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Sierra Watch Speaks Up About SquAlpine Gondola Proposal

Sierra Watch came out today with a press release that questions the proposal of a base to base gondola proposed this week by Squaw Valley Ski Holdings. One common theme amongst many opponents is the impact on the Five Lakes area and the Granite Chief Wilderness area. Although the map released by the SE Group, for SVSH, makes it seem that the proposed path for the gondola is only along the edge of the wilderness, further research done by Sierra Watch shows that the Granite Chief Wilderness designation does extend into the Caldwell property.

Here’s the Sierra Watch press release in its entirety:


April 16, 2015

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For Immediate Release

TAHOE WILDERNESS AREA THREATENED BY NEW SKI DEVELOPMENT

Olympic Valley, Calif. – When KSL Capital Partners announced plans to connect Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows earlier this week, they put their proposed gondola on a collision course with federally designated Granite Chief Wilderness.

Famed for its soaring granite peaks, remote glacial valleys, and lush mountain meadows, Granite Chief was enshrined as wilderness by an act of Congress and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1984.

To Tahoe conservationists, it’s hallowed ground.

Map Proposed Gondola Through Granite Chief Wilderness

“KSL’s proposal is another example of a clear disregard for the irreplaceable natural values of the Tahoe Sierra,” said Isaac Silverman, Staff Attorney of the conservation non-profit Sierra Watch.  “Granite Chief Wilderness was dedicated by an act of Congress to be protected for all Americans, not as a place for private development.”

Denver-based KSL Capital Partners purchased Squaw Valley in 2010 and Alpine Meadows in 2011, citing the properties’ “great growth potential”.

They’ve since filed an application for development entitlements that would transform Tahoe with development of a size, scale and scope the region has never seen, including a series of ten-story tall high rises and an indoor water park.  And, as of Monday, they’ve proposed a connection between their ski resorts.

The new gondola, announced with great fanfare, would run 2 1/2 miles from Squaw Valley to Alpine Meadows, over the intervening White Wolf property − and through land designated by Congress for protection since 1984 as the Granite Chief Wilderness Area.

Its route, illustrated in designs prepared by resort developer SE Group, would run from the Village at Squaw Valley to a point on the ridge northwest of the famed KT-22 lift.

From there it would head south across the congressionally designated Granite Chief Wilderness Area, with lift stations for offloading, on its way to publicly owned United States Forest Service property at the base of Alpine Meadows ski area.

When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law on Sept. 3, 1964, it marked perhaps the single greatest achievement in the history of conservation in America. The language of the law included some of the most profound text ever approved by Congress, recognizing the value of wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” Johnson signed the bill into law “for all who love the great American outdoors” as “a faithful trust to the conservation of our natural resources and beauty” to ensure that “future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt.”

When Granite Chief Wilderness Area was added to the national wilderness system, a  third of the area was private land.  Private ownership of land in federally designated Wilderness Areas is a complicated legacy of the generous railroad land grant programs during the 1860s that created checkerboard ownership patterns throughout the Sierra.

Congress sought to address this problem by authorizing the Secretary of Agriculture to purchase private lands within Wilderness Area boundaries from willing sellers.  The bulk of the privately owned land in the Granite Chief Wilderness was acquired by the Forest Service from Sierra Pacific Land Company in 1991, but some of the area, including the land proposed for ski development, remains in private hands.

Although the land is privately owned and is currently exempt from some of the strongest protections afforded by the Wilderness Act, its inclusion within the Granite Chief Wilderness Area boundary reflects congressional recognition that this land is special and should be protected from development.

“The Granite Chief Wilderness is one of those rare places that we, as a nation, have decided should be protected for future generations, unmolested by man’s modifications.” said Silverman. “A gondola connection isn’t necessarily a bad idea.  But a gondola in a designated Wilderness Area?  That’s offensive.”

KSL’s proposals for the water park and highrise condo hotels is moving through the early stages of the public planning process.  Placer County, which maintains land use decision making authority over Squaw Valley, is expected to release a Draft Environmental Impact Report for that portion of the project within the month.

“Developing ski facilities in a designated Wilderness Area makes about as much sense as a massive indoor water park fifteen minutes from Lake Tahoe,” said Tom Mooers, Executive Director of Sierra Watch.  “We’re committed to securing a better legacy − so generations to come remember us, as President Johnson said more than 50 years ago, ‘with gratitude rather than contempt’.”


We did some followup with Sierra Watch Executive Director Tom Mooers regarding the source data for the boundary of the wilderness area. Sierra Watch staff reviewed the maps and boundary lines with US Forest Service officials yesterday before making their statement.  Mooers provided the following two maps that clearly show “the bump”, which appears to be there to protect the wilderness nature of the Five Lakes area.

The section of the USGS topo map is indeed clearly stamped as wilderness.

The section of the USGS topo map is indeed clearly stamped as wilderness.

The Granite Chief Wilderness map also clearly shows "the bump" too.

The Granite Chief Wilderness map also clearly shows “the bump” too.

We applaud Sierra Watch in their effort to protect Lake Tahoe and the surrounding area. With Congress currently considering selling off National Forest and wilderness land to the highest bidders, we must stand together to protect these lands for everyone.

Can we really trust Squaw Valley Ski Holdings and KSL Capital to protect the Five Lakes Wilderness area for everyone?

Update: Here’s the Reno Gazette Journal article on this topic, which includes a fairly extensive rebuttal from Andy Wirth. There’s definitely some arguments there that are fairly certain to land the issue in court. One thing seems certain, while the wilderness designation on a portion of the Caldwell property may not be enforceable, the designations seems clear according to Forest Service officials, whom claim to have attempted purchasing that portion of the property. Mr. Wirth’s claims to having wilderness roots seem to be pointless in this case.

Squaw Valley Extends Their Season Again Until April 26th

Coverage is still looking very good on the upper mountain at Squaw. Photo courtesy of Instagram user @randallboog

Coverage is still looking very good on the upper mountain at Squaw. Photo courtesy of Instagram user @randallboog

Squaw Valley announced today that they will again extend their season, this time until April 26th. There’s been a little bit more snow over the last week, but more importantly much colder temperatures that have helped preserve the snowpack. Boreal was even making snow this morning, not for immediate use, but to prepare for future Woodward camps.

It’s an announcement that shows there is some soul left somewhere after a very challenging season for mountain operations staff. Northstar and Mount Rose have announced closing dates of April 19th. Heavenly and Kirkwood are expected to announce closures after this weekend. Squaw Valley could hold the title for last mountain open in this very oddest of seasons.

Although the GFS is advertising the possibility of a significant storm around the 24th, the teleconnections don’t support it. This time of year, the teleconnections seem to have less of a connection to our weather. It bears watching for those that are looking for one more powder day.

Image courtesy of TwisterData.com

Image courtesy of TwisterData.com

The SquAlpine Gondola Connection: A Community Divided

Image via SkiAlpine.com

Image via SkiAlpine.com

We thought the news might be coming sometime soon. After a dismal series of snow seasons, Squaw Valley Ski Holdings needed to do something to maintain interest in the selling of ski passes, and more importantly, to sell the dream of the proposed new village at Squaw Valley. As our last two surveys have shown, the community is really split about whether the connection between Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley would be a great thing or a terrible thing.

We’re definitely late to the party in reporting the story. While I was at work today, it seemed like I received 47 emails and texts alerting me to the announcement, asking why I hadn’t posted a piece yet, or asking for my commentary. The story has been already widely reported by both the ski media and the mainstream media too. So we’ll be totally transparent in telling you that this piece is nothing more than an editorial, as it is far too late to call it “news.”

A quick summary of the details

• The base area to base area connection would likely be served by a gondola, but that is subject to change as the planning process continues. Reviewing the maps and video, the base at Squaw Valley would be in the vicinity of the KT-22 lift, while the base at Alpine Meadows would terminate at the current location of the small magic carpet lift.

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I know I consider the “walk-up view” of Alpine Meadows lodge to be one of the best in the industry. The tower would be nice method to block out the view of that pesky remaining Alpine Meadows classic logo.

• Plan’s call for two angled mid-stations along the ridgeline above White Wolf. One would be located near the Saddle of KT-22, on property that is owned by Troy Caldwell, unless that ownership has changed as a part of this deal. The second mid-station would be located near the top of the Buttress or Bernies Bowl on USFS land.

Graphic Via USA Today

Graphic Via USA Today

• Although an initial reading of the informational site at SkiAlpine.com suggests that loading and unloading will be done only at the base stations, further reading reveals this is not true. Subsequent interviews with Andy Wirth have revealed that the three sections of the gondola will be set up to operate independently. That means there will be an ability to load or unload guests at the angled mid-stations. From either side, that gives skiers and riders nearly direct lift served access to terrain near The Buttress and Bernie’s Bowl, eliminating some of Alpine’s best hike to terrain. It’s that sort of hike to terrain that defines Alpine Meadows, not our easy blue groomers.

• No new terrain will become available as a result of the connection, meaning that skiers and riders will not have access to any of the White Wolf terrain. The addition of the gondola appears to just be a matter of convenience that will allow skiers and riders to move more easily between mountains. It will also allow more non-skiers access to the Village at Squaw Valley from Alpine Meadows. You and your grandma will be able to share a GNAR burger at the Rocker for lunch.

• In a Powder magazine interview with Andy Wirth today, he revealed that by Squaw Valley lift access records show 20 to 25 percent of customers ski both mountains on the same day. He claims even he was surprised by the figure. Our survey results show that far fewer people are actually riding both mountains in the same day. We would be willing to bet that a very substantial portion of those people using both mountains are the large numbers of teams that move back and forth between mountains to alleviate crowding at Squaw.

• Today’s announcement is only the first step in a very long process. It simply means that Troy Caldwell has finally figured out how to finance his dreams for White Wolf, and not much more. There’s a long way to go in the process: Squaw has to actually complete a plan, and has contracted ski industry heavyweight, the SE Group to complete it; plans must be submitted for approval to both Placer County and the USFS; the final construction plans must be completed…all before anyone can think about starting anything. If things don’t move quickly enough, a newly formed town would also become a part of the approval process. We expect that Squaw’s efforts to kill off the incorporation will be redoubled. They have already spent just about a half million dollars on stopping the incorporation.

• Andy Wirth knows that the proposed gondola will be a battle. The informational site already suggests that the project can only happen with the support of the people. We can already guess that people will be encouraged to let Placer County and USFS know how badly they want to see the gondola in place. It’s also a sure bet that the gondola connection will be used as a carrot to generate support for the proposed village project, and to reject the incorporation proposal in Olympic Valley. Can Mr. Wirth and SVSH do any better at dividing the community?

• In watching the video presentation, there is no lack of Olympic imagery. It suggests that ultimately, the goal is to bring the Olympics back to SquAlpine and the Tahoe region, which would be the death of Tahoe as we know and love it. But it’s the only thing that would make the over expansion of the village at Squaw viable finically, at least in short term sales.

We’re not the only one that are not jumping on the cheerleading bandwagon with this story today. My Facebook feed was full of RIP Alpine Meadows imagery today. We also ran across a great post that questions the reality of the gondola effort over at Death Of the Pressbox.

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Ultimately, Squaw Valley Ski holdings will not be creating the largest ski area in North America by any measure. With the impending connection between the Canyons and Park City Mountain Resort, which is scheduled for completion this summer, that title has been claimed by Vail Resorts. So do we really need a mega-resort in Tahoe? We don’t think so. Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley are both awesome mountains, and for a number of reasons, they draw different clientele. We hope that some day, SVSH will realize that there is far more value in operating two different mountains for two different sets of clientele.

We wish that Andy Wirth was worth his words.

As we move forward with consolidating our operations, we want you to know that what’s going to remain the same is as important as what’s going to change: We think the key to the success of the consolidation is our fervent commitment to maintain each resort’s distinctive character. People, terrain, activities, all come together to give a resort its individual character, and that’s what we’re committed to retaining.

– Andy Wirth, September 2011

The funny thing is he said a similar thing today:

My next question to our community would be, “How can we best activate that intent of managing, protecting, and respecting the heritage, history, and vibe of each mountain?” – Andy Wirth

Will Mr. Wirth be true to his words this time? We hope you join us in holding Andy and Squaw Valley Ski Holdings accountable to that promise. We would love to hear your comments.

 

Andy Wertheim: The Connection Is Announced

Hello Skiers and Riders,

It has been announced.  It is really going forward. I am sure we are years away with all the environmental issues that need to be met and the lawsuits that will ensure along the way, but the proposal for a connection between Alpine Meadows base area and the Village at Squaw Valley is a reality.  It appears the connection will have two mid-stations.  One at the KT22 Saddle and one near the top of the Buttress or the top Bernie’s Bowl.

I am sure this will exciting news to many of you and a disappointment to many others.  Hopefully we will have a few good snow years at our favorite resort, Alpine Meadows, before this becomes a reality.  My guess is that the approval of the expansion of the Village at Squaw Valley is a contingency to this proposed connection.

I wonder if it will be running in the summer so that visitors to the resort in Squaw will be able to ride to the top of KT and then take the easy walk down to Five Lakes.  Just a few more people surrounding Five Lakes on a nice summer day.  Perhaps Five Lakes will be taken out of its Wilderness Status (it is really no longer Wilderness anyway) to allow for a small village to be constructed on its shores.

When will the Village at Alpine be announced? After all who, wants to ride a gondola from a fancy modern village with all the amenities to an old style dated Day Lodge.  Move over and let progress take over.

Here is a link to the site explaining the route and process to approval that also is requesting your assistance and approval of the development by voting for the connection.

 

Of course, it may be time to snap up some real estate before prices go through the roof.

Enjoy your day.

Andy Wertheim

We’ll be doing a more in depth report on the connection shortly. Work has been busy today on the first day of work after spring break. – Mark

And We’re Into The Last Week Of The Lift Served Season In Tahoe

It really feels odd to be saying that in mid-April. But this season has been odd all around.

We did a quick rally up to Boreal today to catch some fast laps on Accelerator at Boreal for their closing day. We took it from firm ice to creamy corn to slush between 10 am and 11:30. As we walked out to the car, it was already 61°, and there was absolutely no sign of the 18 inches of new snow that had fallen over the last week.

Smooth corn on Accelerator for closing day.

Smooth corn on Accelerator for closing day.

Boreal still has a huge jump line in place and also has been making snow in big stockpiles. That snow will be used later to create a park for Woodward camps during the late spring. They have their snow management down.

There's five of these huge jumps to store snow for later use.

There’s five of these huge jumps to store snow for later use.

Maybe the better call for today would have been to put on the skins and head out to Alpine Meadows, where the corn is growing wild in Alpine Bowl. Reportedly, it’s still not a problem to ski all of the way to the lodge.

Photo credit to Momo

Photo credit to Momo

This is likely to be our last weather update until some time in September or October. The forecast we made 10 days ago still holds. Last weeks storm was just another one hit wonder, and there continues to be no significant evidence of a pattern change to rescue this season. Based on the current pattern, we would expect to see our next significant weather maker sometime around the first week of May.

Not much snow expected before the 19th.

Not much snow expected before the 19th.

The PNA remains positive and the MJO remains neutral over the next two weeks.

The PNA remains positive and the MJO remains neutral over the next two weeks.

There’s one more week to enjoy turns in Tahoe, where it seems all resorts that are still open will be calling it a season on the 19th…go get it while you can!

 

Seasonal Confusion At Mount Rose…Cold, Warm, Cold, Snow, Warm, Cold

It was a busy day at Mount Rose, not in terms of crowds or liftlines, but in the number of laps we were able to complete today due to that lack of lines and extended hours. Rather than doing the village shuffle at Squaw Valley, parking is close and easy this time of year. From the car to the ticket window was 39 steps, yes I counted. From the ticket window to the snow was another 21 steps. There were only 4 of us waiting for first chair, maybe because other people paid attention to the forecast that called for clouds, brisk winds and chilly temperatures, relative to yesterday. Our first runs down Bonanza and then Silver on the Slide side were a frightening mixture of large ice plates, firm groomers and wind drifts…with some of those drifts being frozen solid. Moving over to Rose side offered largely the same conditions, with the exception of the addition of a lot of  traffic from the U16 Far West event that had been moved from Squaw Valley.

After 6 or 7 runs, I decided that my body was not ready for the 34° plus windchill temperatures after spending most of the week in the mid-80’s in Mexico. We retreated to a friends house a couple of miles down the road for an early lunch and hot tub session. The return at 11:30 offered another easy parking experience on the Rose side at 52 steps from the snow. That turned out to be convenient as the temperatures and visibility changed every hour, requiring goggle swaps and adding or shedding layers as the day went on.

We had a chance to check out the longboard races sponsored by the Plumas Ski Club. The skis are hand built by members of the club and generally seem to range from 11 to 12 feet long, and bindings that consist of a leather strap and a heel brace. A dozen competitors participated in the competition. Racers are limited only to natural wax recipes, know as dope. Watching today’s races brought a full meaning to the old ski racer slogan “Dope is King.” Skier success and speed seemed to vary mostly on their wax and not on skill or the skis. With the snow not quite corned up yet on the Show Off run, the stickiness of the snow was certainly an issue that only the right dope could fix.

Skiing in the afternoon went from frightening to fantastic. While all of the face runs off of Northwest on the Rose side offered the best coverage, it was Bonanza on the slide side that turned to just about perfect corn today. We skied lap after lap, sharing the run with about 3 other skiers and riders the entire afternoon. Yes, the coverage was not as good, but we have become experienced rock dodgers over the last few seasons. The run outs to the base are barely holding together. Tomorrow is the last day for the Slide side. Suddenly it was 3:55 and the Zephyr lift was closing, forcing us back to the Rose side.

Rose ran the Northwest lift until 5:30 today to allow for a “Sunset Party” near the top of the Lower Lakeview run. Wine, beer and snacks were served for passholders. There also was a nice little live music performance on the mountain. The only flaw was that sunset did not occur until much later than 5:30. We loaded the lift for the last time at 5:26, making for my longest ski day of the season.

Yes, I could have gone to Squaw today, but the experience at Rose was so much better. We saw a number of other people from Alpine and Squaw, several of whom reported they were just tired of dealing with crowds at Squaw Valley. Mount Rose will be open until April 19th. Tomorrow, we’ll be heading to Boreal for their season closer.

Sven also posted a report on the day over at UnofficialMtRose.com.