Alterra Mountain Company yesterday (4/12/21) confirmed that the long-anticipated Squaw Valley to Alpine Meadows gondola would go ahead this summer. Connecting the two resorts will create the third-largest ski resort in North America and the second in the US (depending on how you work it out), behind Whistler Blackcomb, BC, and Park City, UT.
There has been talk of a gondola connecting the two bases ever since the two resorts, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, merged in 2012. A blog post on the Squaw Alpine website offers more details on this $66-million project:
Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows is preparing for the construction of the base-to-base gondola connecting the two areas. This is a tremendously complex project, with four terminals spanning two ski areas, and our team will continue to work closely with Leitner-Poma on the planning and construction.
Will There Be Any Construction Impacts to Ski Operations?
Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows plans to operate skiing and riding as conditions permit. We currently anticipate operating until the end of May, but much will depend on weather and snow conditions. Should there be any construction impacts to operations, we will communicate with skiers and riders about potential impacts that affect the spring season.
How Long Will Construction Take/When Will the Gondola Open?
Construction timelines and opening date are dependent on weather, conditions, and logistics.
Where Will the Gondola Go?
The gondola will transport guests between The Village at Squaw Valley and the Alpine Meadows Base area. Guests will also have the option to disembark at the KT-22 mid station.
Does the Gondola Provide Access to KT-22?
Yes, the gondola will add lift access to the top of the KT ridge at Squaw Valley from either base area, at the rate of 1,400 people per hour. KT-22 lift has an hourly capacity of 2,100.
Will It Be Possible to Ski Between Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows Once the Gondola Is Installed?
No, the terrain at the two areas is not contiguous, and installation of the gondola will not open additional skiable terrain. Skiers and riders will be able to use the gondola to travel between the two mountains in about 16 minutes, instead of getting in their cars.
Will the Gondola Installation Result in the Addition of New Terrain Access Between the Two Mountains?
The gondola will not add new terrain to the resort. Terrain that will be connected by the gondola is not contiguous.
What Is the Hourly Capacity of the Gondola?
The gondola will have the capacity to transport 1,400 people per hour in 8-passenger cabins.
How Long Will It Take to Get Between the Two Mountains on the Gondola?
The gondola ride is anticipated to take 16 minutes.
When Will the Gondola Operate?
The gondola will operate during the winter season only, as late as April 30, when both Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows are open.
The Placer County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the “Base-to-Base” Gondola from Squaw Valley to Alpine Meadows, CA, with a mid-station in the White Wolf property/mini ski resort in North Lake Tahoe, California, in July 2019.
“After successfully obtaining preliminary approval from the Tahoe National Forest earlier this year, the unanimous approval by the Placer County Board of Supervisors represents one of the last crucial steps towards connecting Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows. This base-to-base gondola connection will tremendously enhance the skier experience, uniting our 6,000 acres of terrain without the need for a car. Moreover, the chosen alignment arrived at through this long and detailed process is the most environmentally favorable plan. I’d like to thank all of the staff of the many agencies involved in the comprehensive study and review of this project – their tireless effort ensured that the best possible project moved forward. I’d also like to thank the thousands of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows skiers and riders who signed petitions in support.”
– Ron Cohen, President and COO, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows.
While the Placer County Board of Supervisors did approve the project at their board meeting in King Beach, the project was still pending approval from USFS. In February 2020, the plan gained USFS approval. The resort reached an agreement with the Granite Chief Wilderness Protection League to dismiss the League’s lawsuit against the base-to-base gondola planned to connect Squaw Valley & Alpine Meadows. The Sierra Nevada Yellow-Legged Frog habitat is to be protected.
Gondola Update: The Placer County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved Alterra’s proposed gondola from Squaw to Alpine, with a mid-station on the White Wolf property in between.” – Keep Squaw True, July 25, 2019
The “Base-to-Base” Gondola will be called the California Express Gondola.
The California Express Gondola will go from near the base of KT-22 at Squaw Valley to White Wolf (mid-station) then to the base area of Alpine Meadows.
“Under Alternative 4, the lift would still be configured as an eight-passenger gondola and would have a design capacity of approximately 1,400 persons per hour in each direction. Operational characteristics would be as described for Alternative 2. In total, the lift would be roughly 11,700 feet in length (based on plan length), of which approximately 2,300 feet (20 percent) would be sited on NFS lands, including the Alpine Meadows base terminal. A total of 33 towers would be installed along the gondola alignment under Alternative 4, with 28 on private land and five on NFS lands.”
– Placer County Final Environmental Impact Report: Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows Base-to-Base Gondola Project
The full timeline for the California Express Gondola’s construction is currently unknown.
In April of 2019, Placer County and the US Forest Service released its final Environmental Impact Report for Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows base-to-base gondola that would connect the two resorts.
Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows’s proposed route, Alternative 2, along the Sierra Nevada crest and through land designated to be part of Granite Chief Wilderness was rejected.
They instead chose ‘Alternative 4’ – the eastern-most route under consideration and the route most distant from designated wilderness lands.
This was considered a substantial conservation victory by Sierra Watch who have been campaigning for years against Alterra developing land that Congress designated to be part of Granite Chief Wilderness back in 1984.
SQUAW-ALPINE BASE-TO-BASE GONDOLA UPDATE:
- 8-passenger gondola
- Large spaces between cars
- 1,400 persons per hour (half the rate of a typical six-pack chairlift)
- From Squaw Valley base to Alpine Meadows base
- Squaw segment would allow skiers to exit at the top of KT or continue to Alpine Meadows
- Squaw segment could operate when wind closes upper mountain, which would alleviate KT and Red Dog lift lines even if the gondola can’t continue to Alpine Meadows.
- A new Red Dog lift is planned but can’t be installed until the final alignment of the gondola is finalized
- NO ACCESS will be allowed into the White Wolf ski area (the zone between Squaw & Alpine)
BASE-TO-BASE GONDOLA FAQ:
What is the purpose of the Base-to-Base Gondola?
The Base-to-Base Gondola is intended to connect Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley so that skiers can take advantage of the offerings and terrain at both mountains without traveling by vehicle between the two areas.
What are the project benefits?
The proposed gondola would provide an exciting new dimension for guests at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows with convenient and scenic lift service between the two mountains, offering access to terrain for all ability levels at both mountains. The Gondola will allow Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows Ski & Snowboard School programs to utilize both mountains on the same day, enhancing the product offering for guests.
Based on a survey and other data, it is estimated that the proposed Gondola could reduce daily traffic volumes by approximately 100 vehicles along Highway 89 (between Squaw and Alpine) and Squaw Valley Road.
Where will it be located?
The project site is located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Placer County. The Gondola would extend from Alpine Meadows Ski Area’s base to the base of Squaw Valley Resort. The project within Alpine Meadows would be located at Alpine Meadows Ski Area, which operates under a Special Use Permit on the Tahoe National Forest. The project will be subject to review and permitting under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The gondola on the Squaw Valley side would be located on private lands owned or leased by Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, including land owned by Troy Caldwell, with whom Squaw Valley has arranged an agreement to operate the gondola in the winter months.
Will the Base-to-Base Gondola be located in a wilderness area?
No, the Base-to-Base Gondola will be located on an area leased or owned by Squaw Valley Ski Holdings.
When is the estimated completion planned, and when will the gondola open to the public?
Construction will begin this summer. Timelines and opening date are dependent on weather, conditions, and logistics.
Where will the four gondola terminals be located?
The Squaw Valley base terminal will be located near the base of the existing Red Dog chairlift. The Red Dog will chair base terminal will be moved just southeast near Red Wolf Lodge. A mid-station will be located on Saddle run near the existing KT-22 ridge patrol shack, and a second mid-station will be located on the White Wolf property in Alpine Meadows. The Alpine Meadows base station will be located southeast of the Alpine Meadows base lodge.
What kind of access will guests have from the four gondola terminals?
Guests will be able to load and unload at the Squaw Valley base terminal, the KT-22 ridge terminal, and the Alpine Meadows base terminal. Guests disembarking at the Saddle mid-station near the KT-22 Express top terminal on the Squaw Valley side will be able to ski or snowboard down to Squaw Valley.
Will the Base-to-Base Gondola operate year-round?
No, it will only operate during ski and snowboard season. The gondola cabins will be removed from the gondola cable after it closes operations for the season to reduce impacts on the surrounding viewshed.
What is the official name for the Base-to-Base Gondola?
Will lift tickets and/or season pass prices increase?
There are no plans to increase prices based on this access. The gondola would make it easy for skiers and riders to explore both mountains with a single lift ticket or season pass without needing to travel between the two by car.
Will skiers and riders have access to White Wolf?
There are no plans currently being contemplated to allow skiing or other non-skiing activities along the lift route or on the White Wolf terrain, privately owned by Troy Caldwell.
Will any existing skiable terrain be reduced during or after construction?
No. Existing skiable areas of Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows will not be affected by the gondola construction.
Will Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows continue to operate the shuttle bus between the two mountains?
Yes. Shuttles will continue to operate to provide transportation during ski season when the gondola is not running.
What environmental considerations are being taken into account with this project?
Squaw Valley Ski Holdings and Troy Caldwell have worked extensively with the mountain planners at SE Group to design a gondola that ensures stewardship of the high alpine environment whose natural beauty is integral to the overall Squaw Valley | Alpine Meadows experience. The project will be subject to review and permitting under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The planned Base-to-Base Gondola will be carefully designed to minimize the overall footprint and potential visual impacts to the adjacent Granite Chief Wilderness and maintain the scenic beauty of the area.
To accomplish this, design elements include locating the gondola as far from the Wilderness boundary as possible given the rugged terrain, minimizing the number of lift towers, and diminishing the need to construct access roads. The Gondola capacity is intentionally planned to be relatively low at 1,400 people per hour (a typical high-speed lift transports at least 2,000 people per hour) to minimize the number and height of lift towers. The gondola would also utilize an innovative power generation system to supply necessary electricity to the two lift mid-stations,, thereby avoiding the need to install above or below ground electrical power. The result of these efforts would significantly reduce necessary timber removal and vegetation clearing for construction and would minimize impacts on watershed, soils, and natural resources throughout the planned lift corridor.
Recognizing the surrounding area’s visual sensitivity – particularly the adjacent Granite Chief Wilderness, measures will be implemented to minimize the potential for adverse visual impacts from the perspective of design, materials and equipment selection, and operational practices. Specifically, materials and equipment for the gondola would be selected using blending coloration and low reflectivity. The gondola would also be designed to allow the cabins to be completely removed from the line during non-operational periods.
In addition, it is anticipated that the operation of the gondola would substantially reduce guest vehicular traffic between the two resorts, leading to a reduction in overall vehicle emissions.