Squaw Valley delivers on a promise of great skiing with six separate peaks (Snow King – 7,550’, Broken Arrow – 8,020’, KT-22 – 8,200’, Emigrant – 8,700’, Squaw Peak - el. 8,900’, Granite Chief - el. 9,050’) spread across 3,600 skiable acres, an average snowfall of 450 inches and a vertical rise of 2,850’. But statistics can lie and ski areas have a way of stretching the truth—how does one know if all the hype is real? One way is by reader’s choice awards from leading ski magazines—Squaw’s list is long, including Best Resort, Best Terrain and Best Steeps, among others. Another is to consider the number of Olympic and world-class skiers got their start at Squaw, including Jonny Moseley, Julia Mancuso, Tamara McKinney, JT Homes, Shannon Bahrke, Marco Sullivan and Travis Ganong and more. As the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics Squaw has a storied history.
From the perspective of a decades-long season pass holder at Squaw I can say it’s a great place to ski and ride. We used to be able to complain about the surly attitude of service workers and the lousy food but KSL Capital Partners, the new owners of the sister resorts of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, even changed that for the better. It still doesn’t have the cozy feel of Whistler Village or the vast terrain of Whistler Blackcomb but it’s quibbling over details and the wait times on Squaw lifts are a fraction of Whistler’s. With 30 lifts Squaw Valley can move an astounding 39,000 people an hour across the expansive terrain so if the weather cooperates and all lifts are open skiers and riders spend more time on the snow and less in lift lines.
Though Squaw is known for its steeps it also caters to beginners by whisking them to the top of the mountain where they can enjoy stunning lake views at High Camp instead of being relegated to a back lot at the bottom of the mountain. Intermediate skiers frolic at Gold Coast and Shirley Lake, but some do note that the runs are fairly short and lack variety—intermediate skiers are advised to take lessons to get out of intermediate purgatory and on to the slopes that Squaw is known for.
The steep advanced terrain at Squaw challenges even professional skiers so if you’re new to the area make sure you understand the scale of Easiest (green circle), Difficult (blue square) and Expert (black diamond)—each ski area has its own method of determining the level of difficulty. Be aware that Squaw does not differentiate between black diamond and double black diamond so “easy” black diamonds like Sun Bowl or Red Dog Face are rated the same as steeper runs like the Slot or Dead Tree—hardly equal runs in terms of difficulty.
Squaw has several bases that serve food during the day, including High Camp and Gold Coast high on the mountain and the Olympic House and Village at Squaw Valley at the bottom (check out Wildflour Baking Company for the best homemade sandwiches and baked goods). Apre ski action is big at Squaw and it’s an effective way to let the traffic die down on busy days. Locals tend to congregate at Le Chamois and Loft Bar but Bar One and the Plaza Bar have a strong fan base.
Both day lift tickets and season passes are good at both Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, its sister resort a mile away. Shuttles run all day between the resorts. Between them they offer a total of 6,000 acres, 44 lifts and 270 trails with stunning views of Lake Tahoe and surrounding peaks.
See "Top 10 Advanced Runs at Squaw Valley" for a guide to the best runs at Squaw from the perspective of a long time Squaw Valley skier (coming soon).
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.