Since taking over as the new owners of one of the most hallowed ski resorts in the world, KSL has continued to follow up on their many promises to put a new face on Squaw Valley USA. Infrastructure improvements, a new logo, and a historic merger with neighboring Alpine Meadows, these are a few of the highlights KSL has brought to Squaw as the new management. At this point, it’s safe to say they mean business.
Two quick but important points before moving forward:
- This exercise in theorizing is in no way a complaint against KSL, Squaw, or anything else. It’s merely an open reflection based on what has happened since KSL came in (a lot), and extrapolating that back out to the rest of the top ski resorts in the country, almost all of whom have such access, and wondering now, especially with the merger, if KSL might really make it happen. On a personal note, I moved to Tahoe to ski Squaw, even with the old “corp” mentality in play. No changes are necessary in my mind to fix the best resort on the planet, but since so many have come recently, and will foreseeably be coming in the future, therein lies the predicate of this piece.
- The most important point. As soon as one gate is installed and one injury and/or accident happens criticism flies faster than the snow that fell last winter in the Sierra. Skiing is an inherently dangerous sport, and even though Squaw patrollers are the best there are, they can not ensure 100% across the board that an inbounds skier isn’t going to hit a tree at mock speeds, nor can they, KSL, or anyone else be held accountable for mistakes made by others once they go beyond the “controlled” areas of the ski resort.
There’s still a lot of questions to be answered, but the truth of the matter is, I and many others think it’s time Squaw gets with the times and facilitates the ability for users of the resort to be able to have access beyond the boundary line. A quick survey of some of the best ski resorts world-wide is all that is necessary to wonder how/why Squaw maintains an archaic closed boundary policy. In case you don’t know, Squaw is a privately owned entity, meaning they do not work in conjunction with the USFS and have the public land regulations like many others ski resorts do (Alpine Meadows, Sugar Bowl, etc.). That’s part of it, but not all of it.
Look at what happened when the JHAF and Doug Coombs put a little pressure on their resorts management. There was not always backcountry gates to Jackson Hole, and now look at what they’ve got. Again, this is not a complaint letter to KSL, nor is it ignorant of the issues that come with resorts fostering gate access to their clientele, or the dangers of backcountry skiing in general. But it is a few thoughts, building from all the moves KSL has made, steeped in the past looking off to Granite Chief Wilderness knowing great accessible terrain is right there, and now culminating in the fact that with this historic merger Alpine and their amazing sidecountry/backcountry access is owned by the same entity as Squaw. Is it really as far off as it once seemed for this to happen to Squaw?
The addition of the Oregon Trail Gate was a nice touch last year, which clearly speaks to management being fully aware that there is such a demand in the marketplace. Maybe they draw from the way Bridger Bowl has a beacon check point before you hike the ridge, have beacons clinics, etc. in the Village to spread education, and that would be a most appropriate way to get going. Maybe there’s just a gate with a warning like in Jackson. The point is with all that’s happened since KSL jumped aboard why not speculate that this could become a reality? Why not ask them if they would ever put energy behind giving us access outside of Silverado, down to Shirley Canyon, off the backside of the Palisades, why not?
With incremental steps comes great cumulative gain. Perhaps in the future a sign out system with “eyes on” by patrol such as the method employed in Big Sky/Moonlight Basin would allow Tram Face to be fair game? You’ll never know unless you ask, talk to other locals and visitors that would either be for or against such a measure, and see what the power holders actually think. If we can keep Silverado open through the efforts of a grassroots social networking movement, and the merger between Alpine and Squaw can go from rumor to reality with one change in ownership, on a chairlift ride, it seems the possibilities are endless.
Do you know how the recent merger talks between Alpine and Squaw actually took off? According to a piece written by Powder Andy Wirth was riding KT last year with Todd Chapman who’s the CEO of JMA Ventures (the previous owners of Alpine). They talked about the old rumors while riding KT, then posed on each other if they were ones that could actually get it done. Turns out they were. If these guys can sit on a lift and put energy behind such a historic merger to happen, is it really that far off for Squaw to join the rest of the elite ski world and throw in some sidecountry and backcountry gate access? Whitewolf and skiing off the backside of KT (legally) will enter “real” negotiations at some point, soon. Why not look to the rest of the mountain and think about opening up more access with a wealth of terrain that runs as far as the eye can see?
By making this merger between Alpine and Squaw a reality we’re all niave if we think there isn’t going to be energy put towards connecting them, whether it’s with White Wolf or without. Alpine has Twin Peaks to Munchkins as accessible terrain from their boundaries, which to me and many others puts them in a highly regarded category they deserve. Without going too big towards the Squaw to Homewood linkup that’s been brewing for years, or the far-out thoughts of somehow getting Sugar Bowl involved (there’s no reason not to dream, theorize, question what is possible) this seems like a viable way to continue the “improvements to Squaw” as KSL has so eloquently stated in the past year. Doesn’t it?