Squaw Valley Aerial Tram – 50 Years of ‘The Monster’

D’Arcy McLeish | | Featured ArticleFeatured Article

[Sponsored by Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, CA]

The Squaw Valley Tram. Amazing feat of engineering. Image: Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows

When you first drive into Squaw Valley, the first thing you notice is a giant granite cliff that overlooks the base of the mountain. It’s a spectacular piece of terrain that absolutely dominates the view. The Tram Face, as it’s known, would be enough to wow visitors, but when you look closer, you’ll see something even more amazing: someone decided to build a lift straight up the steepest part of the face.

Crews building ‘The Monster’. Image – Hans Burkhart

The Squaw Valley Aerial Tram opened in 1968. At the time, it was the largest aerial tram in the world. Starting from the base of the mountain, it rises some 2000 vertical feet off the valley floor and terminates at High Camp, which is a bit of an upper base of the mountain.

The Tram Face. Amazing to think a lift was built going straight up the face. Image: SnowBrains

When it was first envisioned, former owner and founder of then Squaw Valley Ski Resort, Alexander Cushing, was told it couldn’t be built. He was told by many that there was no way a ski lift could be constructed up that monstrous face. But along with the help of some of the finest lift builders in the world and his mountain manager at the time, Hans Burkhart, he managed to build one of the 20th century’s great feats of modern engineering.

Getting into the holiday spirit. Image: Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows

Known by the crews that built it as ‘The Monster’, the Tram was designed and constructed by Garaventa in Austria. Comprising thousands of tons of steel, the individual components were shipped by barge down the Rhine river, put on three container ships and moved to the Port of San Francisco. They were then trucked over Donner Summit to Squaw Valley. No easy feat at the time. Lots of folks thought it was a waste, but it’s turned into a main attraction at one of the busiest ski resorts in the world. And it’s not just for winter use. The Tram sees massive numbers of sightseers, hikers and locals, who use it throughout the summer months to access the views, the summer hiking trails or to just sit and have a cold beverage on a hot summer’s day at High Camp.

Spectacular. Image: Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows

But the actual line of the tram is what sets it apart from so many other lifts in the world. They didn’t pick the easy way up. Just standing at the base of the mountain, if you looked up the face and picked the most difficult and steepest section of the cliff, you would be looking right up the line of the lift. Even now, 50 years on, it’s a little crazy to think they even contemplated putting a lift up there. That aesthetic quality of the lift line was exactly what they were after when they built it and to this day, it is as awe inspiring and spectacular as ever.

Building the Tram was one of the biggest lift projects in the world. Photo – Hans Burkhart

Riding it is even more amazing and the views all the way up on a sunny day are unrivaled anywhere in Lake Tahoe. On December 18th, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Tram. Come and join some of the folks who were involved in the construction of the tram, including Hans Burkhart, who will be giving a talk on the construction and lead up to its opening. Help the locals celebrate what has become a symbol of Squaw’s terrain, ski culture and deep passion for the mountains.


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One thought on “Squaw Valley Aerial Tram – 50 Years of ‘The Monster’

  1. How exactly is Alex Cushing the former owner ? He died long before KSL, his wife sold Squaw valley ski Corp to KSL so wouldn’t she technically be the former owner ? Founder yes , former owner ? Can you be the former owner if you’re dead ? Wouldn’t you have to be alive to be the former owner ?

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