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Squaw Valley Timber Plan Will Improve Community Safety And Offer New Terrain

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Kudos to the mountain manager at Squaw Valley, Mike Livak, for making a move that will enhance the on-mountain experience, while also offering the Village some meaningful fire protection in the event of a large wildfire. The Timber Management Plan announced today will remove as many as 5,000 dead or diseased trees on the lower mountain in the Red Dog area. In addition to thinning the trees to offer a reasonable fire break, the cutting will clear up to 100 acres to provide some glade skiing.  The area was previously unaccessible to skiers & riders due to the dense forest and downed timber.

“This effort will result in the creation of new, gladed tree skiing for our guests, and will ultimately feel like a terrain expansion due to the new access,” said Mike Livak, executive vice president of Squaw Valley | Alpine Meadows.

The three new glades will offer skiers and riders a path down the mountain besides the dreaded long traverse on Champs Elysees. Specifically, the three new funds will be named Red Dog Glades, Paris Glades and Heidi’s Glades. Traffic on Champs Elysees is one of the reason skiers and riders dread Red Dog in the early season. During low snow periods, access to the new glades would still be limited as snowmaking in the bladed areas would be unlikely.

Work on the project is expected to begin soon, with a goal of completion to make the new glades usable for the upcoming season. All trees will be removed by helicopter to avoid damage caused by skidding and to prevent the need for building access roads. Many of the trees will be sold for the timber value, while other debris will be chipped for use on the mountain.

“The current drought and the King Fire bring into sharp focus the issue of forest health and how it affects our community right here in Squaw. Thinning provides valuable benefit by effectively utilizing the available water for the most viable trees, and the removal of dead or diseased trees dramatically reduces the risk of fire. While this work is expensive for private landowners, our community will benefit from Squaw| Alpine’s investment in fuels reduction and forest health and I commend the company for doing the right thing,” said Peter Bansen, Squaw Valley fire chief.

Again, we offer kudos to mountain manager Mike Livak for taking a big step toward improving the on mountain experience for Squaw Valley skiers and riders, while also achieving a more “fire-safe” community.

Money NOT Well Spent

We really wanted to do an Xtranormal video this month...sadly the site is currently down.

We really wanted to do an Xtranormal video to highlight SOV spending this month…sadly the site is currently down.

The numbers are no surprise. We didn’t need to use our trend graph to tell you that Squaw Valley Ski Holdings and KSL Capital have now spent over $427,000 in fighting the will of the voters in Olympic Valley. The spending has averaged $80,000 each month and there’s no sign it will stop. They’ve made it clear that they are going to do what it takes to get their way.

People are really starting to speak up about what is going on in the offices of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings. They have realized that we can’t trust any of the promises that have been made regarding Alpine Meadows or Squaw Valley. We’re not surprised that there have been three different guest columnists, all prominent local professionals, asking for a change in the way SVSH leaders work with the community. Here’s the links:

• Dr. Robb Gaffney “Do We Want Squaw Valley Ski Holdings Leading Us?”, Tahoe Daily Tribune 10/15/14

• Dr. Jon Shanser “Inconvenient Truths Or Convenient Fiction?”, Tahoe Daily Tribune 10/11/14

• Jennifer Gurecki “Squaw Valley – A New Direction For Leadership”, Tahoe Daily Tribune 10/3/14

We have also published two articles over the last month, including the wildly popular “So What Does A Good Ski CEO Look Like?” which highlights the success of John Kircher, owner and GM of Crystal Mountain. Yes, we are ready for a change too.

They tell us that they are listening. They’ll be sure point out that they have cut the proposed Squaw development in half. They won’t tell us that the latest proposal is what they wanted all along.

They have garnered support by supporting prominent local non-profits and small businesses. They have lured us with suggestions of new lifts at Red Dog, Granite Chief, Hot Wheels and Siberia. They encouraged us to dream about a connection between Squaw and Alpine Meadows. We were promised that each mountain would retain a separate identity. Those promises seem to mean nothing.

The more money they spend to “Save Olympic Valley”, the more they are harming themselves. The public is not dumb.  When will the leaders at Squaw Valley Ski Holdings and KSL Capital realize that their current trajectory is negatively affecting their assets as well as the surrounding communities of Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley, and the greater North Lake Tahoe region? We can think of 427,000 good reasons to work with the community, not disrupt it.

Here’s the link to this month’s SOV financial filing…all funded by Squaw Valley Ski Holdings and KSL Capital.

Squaw Valley Files To Replace Siberia Lift in 2015

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Squaw Valley Ski Holdings has requested a Conditional Use Permit for the replacement of the Siberia lift in 2015. The plan would replace the current high speed quad with a high speed six pack. It would be the first significant on mountain improvement for skiers and riders at Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows since the installation of the Big Blue lift in 2012.

According to the project description, the new lift would actually reduce the uphill capacity. The current high speed quad is rated at an uphill capacity of 3,000 riders per hour. The new lift is rated for only 2400 skiers per hour. In practice, the current Siberia lift rarely operates at full speed, as it leads to too many issues with loading efficiently. So although the new lift would have a lower rated capacity, it may actually get riders up the hill faster due to fewer stops.

The new lift is also a wider gauge than the current lift, with heavier chairs, which may lead to more stability in high wind events. Siberia has been the subject of frequent wind holds due to its location at the summit.

Certainly this calls into question the 3 other conditional use permits that are already held by SVSH for lift replacements:

Replacement of the Red Dog chair with a high speed six-pack: This Conditional Use Permit was issued by Placer County in April of 2013 and was good for 24 months, or April 2015. There is no word on whether or not an extension has been filed.

Replacement of the Granite Chief chair with a high speed quad: This project received a Conditional Use Permit in February of 2012, and it expires in February 2015. Again there is no word on whether or not an extension has been filed. At one point, the Granite Chief chair replacement was reportedly the number one project priority for on mountain improvements. There seems to be pretty widespread support for the project.

• Replacement of the Hot Wheels Chair at Alpine Meadows with a high speed quad: This project received a Conditional Use Permit in September of 2012, with the permit expiring in September 2015. The project would not only replace the fixed triple with a high speed lift, the new chair would extend further to a location near the top of Sherwood, with a mid station for unloading at the current top terminal.

We wrote a more detailed report on those projects back in April of 2013 if you want more information.

We’re curious about the decision to replace the Siberia chair before the other three projects have been completed. I will say that the loading situation is less than ideal, and some reports suggest there were some frequent mechanical issues with the lift over the last two seasons. We wonder if this replacement will actually  happen, or if it will just serve as a way to bring positive publicity to Squaw at a time where the current administration is losing community support. We would love to hear your comments.

Here’s the links to the Siberia Project Description and a larger version of the Site Plan.

The Winter Weather Outlook From A Regional Point Of View

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The Climate Prediction Center released their forecast for the winter today. While it’s not forecasting the super deep snow year everyone wanted, it’s not forecasting a return of the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge that kept us exceptionally dry for more than a year. While the other local bloggers jumped at the CPC forecast in an effort to be first, we waited patiently for the Reno office of the NOAA to release their analysis of the forecast. Yes, real experts, that are a bit more familiar with exactly what it will mean for the greater Reno-Tahoe area.

Without any further ado, here’s Part One of the forecast, which gives a “state of the drought” report and summarizes today’s CPC forecast:

In a nutshell, there’s a 65% chance that we will see an El Niño this year in our region. It is expected to be weak, at best, and not strong like the 1997 event. What does it mean? CPC says the following:

• Expect warmer than normal temperatures for the entire western US during the winter months. That would translate into some higher snow levels, which is a plus for Alpine Meadows, and more of a plus for Mount Rose and Mammoth.

• The Pacific Northwest may see a drier than normal year, while the southern third of the country can expect to see a wetter than normal winter.

None of those conclusions are surprising as they are typical “El Nino” results. Lake Tahoe happens to land right in the middle of the wet and dry zones, leading the CPC to stamp a big “EC” over the Tahoe region. The Reno guys are quick to point out that EC does not equal normal or average, it simply means there are equal chances of the wetter solution and the drier solution…or the average solution.

The guys over at WeatherWest.com have noted in recent weeks that the El Niño event continues to become more neutral, but a positive PDO (Pacific Decadal Oscillation) signal could lead to a better chance for a wetter solution than the last several years, which were negative PDO years. We’ll take any chance we can at getting even close to a normal year, which would seem pretty sensational.

Part Two of the Reno NOAA seasonal forecast focuses on the difficulties of assessing the long term forecast in the Sierra and Reno-Tahoe area. It also does an analysis on the 8 climate models that make up the North American Multi-Model Ensemble. This new ensemble model is only a couple of seasons old.

• Unfortunately 7 of the 8 models that make the Ensemble are suggesting a drier winter in the west. That said, the same ensemble suggested at this time last year that it would be a very wet year, and we know how that prediction turned out. So the accuracy of these climate models in seasonal predictions is still a very young science. Do not panic yet!

• Discussion over at WeatherWest.com suggests that the models are concerned about the warm blob of water that still exists near Alaska that may be related to the occurrence of the RRR. The effect of a positive PDO with that blob is unknown.

For now, we just have to rejoice in the idea that this year could very well turn out “normal”, not that there is such a thing in the Sierra. No matter what happens, eventually there will be some snow and many of us will choose to ski it, whether it is a powder day or a WROD day. Closing with a great weather quote for the day:

“Weather and cats do what they please, and men and dogs may as well accustom themselves to it.”

Dr. Robb Gaffney Speaks Out On The Leadership At Squaw Valley Ski Holdings

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1190It’s been a busy month for guest columns at the Tahoe Daily Tribune. Today’s column comes from notable Olympic Valley local and former Squaw Valley employee, Dr. Robb Gaffney. There’s been a long line of heroes stepping up lately to protect the communities of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows. Gaffney, author of Squallywood, became a local hero last April, after choosing to resign from his position at Squaw Valley, rather than support an organization that might forever change the face of Squaw Valley.

Dr. Gaffney’s letter sums up everything we have ever wanted to say, and reinforces some of the things we have been saying for a couple of years. How important is it? Well, important enough that we are going to post the entire text here. If you would prefer to check it out at the Tahoe Daily Tribune, you can also follow this link. (Please do click the link just to add to their hit count :) )

Mr. Andy Wirth and Squaw Valley Ski Holdings have underestimated our community’s will and intuitive abilities.

Just as Jennifer Gurecki explored Squaw Valley leadership though a different lens in her Oct. 3 guest column, “ Squaw Valley — a new direction for leadership,” we need to use lenses of various shapes and sizes to help us ultimately reach core truths. This is particularly important in a system filled with high powered marketing tactics designed to inorganically sway support in one direction.

Intuition is our brain’s remarkable ability to calculate mass amounts of information far before we can consciously analyze a situation. Trusting it can be hard at times, especially when its conclusions puts us in a difficult place with respect to others around us.

Use your intuition to explore the following questions with respect to Squaw Valley Ski Holdings’ leadership and the regional tone that has been set in the last few years.

Have you sensed any red flags? Have you felt comfortable with speaking your mind? Have you hidden any feelings to protect your job/nonprofit or your future in the region? How does it strike you that some within your community are being paid significant sums of money to thwart the will of others within the same community?

Does the anti-town Save Olympic Valley campaign, which is heavily funded by Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, accurately reflect you, your friends, and your community? What does your gut say when you see their full page ads in the newspaper?

What do you sense when key influential figures and athletes have to publicly vouch for Mr. Wirth’s leadership and character? How does it sit with you that Squaw Valley Ski Holdings has spent $364,000 in the last six months to fight a local democratic process?

How is Squaw Valley Ski Holdings treating our community and the voices of the individuals within it? Finally, do you want the current leadership style offered by Squaw Valley Ski Holdings to form the skeletal structure of our community’s future process?

Sharing your intuition with the greater community is critical for our region. Come to the table – not from a position of protecting yourself or your business, or from a place of fear — but with what sits down deep in your heart.

If you remain quiet and do not contribute, think of the weight and responsibility you’ll carry when this critical chapter in Tahoe history is said and done. If you step out on a limb and speak up, think of the positivity and value you’ll experience from having shaped Tahoe’s future identity.

My intuition tells me that something is drastically wrong with the way Squaw Valley Ski Holdings and Mr. Wirth are attempting to lead this region.

One crucial element essential to every leader/follower relationship is trust. But the current system has a fatal flaw blocking our ability to experience it. We have a frontman of a billion dollar private equity firm attempting to be our community leader.

There is no doubt Mr. Wirth gets things done. He creates strong loyalty in those close to him. He has done respectable things for several organizations around Tahoe. Yet, each of us is left with the impossible task of assessing whether his deeds are truly altruistic or merely strategic.

Answering that question is not as important as the fact that the question even exists. It will continue to plague the leader/follower relationship as long as the system is set up like this.

More disturbing is the contagious nature of distrust and its profound and insidious effects on people and communities. Did anyone lose a sense of trust for the commercial entities that came out against the town effort?

Did your sense of respect shift for the athletes who cosigned the letter last spring that praised Squaw’s leadership? What happens when these types of feelings weave into our personal lives, our business relationships, and the ways our regional communities negotiate and relate with one another?

These trust issues can be repaired. But for that to begin, Mr. Wirth and Squaw Valley Ski Holdings need to embrace and join our community rather than continue to fight it by strategically creating their own.

We are rapidly becoming a place where “skiing has a soul, this is where it dies.” As a community, we can come together and show the world that “skiing has a soul, this is where it lives.” – Dr. Robb Gaffney

We could not have said it better Dr. Gaffney. We really want to emphasize that this is not the time to be quiet or complacent. The mountains at Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, and the surrounding communities, belong to all of us. We want to thank everyone that has been stepping up and voicing their concerns, whether is be about the experience at either mountain, or the incorporation effort in Olympic Valley.

Reminder: Powderwhore’s “Some Thing Else” At The Tahoe Sports Hub Friday

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This Friday, October 17th, is the day. Powderwhore Production’s “Some Thing Else” will be showing at the Tahoe Sports Hub in Truckee. The event is a benefit for the Sierra Avalanche Center. Tickets are $10 at the door, with the doors opening at 7 pm for the 8 pm showing. Refreshments and a raffle will also be available at the event.

The Tahoe Sports Hub, formerly known as the Truckee Sports Exchange, is located on West River Street in Truckee. See you there!