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Corporate Owned Mountains: Two Different Approaches To Kids

When it comes to ownership of mountains, it seems as if every mountain is being swallowed up by a corporate giant. Not all corporate owners are the same though. This week, we’re noting the difference in how two different corporate owners approach getting kids interested in skiing,

Squaw Valley | Alpine Meadows “You Too Can Be A Star” Program

When KSL Capital entered the ski business back in 2010, it didn’t take long for the moniker “Keeping Skiing Lame” to take hold in the Tahoe region. Within just a few seasons of ski resort ownership, the price of a child’s lift ticket was raised over 500% at Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows. The prices for ski teams also just about doubled, pricing many local families out of skiing at the mountains they may have enjoyed for generations. I know we have told all of this to you before. But something changed this week, there’s a new game in town at SquAlpine.

Last spring Squaw Valley announced that a World Cup Ski Race would be held at Squaw Valley in 2017. Fast forward a few months and tickets for watching that event went on sale today. One marketing angle played heavily by the Squaw Valley marketing team is the potential for kids to get drawn into the ski racing program. Here’s what Squaw Valley CEO Andy Wirth told PugSki.com:

Hosting this World Cup event will put the best ski racers in the world within a ski’s length of the juniors coming up through local programs like Squaw’s Mighty Mites, inspiring them to follow in Lila’s and Julia’s tracks.  Interview with Squaw Valley CEO Andy Wirth at Pugski.com

 

Athletes sign autographs at the US Alpine Championships several years ago. Image via Pinterest

Athletes sign autographs at the US Alpine Championships several years ago. Image via Pinterest

Those kids parents better have a lot of money. The cheap grandstand seats for the event are already sold out. Tickets for premium access to the event and a chance to rub elbows with racers starts at $450 and goes up to $1400 per person. Other than that it’s standing on the sidelines in the crush of people trying to get an autograph from Julia Mancuso. If your kid decides to get competitive in ski racing, that’s where the real fun begins. Race teams for next season start at $3,000 dollars and up. That does not include equipment, clothing or the other incidental costs of skiing at a “world class resort.”

The entry level costs for kids to go skiing at SquAlpine are just too expensive after that one cheap “Learn To Ski” day. There’s got to be another way. Although as recently as 2010-11, a child’s lift ticket was only $10 at Alpine Meadows, Vail Resorts has made it even easier for kids to get involved in skiing and snowboard, as long as you live in Colorado or Utah.

Vail Resorts and the Epic Schoolkids Program

In some circles, Vail is a dirty word. It seems like not a week goes by where an announcement is not made that Vail Resorts has purchased yet another mountain. Most recently, the acquisition of Whistler-Blackcomb raised the hackles of skiers and riders all over, fearing that yet another resort would become a part of the “Death Star”. Is that such a bad thing? Not always, as Vail Resorts has done some great things too. One effort they highlighted this week was the Epic Schoolkids program. The program offers free lift tickets to children in Kindergarten through 5th grade in Colorado and Utah. Here’s the details:

  • Colorado kids get: 4 days at Vail, 4 days at Breckenridge, 4 days at Beaver Creek and 4 days at Keystone – a total of 16 free lift tickets and one first timer lesson with equipment rental
  • Utah kids get: 5 days at Park City and one first timer lesson with equipment rental

 

Why does this not happen in Tahoe?

Why does this not happen in Tahoe?

Vail Resorts is not the only resort playing this game. Other Colorado and Utah resorts have their own programs as well. The trend has spread to other regions as well, except for California. California used to have a ski passport program for 5th grade students, but it no longer exists.

The Tahoe Market & Kids

Unfortunately, in the Tahoe market, kids have become a huge profit center rather than an investment in the future of skiing. Why does Vail not offer an Epic Schoolkids program for it’s three resorts: Northstar, Heavenly and Kirkwood? Because they don’t have to do so. No other resort offers a program. It’s SquAlpine that should be rising to the occasion here and get real about getting kids into skiing.

Five hours of standing on the side of Red Dog shivering and hoping to catch a glimpse of someone famous wearing red, white and blue will not create new skiers and riders. You need to get them to comeback to your mountain again and again to fall in love with your terrain, your instructors, your mini-parks and your hot dogs.  It’s the real answer to keeping skiing and riding alive for kids.

Let’s forget about “world class” and get a bit more “epic” with children’s skiing and riding in Tahoe.

New At Alpine Meadows: Things To Like & Things To Hate

Alpine Meadows has been the “Jan Brady” of this blog lately, with Marcia (aka Squaw Valley) getting all of the attention lately. But with the kids heading back to school and thoughts turning back toward an upcoming winter, there’s been a few things happening at Alpine Meadows to report on. One you will hate, one you will like, and the jury is likely out on the other.

The Alpine Meadows Logo Gets More Rare
Something is missing from this picture...

Something is missing from this picture…

It’s as if Squaw CEO Andy Wirth flipped the bird at the Alpine Meadows community and then shouted “How do you like me now?” The last two big Alpine Meadows logos were removed this week. We reported earlier this summer when the sign was changed at the bottom of Alpine Meadows road. But this week, the classic big sign at the entrance to the parking lot was removed, as was the large logo from the front of the lodge. The new replacements have not been put in place yet, but it’s an easy guess that it will be that stupid shield design that arrived with the KSL acquisition of Squaw Valley. You know the one…where the shield supposedly has a skier swish and not an S for Squaw?

...and this one too.

…and this one too.

Slowly but surely Wirth and his minions have chipped away to combine two brands into one. There’s still a few original logos out there and one wonders how long they will last. If it were only the logos that were changing, that would be one thing. Anybody that spends time at Alpine Meadows knows there’s been plenty of other changes that have truly changed the Alpine Meadows experience.

Gazex Installation Underway

The installation of two different Gazex avalanche exploders is now underway. We reported on the plans earlier this summer. A reader sent this picture from the top of D8 recently showing construction beginning near Peril Ridge. A second exploder will be located near High Yellow. Both exploders should bring a better margin of safety for patrollers that are starting early morning routes in otherwise uncontrolled terrain.

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Another reader reported that lift towers had been repainted on Hot Wheels, reportedly in traditional Alpine Meadows green. Several people had bet that the next repaint would have been in Squaw colors. Others noted that if the towers were being repainted, it was a sign there was no immediate plan to proceed on the Hot Wheels chair replacement.

Lastly, construction is underway in Lot 4, where it looks like new piping is being put in from the snowmaking ponds. One would hope that that section of the lot will be repaved after the project, including the “sinkhole” near the entrance.

New Vice President Of Mountain Operations Named At Alpine Meadows
Casey Blann, new VP of Mountain Operations at Alpine Meadows

Casey Blann, new VP of Mountain Operations at Alpine Meadows

This news is actually a month old. We’ve just been neglecting the story with all of the attention focused on the Village project over the last month. SquAlpine announced that they have hired Casey Blann as the new Vice President of Mountain Operations at Alpine Meadows. Blank has worked at several resorts around Lake Tahoe, have served as the Mountain Operations guy at Sierra-At-Tahoe, Heavenly and most recently at Kirkwood. Blann will also be overseeing Risk Management and Loss Prevention for SquAlpine. The press release makes little mention of whether or not Mr. Blann actually gets out and enjoys skiing or riding on the mountain. We hope he does.

These two mountains have an incredibly rich history and diversity in terrain, and I look forward to celebrating that unique experience while maintaining consistent service to our guests at Alpine Meadows – Casey Blann, VP of Mountain Operations at Alpine Meadows

It’s a new era for Alpine Meadows. Blann was hired from outside of the Alpine Meadows organization, and to my recollection, it’s the first time that has happened. So much for knowing the history and culture that has defined Alpine Meadows since 1961. Industry insiders report that Blann is a “good guy.” We shall see what sort of changes he brings.

Gold Mining In Placer County

placer-mines

The Placer County Planning Commission’s decision to approve the proposed Village At Squaw Valley project really should not have come as a surprise to anybody. Placer County is indeed pretty near to the heart of the 1848 California Gold Rush. The discovery of gold near Coloma did indeed bring people from all over the world that were hoping to make a quick buck. The county is even named “Placer”, which is defined as the gold deposits that most miner’s were seeking in that initial rush.

It wasn’t until a few years later that smart businessmen and politicians realized there was far more money to be made from the miners than from the gold itself. Thats very similar to the idea that KSL Capital and Placer County have decided that it really is not about the skiing at Squaw Valley, or the Lake Tahoe experience, that is important. It’s more about the fact that there is billions to be made from real estate development in the Tahoe region.

Early gold seekers in Auburn Ravine in the 1850's.

Early gold seekers in Auburn Ravine in the 1850’s.

Sure we can lay some blame on the 4 planning commissioners that voted in favor of the project. But can they help it? Some might say that mining for gold is in their genes, or at least it is all they know. It’s a skill that has been handed down from generation to generation in Placer County. A trip to the Placer County courthouse will confirm the importance of gold mining in the county, as there are several major displays. They are proud of that heritage.

The Village At Squaw Valley, by most estimates, will bring over a billion dollars into the coffers of KSL Capital and their investors. The potential for increased property taxes, increased Transient Occupancy Taxes, and that last minute stunt with the Squaw Valley Foundation certainly must have drawn in the attention of the Planning Commission, just like those glints of gold in a gold pan drew miners from around the world 168 years ago.

In modern times, the people of Placer County have been frequently seduced by the call of gold. Because of that call, they live with the consequences. To them, the sprawl and traffic of the Roseville Galleria area is part of their everyday life. The Roseville Automall is what they consider normal, as is one one of the largest casinos in California, the Thunder Valley Resort. Just the Bass Pro store in Rocklin spans 120,000 square feet and bears a remarkable resemblance to the proposed Mountain Adventure Center in Squaw Valley. The people that are the decision makers in Placer County, including the Planning Commission and the Board Of Supervisors, view all of that as “normal.”

This 120,000 square foot store represents "normal" to residents of Placer County

This 120,000 square foot store represents “normal” to residents of Placer County

As we, the residents and frequent visitors to the Tahoe Basin, know – that is far from the reality that is needed for Squaw Valley and the Tahoe Basin. It is our job to educate them, and we don’t have a lot of time. The Board of Supervisors will meet to approve or deny the plan sometime this fall – and we need to make sure that does not happen. Talk to the supervisors, contact State Attorney General Kamala Harris and ask for her help in stopping the plan, write letters to the editor of Placer County publications – and most importantly get involved, before money wins over common sense.

People keep suggesting that “money always wins.” That is not the case. From the early 1850’s until 1884, California gold miners found they could extract gold more quickly than ever through the use of hydraulic mining. The powerful jets of water could move material through a sluice box very quickly, recovering far more gold than a miner with a shovel and a gold pan. Although mining companies struck it rich and the State of California’s coffers will quickly filled from taxes, it was causing severe damage to the ecology and farm production of California. In 1884, the US District Court in San Francisco banned hydraulic mining. More than 130 years later, the scars of hydraulic mining still show in the Sierra foothills.

Stop hydraulic mining in Squaw Valley!

Stop hydraulic mining in Squaw Valley!

Let’s make sure we band together as a solid community to defend everything that we love about Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows and the Lake Tahoe Basin. Hopefully people won’t be asking in 130 years “What were they thinking?”

Placer County Planning Commission Approves The Squaw Debacle 4-2

One thing is for sure, Squaw Valley CEO Andy Wirth and his minions are great at attempting to crush the last bit of soul out of Squaw Valley and the rest of the North Tahoe region. I thought it was better if I did not actually attend today’s meeting, and my 12 hour workday prevented it. So instead of any sort of editorial tonight, we’re just posting the Sierra Watch’s latest press release just about verbatim. We would love to have your comments… 

The Placer County Planning Commission voted today 4-2 to recommend approval of a massive development proposal for Tahoe’s Squaw Valley.

“The bad news is that the Planning Commission chose irresponsible development over the values of Tahoe, the will of the community, and the laws of California,” says Tom Mooers, Executive Director of Sierra Watch, the conservation group leading the effort to Keep Squaw True. “The good news is that this is not a done deal.  The proposal will go to the County Board of Supervisors next and it’s up to them to stick up for Squaw.”

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KSL Capital Partners’ development proposal would remake Squaw Valley and the North Tahoe region with a series of highrises and a massive indoor waterpark.

The Denver-based private equity firm is asking for entitlements for 25 years – and $1 billion worth – of development.  Their proposal has become the biggest development issue in the Sierra Nevada.

Concerns focus on a number of important issues: including traffic; – in the summer the project would add 8,410 new daily car trips to North Tahoe’s existing gridlock; Tahoe – many of those cars (1,353 each day) would head into the Tahoe Basin; and water – the project would consume 78,263,299 gallons of water annually.

Today’s hearing came in the context of growing opposition to the proposed development.

Earlier this week, the California Attorney General weighed in with a scathing letter, urging Placer County to deny approval of the project. “The California Attorney General has a longstanding interest in the protection of Lake Tahoe as a state and national treasure,” according to the fifteen-page letter, dated August 9, 2016.  “Because of the proximity of the proposed development to Lake Tahoe, we are concerned about the impacts the development will have within the Tahoe Basin.”

For the first two hours of today’s hearing, Placer County staff joined KSL in a series of presentations to advocate approval of the project. Andy Wirth served as chief spokesperson for KSL.  He touted a “50% reduction from where we started,” and a promised real estate transfer fee, designed to raise $15 million in community benefit fees.                    

Did Andy feel like he needed protection today?

Did Andy feel like he needed protection today?

Whit Manley, attorney for the developer, sought to assuage concerns about how the new buildings, the tallest of which would be 96-feet, impact Squaw’s famous scenery.  Manley said, “These are not going to block views of the mountains.” “We are not a developer,” Wirth told the Commission.  “We care about our legacy and we care about our mountains.”

Most of the speakers who followed seemed to disagree. Opposition focused on specific issues, such as traffic on local roads and the clarity of Lake Tahoe, as well as big picture issues–like the unique sense of place and mountain values of North Lake Tahoe.

David Blau of the League to Save Lake Tahoe slammed the County for ignoring the project’s impacts on Lake Tahoe.  “The lake is a national, state, and local treasure but has been ignored,” said Blau.  “But in the County’s review, it may as well be on the far side of the moon.”

Steve Hanson, owner of Video Stop in Tahoe City, stood up to represent 63 small business owners who have joined in asking Placer County to deny the project. “We are not anti-development, and we are not afraid of change,” said Hansen.  “But the traffic is strangling the businesses.”

Commander Ryan Stonebraker of the California Highway Patrol reinforced public safety concerns related to the ability of Tahoe’s limited infrastructure to handle more development. “This is about public safety. We have an abundance of congestion,” said Stonebraker.  “My concern is that we have a massive amount of development and growth – how much can we sustain?  We have to do what’s appropriate for the community and the safety of everybody here.”

“Take the timeless values of Tahoe to heart,” Tom Mooers of Sierra Watch urged the Commission.”  And vote to deny the project.” Labor and the local workforce also turned out for the hearing, setting up a display of the grim reaper outside and, inside, joining the chorus of opposition to the proposed development.                    

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Some audience members spoke in favor of the project.  Many were employees of the developer who bussed employees to Kings Beach for the meeting. Local developer Ciro Mancuso, father of famed Olympian Julia Mancusco, told the Commission, “What Squaw is asking for is very reasonable.”

After nine hours – at 7:30 p.m. – the public comment period was closed, and the Commission began their deliberations. Commissioners sought specifics on the proposed indoor waterpark and its uses, asking if it would really be an indoor waterpark. “There would probably be some wet components in this waterpark,” answered Chevis Hosea of KSL.  He touted a “smorgasbord of activities, including water slides, action rivers, training facilities, bowling, and multi-generational arcades.” Hosea said final decisions would be based on research of their customer base.  “Kids love water,” he said.  “We’ll also probably have indoor sky diving.  A lot of fun things there.”

And then the Commission was ready to vote. In a series of motions, they voted 4-2 to certify the environmental review for the project and recommend that the Board of Supervisors give their full approval. Commissioners Johnson, Moss, Roccucci, and Sevison voted to approve the project.  Commissioners Gray and Nader voted against the development. The Commission’s recommendation will go to the Placer County Board of Supervisors, likely sometime this fall.

Keep Squaw True supporters were disappointed but undaunted.

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“If you were there, you would have heard the passion and goodwill from our community all day long,” said Robb Gaffney, author of the book Squallywood and Keep Squaw True volunteer.  “And Placer County just thumbed us down.  But it’s not over, and we’ll be back. There has never been a more important time in North Tahoe for all of us to be involved,” said Gaffney, “fighting for what we know to be authentic and true.”

Attorney General Of California Submits Comments On The Village At Squaw Valley Plan

kamala-harrisIt was another day of big news in the battle over the proposed Village At Squaw Valley Project. State Attorney General Kamala D. Harris submitted a 15 page commentary on the proposal’s flawed Environmental Impact Report today. While it’s not necessarily the last nail in the coffin for the project, as some have claimed, it is important evidence of what many have been saying all along. While Squaw Valley CEO Andy Wirth and his minions have tried to discredit just about everyone else that is opposed to the project, it’s hard to come out against the Attorney General’s findings.

Harris’s concerns fall into a fairly narrow scope when it comes to all of the 23 “significant and unavoidable impacts” noted in the EIR. Her concerns focused on the increased vehicular traffic that would be created by the project. Those increases would lead to degradation of water clarity and air quality, an increase in greenhouse gasses in the basin, and a degradation of roadway service. Harris cited examples in the basin where traffic is already rated at Level E. If the project proceeds, the level of roadways service in many areas of North Tahoe would drop to Level F, the lowest possible level. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency goals include a goal of keeping all basin roadways at Level D or better.

We’re proud of Ms Harris’ choice to stand up for the Lake Tahoe region. Lake Tahoe is a treasure that we cannot afford to screw up for the benefit of an out of state investment fund. We hope to hear many more stories about people who stood up to protect Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows and the North Lake Tahoe region at tomorrow’s planning commission meeting.

Placer County Planning Commission Meeting

Thursday, August 11th at 10:00

North Tahoe Event Center, Kings Beach

Plan on arriving really early. Traffic was near gridlock this afternoon, in the middle of the week, in Kings Beach. Here’s the link to Harris’ Squaw Valley comment letter.

Simply Speaking…Why The Planning Commission Should Deny The Village At Squaw Valley Project

North Tahoe Event Center

One thing is for sure, there’s tons of information to know about in making a decision on the Village At Squaw Valley project. The documentation for just the last iteration of the proposal spans thousands of pages. But today we saw an editorial posted in the Auburn Journal from Tom Mooers. The logic is simple, if the Martis West project was denied, then so should the Village at Squaw Valley project.

From the Auburn Journal, August 9th:

When the Placer County Planning Commission voted earlier this month to deny the proposed Martis Valley West project, they did so based on the proposal’s impacts on traffic, fire safety and Lake Tahoe. If they apply that same standard to their review of the proposed Village at Squaw Valley, they should reach the same conclusion — and vote to deny that project, too.

In terms of traffic, Martis Valley West, as the commission learned, would guarantee gridlock.   It would add 3,985 daily car trips to existing traffic, clogging roads from Kings Beach to Truckee and everywhere in between. The Squaw proposal?  It would add 8,410 daily car trips to our traffic mess — more than twice as much as Martis Valley West.

For fire safety, the review for Martis projected it would take residents and employees 1.5 hours just to leave the property in the event of wildfire. The Squaw proposal?  It would take more than 10 hours to evacuate the valley — just to get to Highway 89 — when wildfire strikes.

And, when it comes to Lake Tahoe, the commission learned how the Martis West project would threaten the clarity of the lake itself — mostly from the 1,395 cars the project would pump into the basin daily. The Squaw proposal?  It would be even worse for Tahoe — adding almost twice the traffic to the basin, posing twice the threat to the lake’s famous clear, blue waters.

On July 7, the Planning Commission voted to deny Martis Valley West. Now they are faced with an even bigger development proposal. On August 11, they’ll take up the proposed Village at Squaw Valley. If they ask the same questions about Squaw they did about Martis — and judge the project based on its impacts to traffic, fire safety, and Tahoe, the answers should lead to the same conclusion — and a vote to deny.

Tom Mooers, Nevada City

We expect that Thursday’s meeting of the Planning Commission is going to be very crowded. For those from Squaw Valley, think KT-22 on a powder day and plan accordingly. For those from Alpine Meadows, use those “running of the bullies” skills that you learned for Summit powder days last season. Whatever you do, don’t give up  – stand up for the best future for Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows and the North Lake Tahoe/Truckee region.

Officially the meeting is scheduled for 10:30 AM at the North Tahoe Event Center in Kings Beach this Thursday. We suggest a much earlier arrival time…and plan for a long stay. Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 9.29.41 PM