Following the announcement of combined operations between Squaw Valley USA and Alpine Meadows (SQUAW VALLEY / ALPINE MEADOWS “COMBINED OPERATIONS”) the talk around Tahoe has turned to Troy Caldwell’s land, the missing puzzle piece, Whitewolf. Here is a look back at our top story of 2010 “Whitewolf: New Details Emerge” by Seth Lightcap.
Words + Photos by Seth Lightcap
Have you noticed the new lift station out of bounds next to the top station of KT-22?
Might be hard to fathom but that’s not a Squaw Valley installation. It’s the work of White Wolf – a fledgling private ski operation that has spent the last 20 years trying to open up lift access to the craggy valley in between Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows. The story of White Wolf and the epic struggle it’s owners have faced in their bid to open a new Tahoe ski area is a true Sierra fairytale complete with miraculous luck, seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and finally, a bright but uncertain future.
White Wolf is the dream of a former pro freestyle skier and construction contractor named Troy Caldwell. Caldwell has a long history in the region having moved to Tahoe in the late 60’s and been a professional skier for the better part of the 70’s. He skied for the U.S. Freestyle Team and starred in several early ski movies including a legendary segment in Mike Marvin’s 1974 production “Children of the Morning” where Caldwell and fellow mogul star Rocket Bertoli set themselves on fire and hucked off jumps at night.
In 1990 Caldwell discovered the property deal of a lifetime when he and his wife Sue were searching for a place to build a bed and breakfast. Chasing a longshot, Caldwell contacted the Southern Pacific Land Company who owned the property between Squaw and Alpine. As fate would have it, Southern Pacific had been considering selling the property! The only caveat was that whom ever purchased the 460 acre parcel inherited a rental agreement – Squaw Valley USA leased 75 acres of the land including the entire length of the Olympic Lady chair and the top third of KT-22.
Read on for a brief history and exclusive update about the project…
White Wolf’s Troy Caldwell
Rumour has it that when Southern Pacific made the final decision to sell Squaw was offered the property first but declined?! The Caldwell’s ended up buying the land from Southern Pacific for $350,000 and walked away as not only KT-22’s new landlords, but the proud owners of enough land to propose a new interconnecting ski resort butting up boundary to boundary with Squaw and Alpine. The couple named the resort project White Wolf in honor of a large white dog they rescued from a cliff on the property.
Celebrations were short lived around White Wolf however, as Squaw went ballistic upon hearing that they would be paying rent to a ski resort that might one day share KT-22 with them. For the next 15 years Squaw and two neighboring home owner’s associations tried to crush White Wolf with costly legal battles. But the Caldwell’s hung on, battling tooth and nail against much better funded foes in an effort to save their project.
After a handful of lawsuits and a California Supreme Court ruling, White Wolf was granted a conditional use permit by Placer County to install a private chairlift in 2000. The major stipulation of the permit was that the lift could not to be a commercial operation and initially only 25 avalanche and rescue trained skiers could ride the lift each day.
Though their dreams of an interconnecting public resort would have to wait, the Caldwells forged on with plans for a private operation and in late 2004 installed seventeen handbuilt lift towers with the help of community volunteers. The finished lift was slated to be a fixed grip triple chair with a vertical rise of 1,123 ft.
White Wolf had hoped to get the lift spinning soon after the towers were set but once again legal obstacles crippled the project for another three years. It wasn’t until July 2008 that the Caldwell’s reported that they might have the lift finished for the 2009-2010 season.
Seeing that White Wolf had continued to work on the lift but it was definitely not spinning for 09/10, I decided to check in with Mr. Caldwell for an Unofficial update on the project status. We caught up at the base of White Wolf on a greybird January day but that didn’t stop him from discussing a few very colorful new details of his plans…
“We’re plugging away at the project at a Tahoe pace – slow and steady,” started Caldwell. “We backed off from finishing the lift last summer because of the economy. The last thing we want to do is bury ourselves trying to get it off the ground. If the economy starts to look up there is the potential to finish the lift this summer.”
Questioning the legal wranglings of the project, Caldwell chimed back that the feuding and lawsuits had all been put to bed.
“There seems to be a pretty bright future for us now,” Caldwell said. “Everything is in good shape with Alpine and Squaw. We’re actively working on an access plan with Squaw such that both of our operations help each other but don’t get in each others way.”
Asking him how White Wolf and Squaw might share the top of KT-22, Caldwell spilled a few juicy details on the new proposed access plan – a gate system along Oly Road.
“Because of Squaw’s closed boundary policy and us being private property, we needed a unique overlapping access plan,” said Caldwell. “What we have decided upon is a gate system that will allow our guides to access Oly Road through a locked gate behind our chairlift and then enter back into White Wolf using one of ten locked gates that will be installed along the road. Only guides will have keys to the gates so we’ll know to look for trespassers if we see tracks entering our property from outside the gates.”
Pretty interesting to think of gates and fences atop KT eh? But don’t go imagining a new Berlin Wall along Oly Road. Caldwell also said that the fence in between the gates will be unobtrusive and most likely just a rope line.
Fishing into plans beyond the first year of limited operations, I inquired as to the future of guided skiing and other White Wolf developments.
“After our first season of getting things worked out, we hope to run White Wolf a lot like a heli-operation – very small groups with guides,” said Caldwell. “It will be a really unique experience for those that do get the opportunity.”
But the biggest news is what Caldwell said next:
“We are also looking to build a restaurant on top of KT-22 – either where the patrol shack currently sits or built into the backside of the Eagle’s Nest,” said Caldwell.
Somewhat stunned by the restaurant plans, my eyes wandered to the terrain looming above us as we spoke – an uber-rocky playground of closeout cliffbands and jagged chutes with a few open gullies interspersed amongst the gnar. The backside of KT-22 might be the premiere long lines at White Wolf but there was a mini-Silverado lurking along the ridge heading to Alpine.
After shooting a few recon pics, we finished our interview and I rolled on, gazing up at the backside of KT on the way out and contemplating what I just heard. How would this new private resort change the face of Tahoe skiing? Any access to previously untouchable terrain seemed rad, but are we ready for a Tahoe ‘Silverton’ with locked access gates?
Searching for a wise opinion I decided to call Squaw shredmaster Mike Hatchett knowing that he had filmed on White Wolf property for TB3 and 4.
“White Wolf is pretty amazing. It’s really rocky with lots of cliffs and chutes – mostly expert terrain,” said Hatchett. “The access plan will be a tricky scenario though. It’s gonna be tough to please everyone. Hopefully it will be a step closer to the best plan which would be to combine all the resorts and open the terrain to the public with a few permanent closures. But that’s never gonna happen until Caldwell shows it can be done.”
Couldn’t have said it better Mike! Here’s hoping for a Squaw/White Wolf/Alpine combo pass by 2015-2016!