RGJ.com brings us this look into the $50 million dollar upgrade to Squaw. – Major change is coming to what is arguably the Sierra’s most famous ski resort.
Squaw Valley USA, acquired in November by the Colorado-based investment firm KSL Capital Partners, is planning a $50 million upgrade to the resort made famous by hosting the 1960 Winter Olympics.Squaw plans $50 million upgradeIt’s doing so, CEO Andy Wirth said, through a novel competitive approach involving three of the world’s best mountain planners.
“In essence, this is basically a bake-off,” Wirth said.
Three companies — Vancouver, Canada-based Ecosign Mountain Planners, Ltd.; International Alpine Design of Avon, Colo., and the Salt Lake City-based SE Group — are designing proposals for $50 million worth of mountain improvements.
On Feb. 1, Wirth and colleagues plan to decide which proposal they like the best and then proceed with improvements to be built over the next three to five years.
Nothing’s off the table. Changes could include renovation of the High Camp lodge, accessed by the resort’s iconic tram, new or relocated ski lifts, regraded ski runs and new restaurants.
“The only thing changing here is everything,” said Wirth, 46. “We want to make sure we have the best of the best. This is an incredible piece of rock on which we operate.”
None of the coming changes will compromise Squaw’s reputation as a “mountain of legend,” with extreme terrain such at KT-22 and the Headwall serving as beacons for adrenaline junkies, Wirth said.
But KSL wants to improve on shortcomings in what’s offered to intermediate and beginning skiers and snowboarders. That’s one of the prime directives given to the planning firms competing for the renovation project, Wirth said.
“We want to significantly broaden the appeal to the family destination skier,” Wirth said. “Right now, we do it very well, but we want to shoot for excellence.”
In addition to the mountain upgrade, KSL is also exploring options for real estate development near the resort’s base. Four companies are competing to lead that effort, with a decision on which will get the job expected late in February.
Wirth wouldn’t say how many new residential units Squaw might want to build, but he said the 9,200 condo and hotel units now existing within a 20-minute drive from the resort are insufficient.
“We need more high-quality lodging here at the base of the mountain. We know that for a fact,” Wirth said.
Expanded real estate development must come with improvement to roads in the area, which are often congested, Wirth said. The area around Squaw was gridlocked with traffic the afternoon of Dec. 30.
Failure to address issues like that, Wirth said, will cause Tahoe-area resorts to lose more business to destination resorts in Colorado and Utah.
KSL — which currently manages seven premier resorts around the country, including Vail Mountain Lodge in Colorado and San Diego’s Hotel Del Coronado — is the ideal company to pursue major changes at Squaw Valley, said Bob Roberts, executive director of the California Ski Industry Association.
“KSL is an operation that can do this. KSL is an operation that understands destination resorts,” Roberts said.
Together with Heavenly Mountain Resort and Northstar-at-Tahoe Resort — now both owned by Vail Resorts — a rejuvenated Squaw Valley could increasingly draw midweek visitors from around the country rather that weekend drive-in customers, Roberts said.
“That’s always been our Achilles heel” for Lake Tahoe resorts, Roberts said. “To do that, you’ve got to have the right kind of destination product.”
Coming changes at Squaw — both on the mountain and in the valley — will be made with environmental protection in mind, Wirth said.
“We’re committed to being very responsible environmental stewards,” Wirth said.
In that regard, Squaw has a sometimes troubled history.
In June 2000, armed agents of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stormed Squaw offices, seizing records regarding what officials at the time described as “egregious” acts against the environment associated with resort improvements. The U.S. Attorney’s Office later dropped charges against the resort.
Squaw frequently tussled with California water quality officials. In 2002, Harold Singer, executive officer of the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, cited “a history we are seeing of noncompliance” at the resort.
Events of the past have no bearing on Squaw’s future, Wirth said.
“What’s happened in the past is indeed in the past,” Wirth said, adding that KSL takes environmental protection “very, very seriously.” – RGJ.com