Brought to you by Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows
Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, CA has produced more legendary skiers and riders than practically anywhere else. It’s no wonder why: These California resorts have some of the steepest, most challenging inbounds terrain in the West. Take the cliff-strewn Fingers off KT-22, the vertical chutes off Palisades, and the well-sculpted race courses, and it’s clear how so many talented skiers and snowboarders cut their teeth on these hallowed grounds. On the race and freestyle side, the Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows teams have sent over seventy athletes to the U.S. Ski Team, and of those, around thirty have competed in a Winter Olympic Games. On the big-mountain side, Squaw Alpine skiers and riders have topped podiums and starred in many a ski movie. Let’s take a look at just a handful of these past, present, and future stars.
#1. Shane McConkey
You can’t talk about the mountain’s most memorable legends without mentioning the late Shane McConkey. He brought a sense of excitement and goofiness back to skiing that had long been absent in ski culture and one that still exists today in his honor. On top of stealing the show in ’90s ski movies, McConkey put down first descents on the Palisades and now has a part of the mountain named after him.
#2. Jeremy Jones
Snowboarder Jeremy Jones has changed snowboarding and rallied the snowsports community together to fight climate change through Protect Our Winters (POW), the nonprofit he started that focuses its efforts on legislation regarding climate change and strives to turn outdoor enthusiasts into climate advocates. This Squaw Alpine local has snowboarded absurdly steep lines in Alaska and the Himalayas to lines like Keyhole at Alpine or Chute 75 at Squaw.
#3. Cody Townsend
With humble beginnings in ski racing at Squaw Valley, Cody Townsend has emerged as a dominant force in big mountain skiing and is one of the better-known names in the industry right now. In recent years, Townsend has been busy with his ambitious “Fifty Project,” a well-documented attempt to climb and ski every line in the book “50 Classic Ski Descents of North America.”
#4. Michelle Parker
Starting on Squaw Valley’s ski team, Michelle Parker quickly grew into a big mountain freeskiing superstar, and she’s now considered one of the best skiers in the world. Parker is also a co-founder of SAFE AS, an organization that provides resources and promotes safe recreation practices in the backcountry.
#5. Julia Mancuso
Julia Mancuso was a dominant threat on the U.S. Ski Team for many years until she retired in 2018. Over the course of her decorated career, Mancuso won three Olympic medals and over thirty World Cup medals. Mancuso credits Squaw Valley’s race program with much of her success since the team taught, as she says, “a love of skiing, not just racing.” “A lot of pride comes from being part of a team like Squaw Valley’s because it’s a family,” Mancuso has said. “I look up to all of the members who were on the Olympic team before me—many of those members actually coached me as well.”
#6. Jonny Moseley
Jonny Moseley got his Olympic gold medal moguls start as a Mighty Mite in Squaw’s kids’ program. At age eight, he joined the freestyle team. “The ski team at Squaw is where my memories begin and where I owe my deepest gratitude. The place was electric with energy,” Moseley has said. “It’s great to see the program still thriving and some of the same people involved.” Moseley won gold in mogul skiing at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano.
#7. Ingrid Backstrom
Ingrid Backstrom decided to spend a year ski bumming in Tahoe after college, and she ended up staying in Squaw Valley for years. (She has since returned to her native Washington.) Backstrom made a name for herself by launching massive backflips off some of Squaw’s most iconic cliffs, like the Palisades. She appeared in over twenty ski movies and repeatedly won Best Female Performance at the Powder Awards. Along with Parker and Saugstad, Backstrom is a co-founder of SAFE AS. Backstrom’s brothers, late freeskier Arne Backstrom and decorated snowboarder Ralph Backstrom are among the mountain’s biggest legends, too.
#8. Elyse Saugstad
Elyse Saugstad has won Freeskier Magazine’s Skier of the Year, Best Female Performance (twice) at the Powder Awards, and is a Freeride World Tour champion. Saugstad, originally from Alaska but now calls Squaw Valley home, has been featured in many exceptional film segments and is another co-founder of SAFE AS. Most recently, Saugstad, in partnership with TGR, released “On My Own Terms,” a short film about Saugstad’s journey to where she is now.
#9. Jimmie Heuga
Jimmie Heuga grew up skiing in Squaw Valley, where his dad, Pascal, was a lift operator for three decades. Jimmie starred in his first Warren Miller movie at age nine and became a U.S. skiing champion in 1960 at the age of 16. He won the bronze medal in the 1964 Innsbruck Olympic slalom. His athletic career was cut short after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1970; he died from complications from the disease in 2010.
#10. Tamara McKinney
Tamara McKinney is another Squaw Valley-bred star who made a name for herself in the late 1970s and ’80s. In 1983, she became the first American woman to win the World Cup overall title. After retiring from competition, McKinney became a part-time coach for the Squaw Valley Ski Team.
#11. Robb Gaffney
Robb Gaffney was one of Shane McConkey’s cohorts, and he’s still an incredible skier in his own right while working as a practicing psychiatrist. He’s been a featured skier in over ten ski films, including those of Matchstick Productions, Scott Gaffney Pictures, and Omen Production, and he’s the author of Squallywood, the guidebook to all of Squaw Valley’s steepest and most challenging lines. “Robb is the most talented, top-level pro skier in the world that didn’t become a pro skier,” McConkey once said. “He has skied every possible line at Squaw many times.”
#12. Scott Gaffney
Robb’s brother Scott—a world-class ski film director and cinematographer with Matchstick Productions—is also one of the greatest this place has ever seen. Scott still charges harder than ever—check out his rowdy ‘The 50’ season edit, filmed the year he turned 50. Scott is the vision behind such cult classic movies as Days of My Youth (2014), Superheroes of Stoke (2012), and Attack of La Niña (2011).
#13. Tom Burt
Legendary snowboarder Tom Burt hails from Alpine Meadows. Burt rides with an exceptional level of control and demonstrates brilliant big-mountain IQ as he expertly navigates high-consequence terrain from Alaska to Squaw Valley. A judge on the Freeride World Tour, he’s considered one of snowboarding’s most influential pioneers.
#14. Marco Sullivan
Squaw Valley ski teamer and now coach Marco Sullivan is a four‐time World Cup medalist, made four Olympic teams, and was a member of the U.S. Ski Team for nearly two decades. He founded the American Downhiller race camps to help junior racers come up through the ranks.
#15. Travis Ganong
Among the latest generation of ski racers who got their start on the slopes of Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows is Travis Ganong, who has won three U.S. Championships. Though he’s still in the midst of his racing career, Ganong has said he could see himself transitioning to freeskiing once he retires from racing.
#16. Shannon Bahrke
Mogul skier Shannon Bahrke learned to ski at Squaw Valley and went on to become a three-time Olympian and two-time Olympic medalist. Though now based in Utah, Bahrke says, “Lake Tahoe was the perfect place to grow up in for a girl with lots of energy, enthusiasm, and a love of the outdoors.”
#17. Brita Sigourney
Olympic halfpipe skier Brita Sigourney grew up skiing at Alpine Meadows, and she credits her parents for driving her over five hours from their hometown in Carmel, California, to the mountains so she could ski each weekend. She joined the Alpine Meadows Freestyle Team when she was eight. Sigourney, a three-time X Games medalist, won a bronze medal in the 2018 Olympics in the halfpipe.
#18. Ross Tester
Ross Tester grew up ski racing, then joined the freeride team at Squaw Valley. Now an up-and-coming big-mountain star, he won the Freeride World Qualifier Tour’s overall title last year. Currently, in his rookie season on the Freeride World Tour, he’s won two stops and is leading the ranks in the men’s ski division heading into the Verbier finale.
#19. Tyler Curle
Tyler Curle is an up-and-coming skier looking to leave his mark in the world of big mountain skiing. His home mountain is Squaw Valley. Curle has competed in the Freeride World Qualifiers and has been featured in a segment by Matchstick Productions. Despite Curle’s focus on big mountain skiing, he’s an amazingly versatile skier shredding everything from steeps to park to urban handrails.
#20. Joey Rolshoven
Joey Rolshoven is a name you may not know, but you’ll start to hear more about soon. He recently turned pro with Moment Skis, and Rolshoven has been making the rounds at Squaw Alpine, skiing big lines and stomping double backflips. He charges hard with precision and style.
#21. Kaya Russell
At just 13 years old, competitive mogul skier Kaya Russell is already making her mark. A member of the Squaw Valley Freestyle team, she is one of the top mogul skiers in the country for her age group and hopes to compete on the World Cup circuit eventually. In 2019, she won the USSA FarWest Freestyle Junior Athlete of the Year award.