Lack of snow is not going to be a problem here, since Squaw has invested over US$8 million over the last decade in its state-of-the-art snowmaking system which enhances natural snow conditions and ensures consistent snow coverage. The artificial snow system includes over 500 snowmaking guns-some fixed, others portable, allowing the snowmaking crew to make snow in areas beyond the normal coverage zones-and it covers some seven miles (11 km) or 10 percent of the mountain's terrain. The season here is exceptionally long (November to end of May) and sometimes the resort is open for 4th of July weekend (two days only) but only when conditions permit
Night skiing is an additional big draw, available on the 3.2-mile (5-km) mountain run and in the Riviera halfpipe and terrain park. Night operations are generally open mid-December through mid-March. Lift access is via the aerial cable car and the Riviera chairlift.
With one of the most advanced lift networks in North America, the layout of Squaw Valley is carefully designed so that there are always two ways to access every area of terrain, cutting down the time that you might wait in line. Squaw has 34 lifts, including a recently modernized 110-passenger cable car and a powerful 28-passenger Funitel-only the fourth of its kind in the world and the only one in North America, replacing the Super Gondola.
Squaw also has one Pulse Gondola, three new high-speed six-pacs (six-passenger detachable lifts), four high-speed quads, one fixed quad, eight triples, ten doubles, three surface and two magic carpets. Put another way, that's a capacity of 49,000 people per hour. Start time is 8:30 am on weekends and holidays, and 9:00 am all other days. Lifts shut at 4:00 pm for regular lifts and 9:00 pm for night operations.
Lift pass prices include all-day tickets with free night skiing at US$58, afternoon from 1:00 pm at US$42, and night skiing (from 4:00-9:00 pm) at $20. If you're over 76 then you go free; 65-75 and 13-15 year-olds pay US$29 (photo ID is generally required for proof of age). Children aged 12 and under ski and ride for only US$5 a day. There's a beginners' lift ticket only available in conjunction with the First Time Beginner Package (available for both skiers and snowboarders), which includes rental equipment, a beginner (limited) lift ticket, and a two-hour beginner lesson for $69. For deal-seekers there is the "Frequent Skier Club Plus," which gives you every fifth day free-you can join the club for US$5.
There are several ticket booths conveniently located at the base of the resort and in the cable car lobby. Tickets are also available for purchase in all Ski Corp rental shops (Ski Rental, Alternative Edge Snowboard Rental and the Far East Rental Center.) Day tickets can be purchased online at www.squawshop.com and they may also be purchased in conjunction with lodgings packages through Squaw Valley Central Reservations.
Busy holidays and some popular weekends are the only times noticeable lines can appear at ticket booths. To alleviate the waiting time for ticket purchasing, Ski Corp will often have a cash-only line that moves significantly faster than lines where credit cards are being used.
In order to maximize your time on the slopes, Squaw Valley has cleverly designed the lift network so that there is often a variety of alternative ways to access each area of terrain. So, when a line begins to form at one lift, you should look around: there is likely to be another lift close by that does not have a wait.
The resort's easiest terrain is located on the resort's upper mountain and is accessed by the aerial cable car. This beginner area features five easy chairlifts in a wide open, gently sloping bowl overlooking Lake Tahoe. Being located on the upper mountain means beginners get the same exciting mountain experience as more advanced skiers and snowboarders: they enjoy the same spectacular panoramic views of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding Sierra as well as feel the freedom and serenity of being high up in the mountains.
The newest beginner area, the Papoose Learning Area is located on the lower mountain at a 6,200-foot (1,890-m) elevation. It offers beginners more terrain as well as a second option when inclement weather and wind affects visibility and operations on the upper mountain. This area features two new pony tows (surface lifts) and is conveniently located adjacent to the Far East Center, complete with a rental store, retail store, lockers, ticket sales and rest rooms.
Squaw Valley's reputation as an expert's playground overshadows the fact that the resort has some excellent blue terrain, much of it with an outstanding views of Lake Tahoe in the distance.
You can test your skills on the upper mountain's Siberia Bowl, considered an advanced intermediate area of terrain. From the Base Area, ride Red Dog and Squaw Creek for some warm-up cruisers. Then begin working your way up the mountain via the Funitel or Squaw One Express to the wide-open bowls of Gold Coast, and move on to the very popular Shirley Lake area.
Look no further than the famous pitches off the KT-22 peak and chairlift for steep terrain, tight chutes and an excellent variety of off-piste skiing. This peak is often referred to as Squaw Valley's crown jewel, and virtually every inch of KT-22's terrain will thrill and challenge even the most seasoned skier and snowboarder. Other advanced terrain includes Headwall, Granite Chief, Broken Arrow and the Silverado Bowl. The toughest skiing includes Moseley's Run, a land of monster bumps and jelly legs; it's the flagship of KT's fleet of double black diamond terrain. Bumps on the steep slope stay cold, hard and gullied into massive mounds, storm-to-storm. If you want to test your endurance, this is it: skiers and snowboarders are confronted by a non-stop 2,000 feet (609 m) vertical descent down the slope's steep fall line that will get the adrenaline pumping. Originally called the West Face (strange, because it doesn't face west at all) it was renamed on February 27, 1998, in recognition of Jonny Moseley's lifelong commitment to Squaw Valley, freestyle skiing and his winning the gold at the Olympics in Nagano.
On a classic Californian bluebird powder day, the line at KT-22 starts forming before the sun rises: the sensation of powering first tracks on the peak's bevy of perfect pitches is truly the experience of a lifetime. Those who don't want to climb into the powder circus KT-22 creates can veer left to the Red Dog chairlift and discover the often overlooked glory found in Poulsen's Gully, or ride the Funitel to the upper mountain where Headwall, Broken Arrow and Granite Chief await. The powder gets skied out fast at Squaw Valley, so powder hounds should plan to get out early to make the most of the experience.
Start from the base area and head straight for KT-22. Considered one of the greatest chairlifts in North America, it rises from the base directly to an expert skiers' paradise. After a few non-stop adventures in powder heaven, move further up the mountain to the bowls, chutes and gullies of Headwall and Cornice II. Then head over to the Broken Arrow peak, where it's easy to drop in and discover some of Squaw's most sought-after and secret pitches and powder stashes.
Incidentally, the resort does not permit out-of-bounds skiing or riding. Nor does it offer "guides"; however, you can sign up for one of Squaw Valley's Advanced Ski Clinics, where instructors offer helpful lessons for improving skills while exploring all the exciting advanced and expert terrain Squaw Valley has to offer. Also, many skiers and snowboarders who want a personal tour opt for a private lesson, where they get some tips, tricks and a personal guide all in one.
While all 4,000 acres (1,619 ha) of Squaw Valley's mountain might be considered one giant terrain fun park, Squaw Valley has three dedicated terrain parks with two halfpipes. Under the Riviera Lift is a terrain park with huge tabletop jumps, a quarterpipe, various rails and a 500-foot (152 m) long halfpipe with 12-inch (30 cm) walls. Between the Gold Coast and Siberia chairlifts is the Mainline Terrain Park and the 400-foot (122 m) Superpipe with 17-inch (43 cm) walls. This area also features tabletops, rails, fun boxes, volcanoes and other features depending on conditions. The Riviera Park is open for both day and night boarding (night operations are 4:00-9:00 pm, weather permitting) and is loaded with a state-of-the-art sound system and a dedicated chairlift. It's all very easy for the boarder to get around, and the vast lift network means not much traversing is necessary.
Whatever your fancy-Mexican, Italian, pizza, sandwiches, salads, wraps, crêpes, soups, hamburgers, deli or full-service breakfast-you'll find it in Squaw Valley. The most popular breakfast is at Mother Barclay's, the juiciest burger is at the Red Dog Bar & Grill, and the best French fries are at the Gordon Biersch Sundeck Tavern.
The Resort at Squaw Creek has an excellent ski-up deck and outdoor BBQ, weather permitting.
The Village is small, with around a dozen or so main buildings, and has the close-knit feel of a quaint European village. It's the ski area that draws visitors though, not the village. The 2001/02 season marked the transformation of Squaw Valley into a true four-season recreation destination, with major new developments by Intrawest. Highlighting the changes was the grand opening of Phase One (of 4) of the much-anticipated 13-acre village, estimated to cost around US$250 million.
Phase One, called First Ascent, brought new slopeside lodgings, shopping and eateries to the resort's base area. It has dramatically changed the face of Squaw Valley by adding three buildings, including 139 mountain-side condominiums, 19 stores and restaurants, and approximately 250 underground parking spaces.
Phase Two of the project, named 22 Station, was completed in 2003. The European-style village includes 640 lodgings units and 80 boutique stores, restaurants and galleries. These have redefined the resort and gone some way in meeting the need for more accommodations within Squaw Valley.
Squaw Valley's 40 restaurants (including delis) range from sit-down to self-service to fast food and vary in price and style from inexpensive and casual to fine dining. If it's the wines you fancy, try the PlumpJack Café. Their selection of hard-to-find Californian wines and extensive wines by the glass program have garnered critical acclaim and a loyal following. The Zenbu Tapas Lounge is the most popular place for Asian food
There are 22 bars to choose from in Squaw Valley, most catering to the 25-35 crowd (and you have to be 21 or over to consume alcohol in California). Children are allowed in bars that also serve food. Bars close at 2:00 am.
The Loft Bar is the old-timer "local" apres-ski hangout and the Red Dog Bar and Grill is a favorite with Squaw Valley employees. Bar One has live music, dancing and pool tables, while the Plaza Bar is the hang out for sports fans, with sporting events on the big-screen TV. For a more intimate apres ski experience, the bar at the PlumpJack Squaw Valley Inn has a cozy fireplace and an excellent selection of wine.
The newest apres-ski spot in the Squaw scene is the Balboa Cafe, featuring tasty appetizers and a variety of beverage options. Look for it to become a hot spot next season. Nearby in Tahoe City, guests enjoy Pete 'n' Peter's, the Naughty Dawg and the Bridgetender. In Truckee, Casa Baeza, O.B.'s Pub & Restaurant and the Tourist Club are popular.
Off the slopes in Squaw Valley, winter fun includes mountain-top ice-skating, snowtubing, shopping and dining-all overlooking Lake Tahoe-and in the spring, swimming at the High Camp Swimming Lagoon & Spa. Only at this resort can you ski or snowboard all morning and relax poolside at over 8,000 feet (2,440 m) looking down over Lake Tahoe. On the lower mountain try the indoor climbing wall, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, sleigh rides and dogsled tours in the Squaw Valley Meadow, or rejuvenate yourself at a number of relaxing health and fitness spas.