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Mini May Pow Day On The Other Side

Photo by Patty

Photo by Patty

It’s that time of the year where my summer job really starts to conflict with my love of skiing, and today was one of those days. With nearly 6 inches of new snow in Truckee overnight and reports of mayhem over Donner Summit last night, many people were hoping for some last minute pow at Squaw. While the day didn’t quite match up to closing day in 2011, it offered plenty of fun based on the numerous pictures sent today. I was a good person and went to work, even smiling with each text I received.

We heard one estimate of 200 people on the mountain, and another of “less than 500”, and just about every picture I saw today confirms there was plenty of room to move about. Tomorrow may still be pretty good  with cool temperatures and a chance of snow and rain, and a possibility of the usual spring thunderstorm.

For those that haven’t been in the loop, Gold Coast is down for the count for the season with a broken gearbox. The gearbox was already slated for replacement this summer so no emergency fix is at hand. That puts a bit more pressure on Siberia, but crowds were no issue today.

Not much of a Funi line for a pow day...photo by Brokelever

Not much of a Funi line for a pow day…photo by Brokelever

Photo by Brokelever

Photo by Brokelever

Sharing the Alpine love. Photo by Valleygirl

Sharing the Alpine love. Photo by Valleygirl

Andy Wertheim: A Morning At Squaw

Photo by Andy Wertheim

Photo by Andy Wertheim

Skiers and Boarders,

My skis finally touched the snow again.  Work, Hawaii, and the beginning of sports in a new season have kept me off the slopes.  Today we made the effort to ride the Funitel and try the upper mountain at Squaw.

There is still a good coverage on Siberia and Shirley Lake as well as Big Blue and Gold Coast.  Headwall, North Bowl, and Siberia Bowl have enough snow for another week or so of skiing.  Of course it is currently spring skiing.  Some areas were a little on the stop and go or sticky side, but in general the snow was fairly consistent this morning.  Shirley Lake was perhaps the best as it faces more to the north and west. There were actually a few hard surfaces from the freezing temperatures we had last night.  Groomed slopes were smooth and soft, but not mushy.

Photo by Andy Wertheim

Photo by Andy Wertheim

We rode Shirley a few times and hit Siberia as well before riding the Funitel back down.  It felt good to be on the slopes.  It is difficult to know what this weekend will be like with cooler weather arriving with the possibility of snow or rain.  Either way, I would recommend hitting the hill a few more times before the end May 30th.

Enjoy your day,

Andy Wertheim

Photo by Andy Wertheim

Photo by Andy Wertheim

The Community Says No To The Village At Squaw Valley Project…Again

Image via Keep squaw True

Hundreds of people attended last Saturday’s Squaw Valley MAC meeting. Image via Keep squaw True

The community continues to deliver the message that they are not willing to accept the proposed Village At Squaw Valley project as currently proposed. Last Saturday, the Squaw Valley Municipal Advisory Council voted 3-1 to recommend that the Placer County Board of Supervisors  deny the application by Squaw Valley to build the oversized project.

It’s not the first time the community resisted the plan. For more than two years, the community tried to organize and incorporate as the town of Olympic Valley to gain more local control over the plan. Squaw Valley and Andy Wirth, under the friendly moniker “Save Olympic Valley”, spent more than $800,000 fighting the incorporation effort, finally killing it off last fall. There was also strong community opposition after the release of the draft Environmental Impact Report last summer. The dEIR identified “23 different significant and unavoidable impacts” from the proposed project. Roughly 350 different individuals, businesses and government agencies expressed their opposition to the plan, mostly based on the scale of the project and resulting issues with traffic, noise, use of local resources and the expected 25 year construction period.

Sure, there’s an occasional person out there that does support the project. We noted that this letter appeared in support of the project in the Sierra Sun recently. It points out a simple fact. Nearly every one of these letters comes from someone that stands to directly benefit from the project. The letter this week was from an upper level employee at Squaw Valley. Other letters of support have come from both athletes and local non-profits that are essentially sponsored by Squaw Valley.

“Saturday was a great night for Squaw and everyone who loves Lake Tahoe. Hundreds of people turned out, and the Council demonstrated true leadership in taking a stand for Squaw.” –  said Tom Mooers, Executive Director of Sierra Watch

KSL Capital Partners purchased the North Tahoe resort in 2010, citing Squaw’s “great growth potential”.  Their final Village at Squaw Village Specific Plan proposes to remake Squaw Valley with development of scale and type never before seen in North Lake Tahoe.  KSL is asking for 25 years worth of entitlements for:

  • A 90,000 square foot 96’ tall indoor waterpark with waterslides, indoor waterskiing, fake rivers, arcades, and a 30 lane bowling complex;
  • 1,493 new bedrooms spread among a series of highrise condo hotels (many of which would be nearly 100’ tall) surrounding the existing village;
  • 21 timeshare mansions on undeveloped land in the mouth of Shirley Canyon; and
  • a propane “tank farm” with 30,000 gallon tanks at the entrance to the resort.

On Saturday, Chevis Hosea, Squaw Valley VP of Real Estate, rose to represent the developers, touting the economic development their project would bring and explaining how the $1,000/square foot condos would make Squaw Valley a world-class destination.

He announced a change in their plans: trimming the height of the indoor waterpark from 108 to 96 feet, a modest reduction that would still allow the developers – and Tahoe – to lay claim to the tallest indoor waterslide in North America.

Three members of the Squaw Valley MAC were forced to recuse themselves from the meeting as they had potential conflicts of interest. It’s our guess that had all members voted, the best result that Squaw Valley developers could have expected would be a 5-2 vote to recommend denying the application, although it’s quite possible it could have gone 6-1.

In addition to passing the motion to recommend denying the application, the Council made a second vote to recommend that that Placer County supervisors approve the alternative version of the project presented in the Environmental Impact Report. That version would cut the project by about 50% and eliminate nearly all of the predicted impacts from the project. The council’s motion includes a request that a new EIR be completed to fully analyze the reduced plan.

The Placer County Planning Commission is slated to review the project next. The meeting, which reportedly was scheduled for late May has now been postponed until June. Will the community also show up by the hundreds to let them know this project is just too big? We have no doubts they will be there in force.

“Isn’t there already enough adventure here in this valley? Shouldn’t we be exposing kids to the natural wonders of this valley?” – Sally Brew, Squaw Valley resident

Image via Keep Squaw True

Image via Keep Squaw True

$19 Lift Tickets For May Madness At Squaw Valley

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Squaw Valley is now offering $19 lift tickets for the remainder of May. The only catch is that you have to be a pass holder from another mountain, or be a “friend” of another SquAlpine pass holder. Is it a great idea? Yes sir. It’s too bad that Alpine Meadows wasn’t open and independently owned so they could offer an $18 ticket.

Ski reports from Squaw all seemed good through the weekend. Currently there is rain in the forecast again for next Saturday…midweek looks good though.

Squaw Valley MAC Meets Saturday: Village Plan On The Agenda

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The Squaw Valley Municipal Advisory Council (MAC) will meet this Saturday to make a recommendation on the Village At Squaw Valley Specific Plan. In Placer County, MAC’s are established in unincorporated areas to give advisory input to the Board of Supervisors. The Squaw Valley MAC consists of 7 members appointed by the supervisors. Members are residents, property owners and business owners in the Valley.

This month’s agenda only has one item – making a recommendation on the Village At Squaw Valley Specific Plan. The controversial plan calls for adding more than 1400 new beds to the Village, hundreds of thousands of square feet of retail space and a 90,000 square foot, 108 foot tall indoor water park. A draft Environmental Impact Report last summer identified 23 different “significant and unavoidable impacts from the project. After more than 350 public comments were submitted on the dEIR, there were some minor changes to the plan that decreased some building heights and increased some setbacks to preserve some views within the Valley. Still, when the final EIR was recently released, 20 of those “significant and unavoidable impacts” still remain.

All issues of traffic, visual obstructions, water, green house gases, etc. were erroneously forsaken. Twenty significant and unavoidable impacts remain.  – Ed Heneveld in the Sierra Sun

We’re in agreement with the Friends of Squaw Valley, who believes the project is too big. A letter published in last week’s Sierra Sun called for the MAC to approve the alternative version of the Specific plan, which reduces the size of the project by about 50%, and eliminates most of the significant impacts in the EIR.

To be fair, there’s some other letters in this week’s sun that support the project, based on the possibility that it could be a financial boon to some select groups in the area, and in Denver, Colorado. You can find those letters here and here.

Ultimately, the Squaw Valley MAC is a very small group of people charged with giving an advisory position on a very big project. Although they may have gained some concessions from the project applicant, Squaw Valley Real Eastate, it’s not near enough. The project, as proposed, would have far reaching impacts, well beyond the boundary of the Squaw Valley community. That’s why there was opposition to the project from the town of Truckee, businesses all over North Lake Tahoe, and from visitors from across the globe.

It’s important that there be good attendance at Saturday’s MAC meeting to let them know that the current plan is no where near where it should be to protect Squaw Valley and North Lake Tahoe for everyone. The meeting will be held at 3 pm, Saturday, May 14th at the Mountain Room in the Plumpjack Inn at Squaw Valley.

It’s also important to put May 26th on the calendar, as the Placer County Planning Commission will be making a recommendation on the Village project, with specific details yet to be announced.

The Base To Base Gondola: An Ugly Future For Alpine Meadows

Not what anybody wants to see from Alpine Meadows road, or the Alpine Meadows community.

Not what anybody wants to see from Alpine Meadows road, or the Alpine Meadows community. This is an artist’s conception of the view of the gondola mid-station produced by the SE Group.

The initial scoping meetings were held for the proposed SquAlpine Base To Base gondola this week. “Here we go again” is the best summary I can give. We’ve been going through the environmental review process for the Village At Squaw Valley project for the last two years, and now here we are, at square one of the process for the Base To Base Gondola project. Unfortunately, this one will be more complicated, with two studies happening simultaneously. At the scoping meetings, officials from Placer County and the Tahoe National Forest worked together to explain their respective parts of the review process.

In a nutshell, Placer County will be handling the CEQA required Environmental Impact Report. That report will be produced by Ascent Environmental. Together, that is the team that produced the EIR for the Village At Squaw Valley project, which identified 23 “significant and unavoidable impacts” from the project. During the comment period, the public supplied about 350 comments about the proposed project. In the end analysis, approximately 300 of those comments were pretty much ignored. We heard many questions today about whether it even made sense to get involved with the Placer County review, only to have no real impact on the project.

The Tahoe National Forest will be handling the NEPA required Environmental Impact Statement. That report will be produced by the SE Group. Sound familiar? Yes, it is the same SE Group that also performed the studies for Squaw Valley Ski Holdings regarding options for the proposed gondola. If you’re thinking that it sounds like the fox is guarding the henhouse, you’re not alone.

Much of the scoping meetings were spent on introducing the participants in the process and identifying that the only comments that would be collected at this time were those that addressed the scope of the environmental review. Promises were made by the nice woman from Placer County that there would be opportunities at a later date to discuss the actual merits of the project. Right….

SVSH Manager Jim Spenst sells the idea of destroying the edge of the Granite Chief Wilderness.

SVSH Project Manager Jim Spenst sells the idea of destroying the edge of the Granite Chief Wilderness. Approximately 60 members of the general public attended each session today.

SVSH Project Manager Jim Spenst then gave a cursory overview of the project, identifying the location of key components on colorful maps. He also explained the need for the Gazex system to control avalanches in the Buttress area, rather than relying on the Howitzer and hand charges. One point that was different was that he said at both meetings today that the purpose of the project was not to increase skier numbers at the mountains. Squaw Valley is willing to invest somewhere north of $35 million simply to reduce 100 car trips a day between Alpine Meadow and Squaw Valley. Right…

Rather than having people ask questions about the project as a group, what followed were breakout sessions at the back of the room where you could talk to representatives from the Forest Service, Ascent Environmental, the SE Group and Squaw Valley about different elements of the project or the approval process. Although this certainly saved time, it made it difficult to share information.

Sell, sell, sell!

Sell, sell, sell!

Lastly there was the public comment period, which was limited to only comments about the scope of the environmental review. Approximately 9 individuals commented publicly at the afternoon session and 4 individuals at the evening session. It’s not surprising that the more assertive people took time off work to attend the first meeting. Many people chose to submit written comments instead, as they needed more time to state things than 3 minutes at the podium would allow.

Here’s a summary of what people were thinking:

• The Forest Service does recognize that the gondola does indeed pass through the designated boundary of the Granite Chief Wilderness. There’s also plenty of backpedaling about private property rights superseding the wilderness designation. I find myself wondering why my local homeowner’s association has more power to protect the “greater good of the community” than the amount of power the USFS and Congress has to protect our wilderness. Odd, isn’t it?

• This would be a perfect time for the Tahoe National Forest to make this case the poster child for why wilderness protections need to be expanded now. Instead, it looks like they are willing to let it become the precedent that says that the wilderness designation does not matter.

White Wolf owner Troy Caldwell and TNF Supervisor Eli Ilano buddy it up in the back row at tonight's presentation.

White Wolf owner Troy Caldwell and TNF Supervisor Eli Ilano buddy it up in the back row at tonight’s presentation.

• The wilderness designation is sacred and cannot be taken lightly. It is a multigenerational issue as our decisions now will affect generations to come. Wilderness or not, the idea of building a highly industrialized and mechanized system of transportation along the crest of the Sierra is just wrong.

• Although the current owner of the land in question, Troy Caldwell, is not interested in selling that land to the federal government – a future owner of that property might want to do so. But if the development is allowed, that all becomes a moot point.

• There’s huge questions about the view sheds within the Alpine Meadows area. The headline picture on this story is just the start. Similarly terrible views will be propagated by the project in the Buttress zone near the parking lot and of the base station located right in front of the Sun Deck at Alpine Meadows.

The viewshed from the deck of the Alpine Meadows lodge...ouch. Another insult from Squaw Valley...

The viewshed from the deck of the Alpine Meadows lodge…ouch. Another insult from Squaw Valley…

• Although the Base To Base gondola is being treated as an individual project, it is not. Clearly there are several related projects, all in various stages of approval. Nobody is buying the argument that the gondola is simply being built to reduce traffic on Alpine Meadows Road. It is closely connected to the Village project, and likely exists only because of the Village project. The proposed Rollers chair is also dependent on the gondola project. Troy Caldwell’s second White Wolf Chair would also be dependent on the gondola project. Then there’s the first White Wolf chairlift, yet to be completed…and Troy’s elite 38 home development…and don’t forget about the proposed Alpine Sierra subdivision. Cumulative impacts…we all need to shout STOP or at least SLOW DOWN! One commenter noted that the Alpine Meadows General Plan had not been updated since 1960. It’s time to do that before things get crazy.

• Several people took issue with the idea that SE Group will be overseeing the environmental study of a project put together by the very same SE Group for SVSH. We agree. A neutral party is needed. There was a day and a time where the USFS was neutral…

• One commenter suggested that we all needed to “trust the process”, and that the review process would result in something everyone could support. Right…

• Although all of the early presentations by Andy Wirth and Troy Caldwell insisted that construction would be done without roads, one construction road is very visible on the latest maps. Depending on whom you talked to today, that road was everything from a full on construction road to a single track path with supplies being hauled in by burros and bicycles.

• Not only would there be a ton of helicopter noise associated with constructing the gondola, that noise would continue. Plans call for helicopters to be used for servicing and supplying the gondola and Gazex system.

It All Comes Down To The Alpine Meadows Mid-Station

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Most of the bad ju-ju regarding the current proposal for the Base To Base gondola starts with the placement of the Alpine Meadows mid station on that corner of Forest Service land right next to the Granite Chief Wilderness. Although they Forest Service has waffled about their ability to protect the part of the Wilderness located on Troy’s property, they do have the right to call the shots on their own property. It’s the SE Group that chose the current location for the gondola. It seems unlikely that they will take it upon themselves to insist on a better option in the EIS.

So to that USFS “wilderness specialist” that I put on the spot at the meeting – this is your chance to be the hero and actually protect the Granite Chief Wilderness. Simply rejecting the location of the mid-station near the Buttress would change everything, making the rest of the argument about the Granite Chief boundary a moot point. If Troy Caldwell doesn’t want the gondola to traverse lower through his property, as it should, then maybe that kills the project, as it should.


The comment period on the scope of the Placer County draft EIR is over on May 23, 2016. Comments may be emailed to cdraecs@placer.ca.gov.  Documents relating to the Placer County environmental study can be located at

http://placer.ca.gov/departments/communitydevelopment/envcoordsvcs/eir/squawvalleygondolaproject

Placer County expects to finish the draft EIR by mid winter of 2017 (based on an estimate of “a couple of months earlier than the USFS draft EIS”).


The comment period on the scope of the Tahoe National Forest draft EIS is over on May 31, 2016. Comments may be emailed to scoping_comment@squawalpinegondola-eis.com or submitted directly at the website below.  Documents relating to the Tahoe National Forest environmental study can be located at

http://squawalpinegondola-eis.com

The Tahoe National Forest expects to finish the draft EIS by spring of 2017.


Finishing our report, the Carpenters’ Local 1789 was out again protesting Squaw Valley’s refusal to commit to union labor for their proposed projects. The imagery is quite prophetic for the future of Squaw  Valley and Alpine Meadows if we don’t stand up to big money.

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