The world of Squaw Valley is perhaps best illustrated by the cover of a local guidebook entitled Squallywood. It depicts a daredevil skier launching off an imposing ski ledge, legs tucked, vaulting dozens of feet over a snow-covered cliff face. In the foreground, the backs of three observers: a photographer, lens poised to capture the feat; a kid in a snow helmet, hands raised in devil horn salutes and a long-haired blonde, flashing the skier by splaying open her jacket. The book’s subtitle helps put it all into clearer focus: A Guide to Squaw Valley’s Most Exposed Lines.
Long heralded as the birthplace of extreme skiing, Squaw Valley goes big. The resort’s famed intensity delivers 100-plus-foot cliff jumps down “runs” that are basically slices of vertical rock covered by a whisper of snow. The most intense of these drops are off the imposing granite block known as the Palisades, a ten-minute hoof from the top of Siberia Lift. But really, you can find countless crazy runs throughout its 3,600 acres–if you can see it, the saying goes, you can try to ski it.
This intense terrain is matched with unfettered viewpoints of all that terrain, which means you’ve always find an audience ready to see you stick the landing, or tumble into a cartoon snowball. Legions of the world’s best extreme skiers and snowboarders understandably call Squaw home, and watching them ski lines you know you’ll never be able to reach, much less master, is part of the resort’s allure.
Yes, Squaw intimidates. But it doesn’t have to. All this extremity overshadows the fact that only 30 percent of the mountain is rated for advanced, expert and you-gotta-be-kidding-me skill levels. With almost half of the 170+ runs rated to intermediates, it’s easy to find more mellow cruisers, groomed runs and approachable tree skiing. The ride up the tram from the resort base does ascent over some virtually unskiable terrain (which the world’s elite actually ski as part of an annual extreme ski competition), but when you disembark at High Camp, about halfway up, you’ll find miles of blue and green runs that deliver a heady, big-mountain feel without the stomach-clenching sense of over commitment.
Intermediates can also traverse out to the Squaw Creek, Shirley Lake Express and Gold Coast lifts to access less-crowded terrain–glade skiing, groomed and ungroomed runs and pockets of trees–all of it complimented by stellar views of Lake Tahoe’s glimmering surface.
Beginners, meanwhile, have a quarter of the mountain to themselves, including the kid-friendly Papoose area near the eastern edge of the main parking lot, which boasts easy bunny slopes and free hot chocolate. It’s also close to the snow play areas as well as the tubing hill. You can also access higher-elevation green runs from both the Gold Coast and High Camp mid-mountain centers.
For experts, the options are too innumerable to calculate. In addition to the crazy world of the Palisades, the experienced queue up at K22 and Headwall Express lifts to test their mettle or cut out to the less-skied runs off 9,050-foot Granite Chief. Then there’s the steep-and-deep runs off Red Dog, the hike-in terrain of Heidi’s Rock, the lines off 8,900-foot Squaw Peak, Siberia Bowl, Poulson’s Gully… you get the idea.
Terrain park-lovers who want to more than just making the resort their own freeriding playground may find Squaw somewhat lacking when compared with other western resorts. But what they do have–five terrain parks in total, including the kid-friendly Snowventure Start Park–deliver. Transworld Snowboarding has ranked its superpipe as one of the top ten in the country.
Mid-mountain High Camp rests on an expansive meadow surrounded by Squaw’s four main snow-capped peaks, and becomes one of the mountain’s main meeting points. It boasts a big restaurant, a massive patio and what has become the template for mountaintop swimming. The heated outdoor pool is large enough for lap swimming, but it’s more well-known as the preeminent après staging ground. On warm spring days, you can wear you bathing suit underneath your ski clothes, go for a boozy dip at the end of the day and then ski down under the March sun. Whether you want to toss your clothes back on–or just ski in your bathing suit or bikini, as most locals do–is entirely up to you.
Back at the base, the pedestrian-friendly Euro-style village offers a wide array of lodging, dining and shopping. It also serves as the staging ground for a host of fun, festive events throughout the year, with everything from local skiers engaging in a Chinese downhill race in kitschy ‘80s ski attire to live music and kid-friendly programs. The resort also recently completed a $70 million renovation, including $1.2 million in lodging renovations, the introduction of slope-side food trucks and a new yoga studio. A dedicated Squaw app makes navigating the many options a bit easier.
And, as if that weren’t enough, tickets to Squaw also lets you access its sister mountain. Alpine Meadows. A mere ten minutes away, this slightly quieter resort offers less extreme terrain across 2,400 skiable acres with more than 100 trails, complimentary shuttle service and a new mid-mountain Bavarian-style beer garden.
Simply put, if skiing has a soul, it lives at Squaw Valley.
The resort’s all-inclusive nature and wide pedestrian boulevards make staying at the village a no-brainer. And Resort at Squaw Valley is one of the most luxurious spot, with accommodations that range from deluxe rooms to fireside suites to bi-level penthouses, handling groups from two to nine.
Match your day exploring all of Squaw’s extreme terrain with an equally exhilarating dining experience at PlumpJack Café. The modern California cuisine changes with the available ingredients culled from local farms. Expect inspired turns like crispy veal sweetbreads or reinventions of resort staples like the rib eye. The sommelier can also pair wine tastings with each course, or you can branch out and try one of the carefully curated lists of Golden State wines.