Alpine Meadows…Last Resort Open In Tahoe…Again

LastResortSeveral readers noted that the official SquAlpine site has listed opening dates once for the 2015-16 season. In doing so, they have made it clear that they really don’t care what anyone thinks about their operational plans. Just like the last few seasons, since KSL Capital purchased Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley will begin operations more than two full weeks before Alpine Meadows.

It’s a slap in the face to the Alpine Meadows faithful, whom started skiing and riding at Alpine Meadows because of its early and late season operations. It’s that same group of people that aren’t really interested in going over to Squaw Valley to ski those first 16 days. Most of us have lockers at Alpine Meadows, and we’re not interested in riding a shuttle bus, walking through and shopping in the village, nor standing in a long Funitel line so we can go stand in a long line at Gold Coast. We just want to ski and ride without all of the fuss.

It looks like I’ll just be going to Boreal and Mount Rose for the those early season turns. Rose plans to open limited terrain on October 29th, and it’s a good bet that Boreal will be spinning the Castle Peak quad by Halloween. As we reported last year, we spent our entire pre-season at Boreal and it just felt better. Having the Mount Rose option in addition will be icing on the cake.

We’ve been saying it all summer, it’s time for a change at Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley. It’s time for KSL to move back into the shopping mall and golf resort business. Today, we’re introducing our campaign to “Keep Tahoe KSL Free”. It’s not enough anymore to just Free Alpine, as Squaw Valley needs to be freed as well. Stickers will be available soon.

KSL Free

Squaw Valley: Looking For Love For The Village

There's been some minor changes to the Village proposal as a result of the recent SVDRC meeting.

There’s been some minor changes to the Village proposal as a result of the recent SVDRC meeting.

Squaw Valley is still looking for some love for the Village At Squaw Valley project. A recent press release noted that the Squaw Valley Design Review Committee had approved the design standards and guidelines by a vote of 3-0. At one point, there was even a Facebook post suggesting that the community now supports the Village project. It was since deleted, and we would assume it was because it quickly gained a lot of negative commentary. Is Squaw Valley out of touch with reality? Here’s Squaw Valley Real Estate VP Chevis Hosea’s statement:

“As a result of unprecedented community outreach, Squaw Valley has responded to the community’s desire for greater outdoor recreational opportunities and new jobs, and doing so without a material impact on the environment,” said Chevis Hosea, vice president of development, Squaw Valley Real Estate. “With the adoption of new designs and standards, the size of the project has been reduced by more than 50 percent, and more than 80 percent of the project will be built on existing parking lots. Our intention is to continue to engage with the community and to secure North Tahoe’s reputation as a premiere tourist destination for years to come.” – Chevis Hosea, VP SVRE

So what changes were approved by the DRC? We’ve been asking that question around town for the last week, and it turns out, the opinions are quite varied. DRC chairperson David Stepner noted that agreements were reached in to make the Village more open with wider passageways, building step backs, better view lines, and larger plaza areas. Additionally, the height of several buildings was reduced below 100 feet, with the exception of the Mountain Adventure Center, which will still stand at 108 feet.

We have to agree, some of these changes will make for a better experience within the proposed new Village. But many people are contesting Hosea’s claim that there will be no material impact on the environment. The Design Review Committee does not get to review the scale or scope of the project. There is no plan to reduce the number of rooms created, even though Hosea’s statement implies that there have been more reductions. The plan also still includes the widely unpopular Mountain Adventure Center. It’s probably safe to say that the 23 different “significant and unavoidable impacts” identified in the draft Environmental Impact Report still exist.

Sierra Watch spokesperson Isaac Silverman noted that the agreements reached by the DRC will do nothing to materially change the flawed proposal from Squaw Valley:

“The SVRDC’s recommendations, and the minor changes KSL has proposed in response, do not fix, or even address, the fundamental flaws with their proposal.  They would still allow KSL to build 1500 new bedrooms contained in a series of high-rise condo hotels, 35 timeshare mansions in Shirley Canyon, and a massive indoor amusement park.  The committee’s recommendations would not result in the reduction of single unit or bedroom.” – Isaac Silverman, Sierra Watch

It’s probably worth noting that while 3 members of the Design Review Committee were able to negotiate some concessions in the design of the proposed Village, there were more than 350 citizens, groups and government agencies that expressed concerns about the project during the dEIR process. With 1500 bedrooms still on the table and gridlock conditions forecast to become the norm, it’s no wonder that Squaw Valley is still facing a lot of opposition.

Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 6.39.29 PMWe also take issue with Hosea’s statement that Squaw Valley has been working with the community. We received the latest numbers from Placer County election officials and they show Squaw Valley spent another $70,000 over the last two months fighting the will of the people. The “Save Olympic Valley” campaign, funded entirely by Squaw Valley, has now spent just about three-quarters of a million dollars fighting the community effort to incorporate the town of Olympic Valley. It’s enough to fund the operations of some small resorts for an entire season. You could even buy a small resort in Montana for that amount, and still have some operating capital. It’s no wonder that Tahoe locals are both frustrated and disgusted by the current owners of Squaw Valley, KSL Capital. It’s time for a change.


Andy Wertheim: Hiking The Granite Chief Trail

Photo by Andy Wertheim

Photo by Andy Wertheim

Hello Friends,

If you are in the mood for a hike, then here is a pretty good one that will give you a nice bit of climbing to get the heart pumping.  It is known as the Granite Chief Trial and climbs up from the valley floor in Squaw Valley to a point just below Granite Chief Peak and feet from the top of the Granite Chief Chair.  The trail begins behind the Olympic Village Inn.  Drive to the right of the Olympic Village Lodge Building and you will see the first parking lot with about 10 spaces.  This is the beginning of the trail.  I am pretty sure there is not a sign at the trailhead as there are a number of ways to work your way up to the main trail, but beginning at this point should be the easiest way to find and stay on the trail.  There are a couple of signs along the way near the beginning, but you need to be on the main trail to find them.  This hike is located on the north side of Shirley Canyon .

You walk through some forested areas and some open granite slab sections with beautiful views.  I think it is about 4 miles to the intersection with the Pacific Crest Trail in a forested saddle on the ridge between Squaw Valley and the next drainage to the west.  At that point we turned south (left) and followed the Pacific Crest Trail to the top of the Granite Chief Chair which is about another 1.5 miles.  This offers stunning views of meadows, the surrounding granite cliffs and Shirley Canyon .  From the point where the trail hits the top of the Granite Chief Chair we continued south on the PCT until it arrived at the Emigrant Monument located on the ridge line just below the top of the Emigrant Chair.  You can see the top of the Tram which is your goal (take the free ride down).  The total hike is about 7.5 miles with about 2800 vertical gain.  A couple of photos are attached.  By the way, the Tram is scheduled to close October 4th, so keep that in mind if you want a ride down.

Enjoy your day.

Andy Wertheim

Photo by Andy Wertheim

Photo by Andy Wertheim

Headin’ For A Hoedown

It’s that time again. The Lost Sierra Hoedown kicks off tomorrow evening at the Johnsville Ski Bowl. Johnsville is the birthplace of lift served skiing in California, with ski racing dating back to 1880’s. The event is now in its third year, and has again sold out of tickets. Thanks to everyone for their support of the event!

This video features super 8mm film shot at Johnsville between 1965 and 1972 by Mike McKay and his son Bruce McKay. Don Penland has converted the 8mm film to digital images. It captures the true soul of skiing, circa 1968. This edit was put together by Drew Fisher, one of the founders of the event, as a promotion for the first Hoedown.

We’ll be offline around Unofficial Alpine, as we’ll be over in Johnsville enjoying some great music, boot stomping fun, and a crowd of ski-loving people. That means we won’t be doing much in the way of posting new articles, comments or answering emails until Tuesday. If you’re headed out to the Hoedown, stop by and find Mark in the merchandise booth and say hello.

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Guest Editorial: Straight Talk On The Squaw-Alpine Gondola Proposal

Guest Editorial by Annie Beaman, Granite Chief Wilderness Protection League

Earlier this month on Labor Day weekend, two spokespeople of the proposed Squaw-Alpine gondola (White Wolf landowner Troy Caldwell and Squaw Valley Ski Holdings CEO Andy Wirth) led presentations at Alpine Meadows Lodge to discuss their development plans and respond to questions from local residents. Andy Wirth repeatedly emphasized his own credibility and honesty, as well as his interest in community input regarding ongoing development plans.

In reality, Squaw Valley Ski Holdings (“SVSH”) has been neither honest nor transparent in its planning process for the Squaw-to-Alpine gondola proposal. Wirth’s complaints about “misinformation” only lead to more confusion which helps SVSH to proceed with its plans regardless of community input and public interest. One good example of this is Wirth’s references to a recent “controversy” regarding maps of the proposed gondola route, which environmentalists and others have pointed out crosses the Congressionally-designated boundary of the Granite Chief Wilderness Area. Wirth tells a small part of the truth when he emphasizes that the proposed gondola route is on privately-owned land. That’s a fact that no one disputes… but it’s not even close to the full story.


Here’s the whole truth: SVSH’s gondola proposal simply ignores the designated wilderness boundary. There is no question and no dispute about whether or not the gondola route goes through designated wilderness–the proposed route is most certainly within the designated boundary of the Granite Chief Wilderness. Likewise, no one doubts the ownership of the parcel in question; this is a wilderness inholding currently owned by Troy Caldwell, one of many such inholdings that exist because private property rights predated wilderness preservation in our country. [More background on Caldwell’s longtime vision for developing a private ski area.]


Rather than disputing property ownership, environmental groups are questioning SVSH’s complete disregard for the very real designated boundary of the wilderness. This boundary is absolutely beyond doubt; it was established by the United States Congress in 1984, and it has been reflected in every official map of the area including the new U.S. Forest Service map at the Five Lakes trailhead (which is also located on Caldwell’s land).


Under current U.S. Forest Service policy, wilderness inholdings are not actively managed as wilderness. Congress includes private lands in wilderness designations as a way to express intent to acquire the land whenever it becomes available, especially where there is an obvious ecological connection that would improve the functions and values of the combined wilderness area. This is exactly the case at Granite Chief: in its northeast corner, the wilderness boundary juts outward to include the Five Lakes and surrounding area. For the hundreds of thousands of people who have hiked Five Lakes Trail, it makes perfect sense that Congress intended to acquire and manage the entire basin surrounding the Five Lakes, and therefore included it in the official designation.

SVSH’s gondola would foil that long-term vision for public use and protection of the delicate Five Lakes ecosystem. A high-speed gondola along the western edge of Caldwell’s inholding will transform the Five Lakes area forever, while also changing the fundamental character of Alpine Meadows–something discussed in more detail in a recent op-ed by Andy Wertheim. One of the most egregious and off-putting aspects of the proposed gondola route is a load and unload station adjacent to particularly sensitive lands that have been honored and held sacred for at least fifty years (and likely much longer). These remarkable pristine areas are what the Sierras are all about, providing inspiration and solitude for many generations of visitors including early Sierra advocates like John Muir. Five Lakes Trail is itself ancient–once used as a sheep trail to move herds between the valleys–it is among the most popular hikes in Northern California and open to the public pursuant to an irrevocable easement that requires any private landowner to make the trail available for public use.


SVSH continues to display a large wall map that intentionally deceives viewers by omitting the designated wilderness boundary. Compare SVSH’s map to the official Forest Service map, every other official government map since the mid-1980s, and the meticulously-researched Sierra Watch map of the proposed gondola route. The truth will become clear: the only party that is promoting “misinformation” regarding maps of the proposed gondola route is SVSH.


As CEO of SVSH, Wirth is first and foremost an advocate for his shareholders, his business, and the customers it serves. Wirth acknowledged that much in perhaps the most honest statement of his recent presentations, when he noted that SVSH has approximately 275,000 customers per year and that his priority is serving them. As CEO, it is also incumbent upon him to grow profitability for shareholders and “build equity” for the Colorado-based parent company, KSL Capital Partners. This is essential for understanding why Wirth is so motivated to pursue such an expensive and controversial plan: the gondola is a part of a larger vision toward a mega-resort profit-machine involving both Squaw and Alpine– it is necessary infrastructure for expanding SVSH’s Tahoe domain and building equity for KSL. If all goes well for SVSH, a base-to-base gondola would bring millions in seasonal revenues from skiers as well as locals who are interested in easy transportation between Squaw and Alpine.

Unfortunately, the wilderness map isn’t the only reality that SVSH has swept under the rug in their rush to build and expand. Another major issue is that SVSH bases its project plans (and projected profits) on 2010 data for the number of skiers and anticipated snowpack level. Wirth mentioned in his recent presentation that he plans as much to 15 years into the future in his role as CEO. Climate models unanimously predict a significantly reduced seasonal snowpack in the Sierra within that 15-year timeline and accelerating thereafter, with warmer weather leading to more frequent and sustained droughts, more rain, and much less snow overall. Californians are already dealing with the hottest and driest conditions on record as well as the lowest Sierra snowpack in 500 years. While we cannot predict specific weather conditions from year to year, we should prepare and plan for what we know is coming: warmer weather and less snow.

Given the scientific projections and consensus surrounding climate change and its impacts to the Sierra, why would SVSH focus on a 15-year timeline for this heavy-duty infrastructure project rather than 50, 100, or 250 years? Because permanent infrastructure will lead to profits, but in order to be truly honest about how, SVSH would have to admit that certain unpopular uses of the proposed gondola are extremely likely. These include year-round operations (Wirth emphasizes that SVSH “does not intend” to open the gondola year-round, but provides no guarantees), and significant development in Alpine Meadows (again, Wirth stated that he has “no plans” to significantly expand lodging and other amenities at Alpine Meadows, but provides no certainty in the short-term 15-year timeline or beyond).


So what do we know for sure? (1) A high-speed base-to-base gondola connecting Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows would wreak havoc on the delicate ecosystem of the Granite Chief and Five Lakes Basin. (2) SVSH has offered no guarantees regarding year-round use or increased development/commercialization of Alpine Meadows. (3) The proposed gondola, if approved, will be a precursor to more development impacting the Five Lakes Trail, where Caldwell plans to complete a long-delayed chair lift (the towers for this lift were built around 10 years ago), build another chairlift, and build 38 houses. (4) SVSH will extract significant profits from any new infrastructure, or if these investments prove to be unprofitable, the private equity model will result in SVSH selling the assets off to the highest bidder at some future point.

Wirth stated that SVSH will issue its first formal permit applications in approximately 120 days from Labor Day, or early December. Environmental groups and public interest groups will review all permit applications carefully, and will likely oppose key aspects of the project. Members of the public should also have an opportunity to comment and weigh-in on the formal proposal.

The base-to-base gondola would be a completely unsustainable project for this area. Granite Chief and Five Lakes are beloved and highly functional; providing clean water for downstream use, habitat for endangered and threatened species, serene natural beauty, and above all a place to enjoy the experience of immersing oneself in the wild. We have all inherited an unfortunate situation whereby remote venture-capital firms can purchase and develop lands with minimal regard for community or ecological impacts. Now, it’s on us to fight against this project to protect the Granite Chief Wilderness for current and future generations alike.

Please join us by signing up at our website and following us on social media via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Andy Wertheim: Hiking Mt. Elwell


Photo by Mark Fisher

Hello Friends,

With the Ironman Event in full swing on Sunday morning, the best thing locals could do (assuming you were not in the race, assisting with the race, or just so interested in the race that you had to hang around a watch the event) was to get out of town.  We did just that early Sunday morning.  We decided to complete a hike we started the last time Ironman was in Tahoe that we were unable to complete do to a late start.

We headed north on Hwy. 89 passing Sierraville where we stopped for coffee and scones at a little coffee shop located on the north side of the main street just to the right of the “T” intersection.  The drive continued up Hwy. 89 until we turned onto Hwy. 49 heading to Yuba Gap (this is the road to Sierra City and Downieville ).  Before arriving in Sierra City you reach the Gold Lakes Road at Bassetts where we turned right and continued to the Lakes Basin Recreation Area.


Our destination was the end of a road that turns left toward the Elwell Lodge and Silver Lake .  At the end of the road is a parking area.  There are a couple of trailheads at this location.  We chose the Long Lake and Silver Lake Trailhead always choosing to head toward the absolutely beautiful and peaceful Long Lake .  Just before you reach Long Lake there is a sign offering the Long Lake Connector Trail which travels for about a mile along the east shore of the lake, crossing the dam, and then ending in a “T” intersection on a trail that head up to Mt. Elwell . At this point turn left and hike the trail as it climbs the north side of Long Lake .

The view is amazing.  In the distance you can see the rugged Sierra Buttes and just make out the fire lookout at the very highest point.  If you know where to look, you can also pick out the Mills Peak Fire Lookout. Way into the distance we identified Mt. Lola and Castle Peak as well as Mt. Rose .  To the north when we arrived at the top of Mt. Elwell we had a clear view of Mt. Lassen .  After completing the hike up the north side of Long Lake you arrive at a couple of junctions (one head left to Mud Lake which you can see below you and is not where you want to go).  The other heads up toward Mt. Elwell .  It is a good steep climb to get to the end of the trail which is at the base of a very rocky (boulder) field that you need to scramble to actually reach the highest point which is about 7,800.  I think the climb from the parking lot is about 1500 feet.  We headed down hiking along the ridge toward a trail that heads down toward Silver Lake and then back to Long Lake (completing a loop).  I think the total loop trail is about 8 to 9 miles (I did not have a GPS and had trouble finding anything on line to rely on).


After hiking the trail we headed for Graeagle and then to Hwy. 70 (turning right for just a few yards) in an effort to locate the Brewing Lair. This is a small brewery located at the end of a short dirt road in the middle of nowhere.  It is a wonderful spot with picnic tables on a treed plot of land. The beer is good and the attitude very friendly.  This is a great little find.  We met friends from Truckee who were also escaping the Ironman Event.

Enjoy your day,

Andy Wertheim

Editor’s Notes: The Lakes Basin Area is quite amazing. It was my backyard for 18 years, and I’ve probably hiked Mt Elwell 25 times myself. It’s a bit dry this year, but still beautiful. The little coffee place in Sierraville is called Sierra Valley Farms – it’s our morning stop every day on the way to work. They also do some great pizzas and tri tip sandwiches. (Little known fact…Kate Z was working at SVF this summer) And the Brewing Lair…yes, what a place. In fact we were there yesterday too after a work day at Johnsville prepping for the Hoedown. Try the Deep Cover ale….just not if you have to drive or get any work done.   – Mark