As ski areas continue their inexorable march toward consolidation, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows announced yesterday a historic agreement to combine operations of the two major mountains in Tahoe, effective this ski season. This follows noteworthy developments last year, when Squaw Valley was sold to Colorado based KSL Capital Partners and Northstar was sold to Vail Resorts, who also owns Heavenly. One substantial difference is that this change affects two mountains sitting side by side, in contrast to Northstar joining Heavenly, with one mountain located on the North shore of Lake Tahoe and one on the South shore.
The combination of the two resorts will create an enormous ski area with over 6,000 skiable acres of terrain spread across eight Sierra Nevada mountain peaks. The two mountains receive some of North America’s highest average annual snowfall, last winter exceeding 800 inches.
Rumors had been swirling the entire season last year, with management of both mountains denying that anything was afoot, but it was the talk of many chair lift conversations and speculation. Many had been eagerly anticipating such a move long before last year, when any of the current players were involved, as these two premier locations, with some of the best terrain around the lake, have always been a natural to consider blending operations. From ski runs at the top of KT22 and Olympic Lady lifts at Squaw, one looks down into Alpine, and from the top of Scott chair at Alpine one can look back at the Headwall Lift at Squaw, so it makes sense to connect the two mountains.
“Combining Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley will provide our guests something truly remarkable – a mountain experience unmatched in California, inclusive of expansive and family friendly terrain,” said Andy Wirth, president and CEO of Squaw Valley. Wirth will take the helm as the president and CEO of the new combined entity of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows.
“As a long-time skier with a family dedicated to Tahoe, I’m excited to bring these two remarkable resorts together and we agree that a key element of success is maintaining each resort’s character,” said Todd Chapman, president and CEO of JMA Ventures (JMA), owner of Alpine Meadows.
While some will laud the combined management of the two mountains, others will lament inevitable changes. For this year, every effort has been made to make passholders and others whole, honoring commitments made when passes were purchased, while expanding access to the other mountain. Some less popular decisions have already been made for the future, however, including using Squaw Valley’s rules for the senior pass, which will now start at 65, instead of Alpine Meadow’s 62. On the other hand, certain perks, such as discounts at Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia, Canada, which had been announced by Squaw Valley last season, will now be available to Alpine Meadows’ passholders.
In addition, the traditional cultures of the two mountains couldn’t be more different. While Squaw attracts hard core steeps fanatics and well-heeled Bay Area weekend warriors, Alpine has always been known as a locals mountain and family favorite, also drawing powder hounds to their legendary stashes. While Squaw Valley employees sport a more corporate look, dreadlocks and mountain-man facial hair have been common among Alpine staff. Andy Wirth brought many positive changes to Squaw last year, including a noticeable improvement in customer service, while Alpine has long been known for their friendly, laid back attitude.
One question that will linger is how the two mountains will be connected. Squaw Valley sits on private land, while Alpine Meadows is on National Forest Service land, and the most logical place to connect them is owned by a private party, Troy Caldwell, who has been installing his own private lift, under a permit that is limited to friends and family. Many have speculated that this key lift could eventually be folded into the ski area but this has not been addressed officially.
While specific dollars were not announced, the deal has been structured as a partnership between the owners of the two mountains. JMA Ventures (Alpine Meadows) will convert its ownership into partial ownership of the new entity, Squaw Valley Ski Holdings LLC, with KSL Capital Partners (Squaw Valley) the majority owner. JMA will continue to independently own and operate Homewood Mountain Resort.
Recently a $50 million capital improvement campaign was announced for Squaw Valley by KSL, and this will continue as scheduled as a separate initiative. Any improvements to be considered for Alpine Meadows will be announced later.
Both ski areas’ websites contain information about the announcement, while the Squaw Valley website contains a detailed FAQ section to answer many questions, particularly from passholders. The vast majority of reactions on the Squaw Valley Facebook page were positive, while reactions were definitely mixed on the Alpine Meadows page, with many lamenting the potential loss of identity and higher prices in the future.
This is an exciting development that will enhance the skier experience, and California skiers will be anticipating future changes and improvements to both mountains, now combined into one mammoth ski area.
See related article: Big news regarding backcountry access between Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows
Squaw Valley USA
1960 Squaw Valley Road
Olympic Valley, CA 96146
Snow Phone 530-583-6955
2600 Alpine Meadows Road
Tahoe City, CA 96145
Snow Phone 540-581-8374
From San Francisco/Sacramento/Northern California: Squaw Valley USA is 96 miles from Sacramento, and 196 miles from San Francisco. It generally takes about 2 hours from Sacramento and about 4 hours from San Francisco depending on traffic and weather.
- Take Interstate 80 northeast into the Sierra Nevada.
- Exit at Truckee, onto Highway 89 SOUTH, towards Lake Tahoe/Tahoe City/Squaw Valley.
- Follow Highway 89 south 8 miles to the Squaw Valley Rd. Exit. Turn RIGHT and follow Squaw Valley Rd. to the base of the mountain.
- To reach Alpine Meadows, continue 1 more mile on Highway 89. Turn RIGHT and follow Alpine Meadows Rd. to the base of the mountain.