The highly anticipated connection between neighboring ski areas, now siblings, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows…isn’t here yet. Yes, the Interconnect route is open but if you've done it you know that it is an interesting adventure to do once, but unless you’re really hardcore it’s not something you’re likely to repeat.
In the planning stages since 2011 and officially opened in April 2012, buzz about the backcountry access didn’t heat up until this year when it became a common topic of conversation on lift rides. This might be due to a prominent, but cryptic, sign that appeared at the top of the Summit Six chair at Alpine that states, "Access to Squaw Valley Open/Closed", prompting more than a few people to say, “Huh? I didn’t know there was a ski route between Alpine and Squaw.”
Word on the street is that it’s more enjoyable to do it from the Alpine Meadows side, which allows for more actual skiing, whereas the approach from the Squaw side involves more ambulating than skiing. While it’s probably true that there is more skiing from the Alpine side, if you take into consideration the hike to Estelle Bowl to begin the Interconnect it’s debatable whether less hiking is involved.
Colorado based KSL Capital Partners purchased Alpine Meadows in September 2011 after acquiring Squaw Valley a year earlier. A pilot program was developed in 2011 with the U.S. Forest Service, who manages the adjacent Granite Chief Wilderness, and private owner Troy Caldwell, who owns White Wolf, a key piece of land located between the entrance to Alpine Meadows parking lot and the top of the KT-22 lift at Squaw. The Interconnect is the result of the pilot, an official backcountry link between the two ski areas.
Location of gates
After disembarking from the KT-22 lift at Squaw Valley head to the single gate located approximately west of the KT Saddle. On the Squaw Valley map, the Saddle can be seen, with the gate located about west, looking toward the Bullet Trail. On the Alpine Meadows website an interactive map shows the Buttress, where the route from Squaw ends, and can be located by hovering over the gray lines on the far right side of the map.
From Alpine Meadows, skiers and riders approach the backcountry terrain to Squaw Valley from the Summit 6 chair, skiing to the top of Wolverine Bowl and hiking 30 minutes to North Estelle Peak and Bernie’s Bowl . From there skiers can ski toward Five Lakes and hike up, or pick up the plowed track to the Squaw gate. See report from “Unofficial Squaw”.
A map on the Squaw Valley website shows the backcountry route.
Recently my husband and I negotiated the trek from Squaw Valley to Alpine Meadows just for the experience of it. We skied in the morning at Alpine, then took the shuttle bus from Alpine to Squaw. After taking the KT-22 lift we stopped for a moment to view the backcountry track kindly plowed by Caldwell in the distance before skiing past the top of the Saddle to the open gate marked with a sign and map. A tangle of ski tracks was visible in the softening snow under sunny, cloudless skies. It wasn’t immediately obvious which set to follow, but having seen Caldwell’s track to the left it wasn’t hard to figure out that bending left was the way to go and we skied easily on gentle forested terrain for all too short a time. After emerging from the shadows into an open area we saw the track stretching before us. We hoisted our skis on our shoulder and started walking.
I was struck by the quiet beauty of the area in a spot where most have never been, since we were on private property. To the right was a large flat, snowy meadow, but it was so flat that I paused and considered my mental map—it was one of Five Lakes, looking serene in her winter coat. Further in the distance the sun glinted off the gleaming steel of the top of the Headwall lift, flanked by the broad, rutted expanse of Sun Bowl, bumped up by hordes of sun seekers.
We ambled along the road at an easy pace as it initially rolled up and down some varied gradients, even putting our skis back on for a short decline. I stopped mid-way to sign Caldwell’s book and added my email address to be kept appraised of updates. Then we got to a larger, steeper hill and watched another hiker put skins on his skis, a worthwhile piece of equipment that we wished we had. He slid easily up the hill while we put one foot in front of the other and hoofed it. It took about 45 minutes to walk to the end of the track, where we turned left and examined the crunchy snow with some trepidation. We mounted our skis and traversed toward Alpine Meadows reaching the Buttress, a rocky outcropping that sits high above the lower end of the parking lot, near the entrance. Sitting in the shade the previously soft snow was hardening into a frozen sno-cone and we carefully picked our way through a band of rocks that needed a few more inches, or feet, of snow to be covered. We kept heading to the right and all too soon we were at the edge of Alpine’s maintenance buildings about an hour after leaving Squaw Valley’s gate. "I think that's a once in a lifetime experience," Steve said, not impressed. All in all it was a lot of walking for not that much skiing, but I thought it was worth a trip just for the experience of seeing the beauty of the Five Lakes area in winter. As for a repeat, it’s doubtful. We will, however, give the reverse route a try when we get a little more snow and we’re sure to get a bit more of the backcountry skiing experience from that direction.
Warnings and recommendations
The gates are opened based on snow conditions and may be closed at any time. Like any backcountry experience it’s best to ski or ride with a partner. Backcountry gear, including avalanche beacon, probe and shovel are recommended. Once you leave the boundary of either ski area, you are own your own in the unpatrolled backcountry and rescues would be coordinated by the Placer County Sherriff's office. There is no cell phone coverage in the area between the two resorts. The land to the west is private property and to the east is wilderness with no way out so the skiable range is narrow. Squaw Valley or Alpine Meadows Ski Patrol can answer any questions.
It’s a first step
The Interconnect is the first official route between Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows and while it is far from ideal it does present a unique experience for long-time skiers and riders of both mountains and as such is a relatively worthwhile for expert skiers. As an effective connector between the mountains it leaves much to be desired due to the effort involved in hiking and the expert skills involved in navigating the steep backcountry terrain. It will be interesting to see how many take advantage of it after the novelty wears off. It will be even more noteworthy to see what other options are offered in the future, if any.
KT Backcountry Gate information on the Squaw Valley website
To reach Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows from San Francisco by car (; approximately 4 hours, depending on traffic and weather):
- Take Interstate 80 northeast into the Sierra Nevada.
- Exit at Truckee, onto Highway 89 SOUTH, towards Lake Tahoe/Tahoe City/Squaw Valley.
- Follow Highway 89 south to the Squaw Valley Road exit. Turn RIGHT and follow Squaw Valley Road to the base of the mountain.
- From Highway 89 continue one more mile past the Squaw Valley Road exit and turn RIGHT on Alpine Meadows Road.