Brought to you by Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, CA
If you’re into skiing and riding, you’ve likely heard about the legendary terrain of Squaw Valley / Alpine Meadows ski resort located in Lake Tahoe, California. Known for showcasing the best talent in North America on steep, deep, and big lines generally located directly under the chairlifts for the entire resort to see. Luckily, if you’re looking for more of a backcountry style adventure within the resort’s boundaries, the southern or the two mountain, Alpine Meadows, has you covered.
What makes Alpine Meadows so unique is its roughly 1,000 acres of skiable terrain only accessible via hiking from the resort’s main lift, Summit Chair. If you want big laps and big adventure there are not many resorts in the lower 48 that offer the backcountry style riding as Alpine Meadows does. Separated into the North Bowls, South Bowls, along with the options from the Keyhole hike, you’ll find a variety of hike-to terrain that will keep you busy and leave you tired.
After traveling 1,800+ vertical feet up Summit Chair you can start by skiing north to Wolverine Bowl and begin your hike from there. Take off your skis or board and hike along Wolverine Saddle on your way to Beaver Bowl. Feel free to take the quick hike up to Idiots Delight and drop directly back into Wolverine through steep, rocky terrain in full view of everyone on the chair. Once to Beaver Bowl, you’ll have about 20 options to drop in along the ridgeline. You’ll see these spots from where ski patrol and diehard locals chopped into the typically heavy cornice and formed entrances to start from.
If the big mountain terrain of Beaver isn’t what you’re looking for keep hiking along the ridge and up a few hundred more feet to the start of Estelle Bowl. The ridgeline run dividing Estelle and Beaver Bowls may be the resort’s most enjoyable run, flowing directly back to the base area through trees, natural wind lips, small cliffs, and unreal views. Skip this ridgeline run on Estelle and you’ll be on top of Alaska style spines known as The Castle. If you’re scared looking down into these don’t worry, it’s normal. Estelle Bowl flows down into Estelle Lake for the second wave of cliffs and natural wind lips that funnel you back to the base area.
For those who want an even bigger lap, you still have two more options by continuing farther north along the ridge to Bernie’s Bowl and the infamous Buttress. Hanging high over the parking lot The Buttress is a technical and steep face of high exposure and high reward, you’ll have a crowd lined up in the parking lot cheering for you. Skiing either of these fall line will finish back at the parking lot and you’ll need to walk back to the base area. Alpine’s North Bowls can take anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes to complete one lap.
At the top of Summit Chair, start your adventure by heading south behind the summit and along the ridgeline and keep the boundary line ropes just to your right. Heading this way brings you to a series of bowls all heading south and southeast down the backside of the resort. Ride these first after a storm before the sun makes the snow heavy or in the spring wait for the corn cycle to turn on and enjoy the best spring skiing terrain at Alpine Meadows.
You can drop directly into Sun Bowl or take off your skis and boards to start the hike south along the ridgeline to Big Bend Bowl and S.P. Bowl. Less technical than the north bowls these southern runs take you down wide-open meadows and gladed trees littered with fun natural features. Take the hike all the way to Grouse Rock, the resort’s southernmost border, and follow the boundary line down perfectly spaced trees and mini cliffs where chances are you won’t be crossing many tracks. All of the terrain accessed from the South Bowls will bring you to Sherwood Chairlift, the only lift on the backside of the resort. Take this back up and ski down to Summit Chair and begin another lap. These southern laps can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours to complete.
Likely the fastest hiking accessible terrain on the resort, skiers, and riders can leave the top of Summit or Alpine Bowl Chairs and hike east along the ridge to Keyhole. A quick hike no less than 10 minutes, you’ll know you’re there when you have to step through a jagged cut in the rocks and end up on the top something steep and scary. Your options include dropping directly into Keyhole, a zone that could easily be the venue for any big mountain competition, or continue east to the mellow bowl of Lower Saddle or steeper face of High Yellow and High Yellow Gully. All of these runs will put you directly back into the heart of the resort where you can stop halfway down and take the Alpine Bowl Chair back to the hike or continue to the base and start again from Summit Chair.
Alpine Meadows has always been a little different from its big brother to the north Squaw Valley. Actually, Alpine Meadows is slightly different from most resorts, featuring hiking accessible skiing and riding unlike anywhere. Take just one or two hikes to find some fresh snow or spend the entire day out in the bowls. It might take you an entire season to ski everywhere you can hike to, and that’s exactly what the locals love about Alpine Meadows.