Squaw Valley is one of those mountains.
I wanted to go to Squaw, because I’m an Olympic junkie. Squaw Valley was on my list as an Olympic mountain.
For my boys, the draw was completely different. They’re all about the SquallyWood factor. Squaw Valley is a mountain they’ve seen a thousand times on ski DVDs. They’ve watched the best pros in the world rip amazing lines off of KT-22. They’ve studied the lines and they wanted to see ‘em and ski ‘em.
Between Olympians and Pros: A Mountain For the Rest of Us
It’s a tall order being one of North America’s most famous and extreme mountains. Or, as it’s put in Squallywood, “the greatest place in the world to ride a chairlift.”
And while the extreme features of the resort are well-known, what does Squaw Valley have to offer the rest of us, regular families?
Good question. Here are four answers.
1. A Mountain Top Base.
It isn’t really the “base,” but High Camp is the heart of the mountain. It’s a perfect set up for families, especially those with diverse skills.
First thing in the morning, everyone can take the tram to High Camp, enjoying the views of Lake Tahoe and the impossibly steep, rocky slopes underneath the tram line. The ride itself is beautiful and worthy of lots of pictures.
At High Camp, kids and adults can head off to ski school or explore the mountain independently.
Beginning skiers will find plenty of fun, wide open, gentle slopes, which gradually increase in difficulty the higher you ride on one of five nearby chairlifts. This is also the area in which you’ll find the terrain park and half-pipe, providing aspiring park rats with inspiration for the future.
Above the meadow, there are blue groomed runs and moguls from the top of the Siberia Express, as well as the advanced lines of Siberia Bowl, with the experts-only Palisades above that. The Emigrant lift takes you up Monument Ridge, with intermediate choices on the front side and black lines dropping down onto the intermediate slopes of Shirley Lake.
From this one spot on the mountain, everyone in the family can find something fun and appropriate to ski. The more skilled skiers and riders can explore the peaks and rotate back to High Camp in time for lunch, a hot tub and swim (more about that later!) or a day ending ride back down the tram. And as everyone’s skills grow, there are more and more difficult lines to try.
2. You’ll Never Max Out At Squaw Valley.
There are a lot of great mountains out there, but what makes Squaw Valley unique is the combination of mountain-top beginner terrain and the full progression through blue and black runs, to completely insane lines. No matter how good you get, there is always another challenge.
So where do the expert skiers go? KT-22 is the holy grail for steep and deep lines. The KT-22 express lift rises straight out of the base village and zips over a famously rocky band of granite, known as The Fingers. From the top of KT-22, you’ve got your choice of chutes, bowls, trees and cliffs. The one groomed run, Women’s Downhill, is steep, fast and when we were there in Spring, sporting authentically icy race conditions.
Working around the sun-drenched spring snow, we found some soft lines off of KT-22 in a northeast facing bowl named for Olympian Tamara McKinney, as well as the northwest-facing Chute 75 and Moseley’s, named for (you guessed it!) Olympian Jonny Moseley.
(Until just a few of years ago, Squaw Valley didn’t name it’s runs. The lifts had names and were rated by difficulty. I am told by long-time Squaw skiers that no one in the know calls the runs by their names. However, since I’m not a long-time Squaw skier, I’m sticking with the names at the top of each run.)
Milestone destinations on other parts of the mountain include the wide open steep, yet forgiving, Headwall and North Bowl, as well as the short tree and cliff shots off of Granite Chief.
3. But What’s in the Middle?
If High Camp is outstanding for beginners and much of the rest of the mountain beckons experts, where do the intermediates go?
In addition to Siberia and Shirley Lake, intermediate skiers might want to check out the Red Dog lift across the parking lot from the Village. We didn’t make it there, but Red Dog goes to the top of Snow King Peak and has some long winding blues back down, as well as more advanced tree shots and a second children’s learning area.
Intermediates also go to Alpine Meadows Resort, Squaw Valley’s sister resort since 2011.
According to resort representative Amelia Richmond, “Squaw Valley is great for families, but Alpine Meadows fills in the gaps.”
Forty percent of the runs at Alpine are rated intermediate.
While only a small valley separates the two resorts, you can’t easily ski between them, but there is a free shuttle. Amelia tells me the pluses for families include close-in free parking, and a centralized base lodge, and of course, lots of fun terrain.
With the exception of the Sherwood Lift, which serves an expanse of broad, treeless bowls on the backside of Alpine, all runs funnel back to the base, making the resort a safe and easy place to turn the kids loose. Alpine Meadows also has its own ski school, plenty of easy slopes and, for those seeking challenges, line after line of hike-to and traverse-to advanced and expert terrain.
4. Extra Fun at High Camp and Beyond.
While the focus at Squaw Valley is definitely on skiing and riding, there are some unique “extras” on the mountain. At High Camp, you’ll find the free 1960 Olympic Museum, which is worth a visit.
And then, there’s the outdoor High Camp Pool and Hot Tub. Admission includes a towel and locker, so all you need is a swim suit. The pool and hot tub close at 4:00, but if you want to ski down, you need to start before then. Otherwise, you’re taking the tram.
Other family friendly attractions include outdoor ice skating at High Camp, and mini snowmobiles, tubing and night skiing elsewhere on the mountain, all of which are available as conditions permit.
When You Go…
We stayed in the Village at Squaw Valley and loved the convenience of walking quickly to the Gold Coast Funitel (a cross between a tram and a gondola) to get up the mountain.
We ate dinner at different restaurants each evening, and they were all good (Auld Dubliner Irish Pub and Restaurant, Twenty-Two Bistro and Fireside Pizza).
Had we been a bit more curious, we would have explored the Village until we found Alice’s Mountain Market, where we could have purchased groceries and more.
For breakfast and lunch we stuck to Wildflour Baking Company in the Olympic “O” House.
Former Squaw local and Olympian Edie Thys Morgan tipped us off to a nifty deal – the Wildflour Cookie Pass. For $90 we got 50 punches which gave us discounts on everything we ate, from oatmeal with dark chocolate and walnuts to pizza bagels and tamales. By the way, if you win an Olympic Gold Medal, you get a lifetime cookie pass.
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