Ski Squaw Valley, CA’s Incredible Lift-Accessed Backcountry Terrain With Alpenglow Expeditions This Season

Katy Shipley | | Featured ArticleFeatured Article
Alpenglow Expeditions, granite chief
Getting fresh turns with Squaw Valley Resort in the distance. Image: Logan Talbott, Alpenglow Expeditions

Brought to you by Alpenglow Expeditions

Legendary Squaw Valley, California is home to some of the most jaw-dropping terrain in the country. From any vista point at Squaw, it’s clear that the rugged beauty of the Sierras continues well past the ski resort. Many a skier has dreamt of dipping into the incredible terrain that lay just outside the Squaw boundary…

As you ride up Squaw’s skyscraping lifts, it’s hard not to imagine what that untouched powder (that lasts long after a storm) and world-class – just out of reach – region would ski like…

Thanks to Alpenglow Expeditions, an international mountain guiding company based in Lake Tahoe, these epic areas are now accessible by Squaw Valley lift-accessed ski touring. These Squaw tours are available to Alpenglow Expeditions clients and Alpenglow Expeditions clients only.

Alpenglow Expeditions has been guiding climbers and skiers/riders through the great mountain ranges of the world since 2004 Their team of certified AMGA guides specializes in mountaineering, skiing, ski mountaineering, and rock climbing.  Besides an array of impressive international trips including 29,028’ Mt. Everest, they also operate incredible ski/snowboard trips in the Lake Tahoe region.

Alpenglow’s Squaw Valley Backcountry Program opens the door to some of the best skiing and riding in Lake Tahoe.

“Last season, I was guided by Alpenglow Expeditions into the National Geographic Bowl region off the back of Granite Chief Peak in Squaw Valley, CA.  It was some of the absolute best terrain and cold, north facing snow I’ve ever skied in Lake Tahoe and I’ve been backcountry skiing Tahoe for 18 years… This zone is sick and you could spend a week out there and never ski the same line twice.” – Miles Clark, co-founder of SnowBrains

For years, areas like National Geographic Bowl and the Tram Ridge have been rarely skied but often pondered. Getting to these areas without lift access means an extraordinarily long haul, which leaves these zones completely untouched. These two areas are Alpenglow’s power locations at Squaw and are full of everything skiers love: open faces, untracked powder, glades, gullies, bubbles, chutes, and killer, wide-open tree skiing – what more do you need besides a few more laps?

Alpenglow Expeditions, touring
Earn those turns! Photo: Logan Talbott/ Alpenglow Expeditions

The Day

A day with Alpenglow Expeditions starts bright and early at 8 am. After a quick meeting at the Alpenglow office, your group will board the lifts and set off past the ski area boundary. The tour includes a lunch break halfway through the day. After lunch, you ski until the lifts close or your legs fall off.


8:00 AM — Meet and Greet
9:00 AM — Board the lifts
9:30 AM — Depart Ski Area Boundary
12:00 PM — Lunch
3:30 PM — Catch Chairlift Home or ski to the base area
4:00 PM — Return to Trailhead

The 4:1 guest to guide ratio makes it easy for a group to set their pace and plan their adventure.  Small groups mean less waiting and more powder.  Their guides can also focus the day on uphill and avalanche safety skills in a safe and friendly environment.  Depending on your fitness level and technical skiing ability, the day can vary from gentle powder turns to steep technical lines.  The lift access to these zones helps you spend more time skiing and less time hiking.

“I toured with professional guide, Dave Nettle several days ago and I’m still floating on cold pow euphoria… I felt safe, educated and challenged as Dave guided me to multiple laps of glory turns in the beautiful backcountry Nat Geo Bowl.” -Michell B

Alpenglow Expeditions, office
The Alpenglow Team planning out the day. Image: Logan Talbott/ Alpenglow Expeditions

The Terrain

Alpenglow Expeditions works closely with Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows and the U.S Forest Service. They operate under a special use permit from the Tahoe, Inyo and Eldorado National Forests.  Their permit gives them access to two main areas: National Geographic Bowl (Nat Geo) and Tram Ridge Zone.

Nat Geo

Located just outside the boundary lines of Granite Chief at Squaw, the Nat Geo bowl and adjacent peaks have been long admired for their beauty, remoteness, ability to guard cold powder long after a storm, and high quality of terrain. Crossing the boundary at Squaw with your guide, you step into a true backcountry experience with quiet solitude and playful terrain. There are many options for ski descents and once you reach the bottom you’ll transition to uphill mode and gain the ridge that connects Squaw Valley to the Tahoe National Forest boundary. Some groups do multiple laps in Nat Geo, and some continue on to Tram Ridge.

Tram Ridge

This is the legendary north-facing terrain perpetually drooled upon from the parking lot of Squaw Valley. Accessed from Broken Arrow, this zone is made up of glades, gullies, and ridgelines. You can ski multiple laps in this zone, returning to the ski area to bump up the lifts, or utilizing AT skis or split boards to “skin” uphill. Skiing out of the boundary line on Tram Ridge has long been a dream of many a long-time Squaw skier, and now it is a reality, exclusively with Alpenglow Expeditions!

The terrain varies greatly, making it great for those new to the backcountry, or those looking to take their skills further. On the morning of the tour, guides decide which zone offers the best ski tour based on current conditions.  The guides at Alpenglow know the nooks and crannies where the skiing stays good and powder stays cold.

“The Alpenglow program gave me access to a whole mountain worth of incredible terrain right off the backside of Squaw. They have exclusive access to gorgeous north-facing slopes where we found untracked knee-deep powder days after a storm.” -Noah Knauf

Alpenglow Expeditions, terrain
Route options exist for everyone– novice backcountry enthusiasts and veterans alike. Image: Logan Talbott/Alpenglow Expeditions


Pricing includes:

  • Your private ski/snowboard guide
  • Liftline privileges
  • Access to some of the best backcountry skiing Tahoe has to offer!

1 Person – $645
2-4 People – $100/ea additional person


A day with Alpenglow Expeditions requires avalanche safety gear, backcountry skis, bindings, and skins. According to their equipment list, these skis should be relatively lightweight, 90-110mm underfoot, and have a shape that works well in a variety of snow conditions. “Tech” style bindings are strongly recommended and make sure your skins are trimmed to your ski.

Rentals are available from Alpenglow if you are not already fully equipped. They offer a selection of top-shelf gear including Blizzard Skis, Technica Boots, Jones Snowboards, and Black Diamond. They offer a complete package including skis, boots, bindings, poles, and skins for $55/day. Avalanche kits (beacon, shovel, probe) are required on tours and also available for a small daily fee for those who need to rent one.

Alpenglow Expedition, happy camper
Comfortable, well-fitting gear leads to more smiles on the ascent. Image: Logan Talbott/ Alpenglow Expeditions.


The Squaw Valley Backcountry Program is fit for intermediate and advanced riders. Skiers and riders must be able to navigate variable snow conditions. You are ready for a tour if you can link turns on ungroomed runs while maintaining control. They also recommend being in good physical condition and able to ski multiple laps in ungroomed terrain and hike up to an hour while carrying a light pack. Confident, technical skiing is the key to getting the best out of your backcountry day.

“We got to ski terrain we have never explored before and loved that we got a major boost with the Granite Chief lift ride up to the top…Our guide was friendly, personable, knowledgeable, and so good at explaining the essentials to all of us. I would highly recommend Alpenglow Expeditions!” – OFD Productions, Trip Advisor

Alpenglow Expeditions
Grab three friends, get in shape, get the gear and explore with Alpenglow Expeditions. Image: Logan Talbott/ Alpenglow Expeditions

About Alpenglow Expeditions

Alpenglow Expeditions was founded in 2004 by IFMGA certified guide Adrian Ballinger. From the Himalaya to Lake Tahoe, Alpenglow leads expeditions across the mountain ranges of the globe in all disciplines including mountaineering, skiing, ski mountaineering, and rock climbing. With over 30 international expeditions per year and a full menu of ski and rock climbing courses in Lake Tahoe, Alpenglow Expedition’s core values are founded on providing a unique experience for each client who desires to explore mountains across the world. Explore their website or call 877-873-5376 for more information.

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