Squaw Valley, for all the accolades it has, and it has many, hasn’t always had the reputation for being the most user friendly mountain. Poor to non-existent signage, cranky lifties, nude art in the cafeteria and a sense that you didn’t belong there unless you could ski didn’t create a warm, fuzzy environment, despite their motto, “We Care”. But it always had the steeps so no matter what was going on around the periphery, passionate skiers had all they wanted at the core--plenty of gnarly places to pit their determination against the mountain. Changes over the decades have resulted in a vast improvement in services and the overall guest experience, so now hard core skiers mix with high end travelers seeking the spas, yoga studios and trendy bars that have popped up. Luckily there is plenty of room for everyone.
The great Scot Schmidt, one of the pioneers of extreme skiing, wrote in the foreword to Squallywood, a Guide to Squaw Valley's Most Exposed Lines, “Few mountains share the unique terrain characteristics that Squaw Valley USA has to offer: 360 degrees of exposure, ridge lines that run in every direction, big clean cliffs, steep faces wide open run outs and great tree spacing throughout the mountain.” That pretty much sums up what make Squaw great for skiers and boarders who want to test their mettle.
Squaw Rating Scale
Squaw rates the trails on a scale from Easiest (green circle) to More Difficult (blue square) to Most Difficult (double blue square) to Expert (black diamond), with the caveat that the Most Difficult are sometimes more like a Black Diamond, depending on snow conditions. Each ski area has its own method of determining the level of difficulty so it is important to understand that an Expert ski run here might not be the same as what you’re used to at your home mountain. Also, Squaw does not differentiate between black diamond and double black diamond so “easy” black diamonds are rated the same as steeper, more vertical runs. Know your limits.
These runs are mostly listed from top to bottom, starting higher up the mountain. To follow the sun, start with Granite Chief (see Top 10 Advanced Runs). Basic pointers are given but you need a map to know where to go. If you want to back out see Easier Way. For more information and pointers see “Squaw’s Top 10 Expert Runs” at Inga’s Adventures.
Top 10 Expert Runs at Squaw
- Silverado Hanging Gardens
- Broken Arrow
- Headwall North bowl
- The Slot
- KT22 West Face
- KT22 Chute 75
- KT22 Rock Garden
- Olympic Lady East Face
- Poulson’s Gulch
- Palisades (National)
These ten runs and the ten referenced in “Top 10 Advanced Ski Runs at Squaw Valley” cover some of the best, most accessible runs at Squaw, but it’s really only a starting point. There are many, more thrilling lines for the best of the best, outlined in great detail in the book by Robb Gaffney, Squallywood, a Guide to Squaw Valley's Most Exposed Lines, which range from triple black diamonds( like Light Towers) to near physically impossible (such as Schmidiots), a line that keeps moving as better trained, equipped and gutsy athletes do the impossible.
See related article, Squaw’s Top 10 Expert Runs, at IngasAdventures.com for detailed descriptions and chair access.
1960 Squaw Valley Road
Olympic Valley, CA 96146
Snow Phone 530-583-6955
To reach Squaw Valley from San Francisco by car (200 miles; 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 8 miles to the Squaw Valley Rd. Exit. Turn RIGHT and follow Squaw Valley Rd. to the base of the mountain.