Squaw’s Silverado a challenge for skiers, operators alike

Kyra Kliman, Editor

For years local skiers have questioned why the Silverado chairlift at Squaw Valley is consistently closed. Is it due to a lack of snowfall, low elevation, a corporate mandate? Perhaps preference is given to high-visitor weekends?

On a powder day, skiers looking for the “Squaw experience” will session Granite Chief and Shirley Lake chairlifts, sometimes waiting in long lines as payment. These chairlifts are higher in elevation and receive more snow than Silverado, which is directly below. On the relatively rare occasion that Silverado opens, skiers and riders have a throwback experience.

Tahoe resident and Sierra Nevada College faculty member Katie Zanto lived at the bottom of Shirley Canyon in Squaw Valley, exploring the surrounding area. She describes the Silverado terrain as, “Glades – a lot denser trees – but then there are little pathways between the trees.

“There are little steep drop-offs, and there are rollovers because it’s super north-facing,” Zanto said. Typically, north-facing aspects are steeper and harder to ski right after a storm due to unstable snow conditions.

While many people dream about skiing the Silverado terrain, the ability to access terrain is

limited, a frustration for local skiers.

Kelly Follet, a Truckee resident, grew up skiing Squaw Valley. Over the years she grew frustrated with the decision-making behind opening certain chairlifts. While she passionately

advocates for the steep terrain Silverado offers, she chose backcountry skiing over Squaw.

“In the backcountry, I have the freedom to pick lines with no restrictions,” she said. “The only thing that can restrict me from skiing certain terrain is potential avalanche terrain hazards. I don’t have to deal with long lines and miss out on skiing powder when I am fully at the mercy of my decisions.”

Squaw Valley is a big mountain, and its ski patrol is stretched. During low snow years when Silverado does not open, it is not a main a priority for ski patrol.

“They should open it more,” Zanto said. “They should upgrade it unless due to global warming it’s not worth it because there is going to be only two lifts in the next 10 years where there’s not enough snow to manage it.”

Alex Spychalsky, public relations coordinator for Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadow explained that part of the challenge with Silverado is the lower elevation, and a lack of snowmaking equipment. Before they can run the lift, a snowcat has to be able cut and access road, as a safety precaution to be able to transport injured skiers, and allowing ski patrollers to work on avalanche mitigation.

“Expansive steep terrain takes a while to mitigate avalanche terrain,” Spychalsky said.

In early March, Squaw planned to open Silverado, but after a ski patroller worked on it all day, the snow was too reactive when they were bombing. As a safety precaution they opened it the next day.