Every passionate skier has their favorite resort. It might be driven by proximity, challenge, beauty or even sentimentality (where I skied as a child). Few resort experiences make you doubt your decision like the Squaw Valley experience. Squaw Valley is California’s most illustrious resort and among North America’s most famous ski areas. The skiing experience at Squaw is as rich and varied as any resort in North America. Squaw was literally built for the Winter Olympics. It continues to offer an Olympian experience.
In the late 1950’s, Squaw was a small resort: one chairlift, a couple of rope tows and a small lodge. Luckily the resort was owned by Alexander Cushing, a well-connected visionary who would ultimately help raise over $8 million from the State of California and other Government entities in his pursuit of the 1960 Winter Olympics. Squaw Valley beat out St. Moritz, Switzerland and Innsbruck, Austria and Chamonix, France. Cushing had pitched the Olympic Committee with scaled models of all the infrastructure that would be built for the games. Think about that for a moment. Squaw as a blank canvass with the land and mountain to build a world-class experience. They were targeting the most famous resorts in the European Alps. The elaborate infrastructure included the first Olympic Village built to house athletes, lodging, restaurants, conference facilities and media capabilities. They won the competition and transformed Squaw Valley forever. Walt Disney put on the opening and closing ceremonies. IBM used its newest computers to tabulate real-time scores. Richard Nixon opened the games. Dick Durrance was chief of race for alpine events. It was the first televised winter games. One could argue that it was built to be televised; Squallywood still is.
My GNASA brought me up from Mammoth in early February. I was excited about the skiing Squaw. I hadn’t skied Squaw in over 20 years. My excitement grew when I tracked down a few of my high school friends who had moved to the Lake Tahoe area after college and now skied out of Squaw. One had married a five-time US World Cup Freestyle team member, Jarrod Semmens. Their son Trevor is one of the best freestyle skiers in the US. Check Trevor’s little flip here. They both coach on the Squaw Valley Freestyle and Freeride Team (aka SquawFree).
I had an opportunity to spend a day with them. Way cool. Jarrod and Trevor are part of a long list of exceptional Squaw skiers and boarders. They include Shane McConkey, Johnny Mosely, Travis Ganong, Nate Holland, JT Holmes, Jeremy Jones, Sammy Luebke and Julia Mancuso. They’re not here for the great restaurants either; they’re here for the amazing chutes, bowls, trees and terrain parks.
Trevor Semmens in action.
SqauwFree’s training facilities are on the mountain left of Red Dog as you look up the hill. Stop in, ask for a tour, look at their pictures of legendary skiers on the walls. Make a donation. You just might make a memory of funding the next Olympic Gold Medal or X-Games winner. See their website here.
Expert Skiing at Squaw Valley
There’s more, but if there wasn’t it would be enough. Eagle’s Nest, Nose, Chute 75, Mosley’s, Rock Garden, G.S. Bowl, Tamaras and Heidi’s Glades all rock. Although depending on snow conditions, some a lot more than others.
Squaw Valley has divided their skiing area into zones. Here are the ones known for their expert Terrain.
Squaw is blessed with terrain: steeps, chutes, couloirs, bowls and glades. Check for the Chief. It will take a little time to reach this furthest corner of Squaw, but well worth the journey. You can get there via the Funitel to Gold Coast. Then jump on the Big Blue Express. Take a glade run into Shirley Zone to the bottom and pass the Shirley Lake lift. From here you have access to the Granite Chief chair.
Up top skiers left is Hidden Bowl. Right High Voltage and Granite Alley. If you make the 10-20 minute hike to Granite Chief you reach 9,000 feet and some of the best skiing at Squaw. Travis Ganong calls it a “[D]ifferent world compared to the other zones … so many little secret spots all around … it would take a lifetime to ski all of them.”
Blessed again: steeps, chutes, bowls and glades. This area splits into a near side and far side. The far side features Trail 90, Bailey’s Cirque and Tram Bowl. The near side the infamous Tower 16 area (a short hike from Land Bridge), Broken Arrow and the Far Side.
Makes you want to convert to a Squaw local. Most famous for the Palisades, a series of hair-raising cliffs. But there are also easier wide open black diamond bowls like Siberian and Sun.
This history at Squaw is legendary.
Squaw keeps giving and giving. Tucked in the corner of Squaw at relatively low elevation this area is easily overlooked. But if you like glade skiing and the conditions are right, Red Dog Glades may become your new best tree run.
Snow Hunting at Squaw Valley
This Mountain starts low at 6,200 feet. At this elevation, it rains, and the snow can get heavy and ice up overnight. When conditions are marginal, the solution is to stay high. KT-22 almost always skis well up top. Chute 75 is a snow catcher. On the worst days, you can do laps on this run and salvage your day. The Chief is high and faces the right direction to have good snow most of the year. Runs off the Silverado Chair ski well most of the year.
Insider Tips for Squaw Valley
Squaw Valley NorthFace Mountain Guides
Few resorts offer as varied terrain and conditions as Squaw Valley. Don’t miss terrain, especially on days when things don’t look awesome. Guides are offered here.
Finding Great Snow Without The Guides – Wildflour Baking Company
This mountain is colossal and the combination of elevation (low) and aspect (runs face a wide array of aspects) make finding the best snow a challenge. Your best bet is often the locals and the best place to catch them is at Wildflour Baking Company. It’s run by Susan Lopez and is located on the lower level of Olympic House. A lot of locals will head straight here to avoid the crowds, store their bags and grab breakfast and lunch. This is where you’ll find the locals following Ecclesiastes 9:7 (eat, drink and be merry).
But you’ll find a lot more than locals here. You’ll find some of the best baked goods anywhere; and some of the best scratch made breakfast and lunch foods on the mountain. Buy a bunch of cookies and share these with the locals around you for the low down on the day’s best skiing options.
Crowds at Squaw Valley
Mammoth gets the Southern Californias crowds. Lake Tahoe is where skiers and snowboarders from the Bay area and Sacramento go skiing. Normally, the number of resorts in Tahoe do a good job of keeping crowds dispersed. But when storms close mountains, the crowds at Squaw can be infamous.