The ridge that runs from Granite Chief to Squaw Peak includes dozens of chutes, crannies and steep pitches that will keep any steeps addict happy for several days. The skiing off of KT-22, far to skier’s right, also includes plenty of cliff bands, drops and bowl skiing. Squaw Valley’s terrain is the best of any of the West Coast ski areas.
There are plenty of blue runs for intermediates and people not looking to scare themselves, although most of San Francisco has made arrangements to congregate on these runs on Saturdays and Sunday mornings.
The lift system at Squaw Valley is the most interesting of any U.S. mountain, with a full-size tram and a funitel, which is a type of gondola that runs on two cables instead of one, allowing it to run faster and in wind conditions that can shut down most other lifts. It is the only funitel in the United States. On top of these two stalwart people movers, Squaw has a bevy of fast, detachable chairlifts and even some fixed-grip triples for good measure.
Interesting factoid of the day: Squaw Valley hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics. Despite that, the village at Squaw has only begun to burgeon during the last decade, adding top-end condos and hotels along with the requisite Starbucks—and on the mountain, the first and only ski-in, ski-out Starbucks in the world. But Squaw’s village has a long way to go to compare well with some of the stalwarts in the Rockies. The Town of Truckee, with a legitimate Western main street, is 20 minutes away, but lodging isn’t as thick as you might expect in town, so getting that ski town experience is possible, but it’s not optimized like other towns that truly grew up around skiing.
A few words on the Snow at Palisades Tahoe
Squaw Valley is the poster child of Sierra snow volatility. 15.7% of winter days see 6 inches or more of snow and 30% of winter months see 90 inches or more, but 36% of winter months see less than 30 inches. In the big years extreme terrain than would never be skiable on most mountains is well covered at Squaw. In the lean years skiable terrain can be quite restricted, particularly in lower sectors farther from the Sierra Crest. Those lower sectors can also get rain due to the lowest base elevation at Tahoe. Sierra average snow density of 12% is not the blower of the Rockies but easily managed on modern fat rockered skis.
Accumulation and Preservation
ith its steep terrain and erratic snowfall Squaw averages 2/3 open at Christmas. The top third of seasons have a holiday base of 6+ feet with most of the steep terrain skiable. In the worst third of seasons Squaw is no more than 1/3 open at Christmas and in the worst 10% it is less than 10% open. Despite relatively low elevation, Squaw skis very well on most spring days. Half the area faces north, and most of the rest faces east and can be timed for mid-morning sun. The late season often runs until Memorial Day with tram access to some of the upper lifts.