The California Express, Squaw/Alpine Gondola

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Photo Credit: Squaw Alpine

The projected gondola plan between Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows Ski Resort/s.

Maggie Galloway, Reporter

For skiers and snowboarders in Tahoe who debate between going to Squaw Valley or Alpine Meadows, the answer is frequently Alpine Meadows for locals, while many tourists flock towards Squaw Valley for its Olympic status. Alpine is known to be a “little more back porch and local” while Squaw is known to be more “ritzier” according to Nick Visconti, local pro snowboarder and business owner.

“I grew up at Alpine way prior to riding Squaw,” he said. “Squaw was kind of a novelty due to the Olympics, but back then in the ‘90s Alpine was lowkey cowboys who skied it like the wild west. Additionally, that’s when all the beef between skiing and snowboarding was at large so you didn’t have a lot of snowboarders at Squaw. They would all come to Alpine because it was way more accepting, so I was riding Alpine for a decade before even going to Squaw.”

Last spring Squaw Alpine received approval to build a gondola, the California Express, to connect the two resorts.

The goal of the gondola is to improve overall skier experience so one doesn’t have to choose between the two resorts, and to cut down road traffic. Some locals such as Nick Strother, Contact Center Supervisor at Squaw Valley, believe that the gondola will be a game changer for north shore skiers.

“The California Express Gondola, contradictory to public opinion, is conducive to significant improvement for tourists and for locals in north Lake Tahoe,” said Strother. “On a daily basis, it will remove hundreds of cars from Highway 89, Squaw Valley road, and Alpine Meadows road. The gondola will create easier and faster travel between the resorts, especially when the roads are snowy, or backed up with tourist vehicles. It’ll also make it more convenient for parents who want to ski at both resorts when their kids are taking ski lessons at one of the two. Parking will be easier since visitors will be able to park at one resort and take a short gondola ride to the other side.”

A concern for opponents of the California Express is that it will be an eyesore to those hiking through the area in the summertime. According to the Squaw Alpine website, the gondola will not cross through the Granite Chief Wilderness and it will be 1,100 feet at its closest point. During the summer, they will also remove the cabins from the line and store them at the base of the mountain to make the line a little less noticeable to summer hikers. The gondola would also be located near KT-22, where there is already a visible lift. Hikers would only see the lift entering and leaving the forest.

It is also rumored that the gondola would increase greenhouse gas emissions. According the Squaw Alpine website, the impact would be less than significant. It would be powered by electricity, which is planned to be 100% renewable.

The fear of Alpine basically becoming Squaw overflow on weekends is also a local concern.

“I prefer going to alpine on the weekends over squaw because of the crowds, but now the crowds from Squaw are going to pour into alpine. So that’s what I don’t like about it,” Said Mike Beiro, Freeride President. “During the week when its less crowded, it will be nice to get from resort to the other without taking my ski boots off. It’s all just part in the progression of the mountain. I kind of wish it wasn’t happening, but it’s what the Tahoe scene needs to do to keep up with these other resorts.”

With the ski business industry evolving and growing, Squaw Alpine is using the gondola to grow its brand.

“Connecting Squaw and Alpine would only allow us to be more attractive on a global level as a destination competing with places such as Whistler and other places around the world, particularly in Europe,” said Visconti. “I think that it gives us a destinational opportunity. It is going to affect year-round business by drawing in more people.

“Tahoe is a very tight knit community, but we do rely heavily on tourism. Anything that brings more people in that are like-minded and want to experience Tahoe and contribute to the local economy is really positive for everybody. From a snowboarding perspective it would be so rad to not have to choose between the two and just hop on a gondola after riding some terrain at Alpine then hitting Squaw’s park in the late afternoon. At the end of the day I feel like it be a very positive addition. I don’t want to lose the spirit of Tahoe, I want to invest in the culture of Tahoe. Tahoe needs to keep evolving to keep up with these other big-name resorts.”