Squaw Valley Ski Holdings LLC announced plans Monday to build a high-speed gondola connecting its Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows ski resorts near Lake Tahoe and create one of the largest ski areas in the country.
President and CEO Andy Wirth says the gondola would make it easier for skiers to experience the unique terrain of the adjoining Sierra Nevada resorts while reducing vehicle traffic between them.
Wirth says linking the two mountains has been a vision of the resorts’ founders and skiers for six decades, and the combined 6,000 acres of skiable terrain would make it among the nation’s largest.
A hurdle recently was removed when the company reached an agreement with the owner of property between the resorts to create the connection.
The U.S. Forest Service and Placer County must review the project.
OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. — For the past four years, Squaw Valley | Alpine Meadows management has been “quietly, but assertively” working on improving the resort’s sustainability practices, officials said this week.
Key efforts have focused on reducing the ski area’s carbon footprint, as highlighted in its recently released “Environmental & Community Report 2014.”
“…. We have an obligation as a responsible corporation to reduce our environmental impact,” said Andy Wirth, president and CEO of the resort. “As a well-known ski resort, we hope to inspire and compel other ski resorts and businesses to do the same and see how they can make improvements in their own operations.”
According to the report, in 2013, Squaw Valley | Alpine Meadows reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by more than 1,700 tons by making boiler upgrades, installing automated controls at High Camp and replacing more than 1,500 light bulbs with more energy-efficient ones.
Also in 2013, Squaw Valley became the first California ski resort to install electric car charging stations, resulting in 4,750 emission-free miles driven from December 2013 through April 2014.
Other transit-emission saving efforts, according to the report, include a free shuttle making runs between Squaw and Alpine, and contributions of more than $60,000 annually to Tahoe Area Regional Transit to ensure employees have an environmentally friendly way to get to work.
As for snowmaking, more than $5.2 million has been invested in infrastructure in the past three years, which the resort said has reduced the amount of water, compressed air and power needed to make snow.
“I have seen firsthand the commitment Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows have made to operating a sustainable resort — their actions are real,” Tuckee’s Jeremy Jones, a professional snowboarder and founder of Protect Our Winters, said in the report.
CLIMATE CHANGE: AN INDUSTRY THREAT
Squaw Valley | Alpine Meadows is among those who recognize current and future impacts of climate change, said Michael Gross, director of risk management at Squaw Valley | Alpine Meadows, which is one of the areas highlighted in the report.
“Climate change will not (be) solved by one person, one business or one country alone,” said Gross, who’s also identified as Squaw/Alpine’s “director of environmental initiatives” in the report. “We all need to work together toward a common goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and C02 levels because winters without snow would be a real grim place to live in, and our business depends on snow.”
According to the report, projected impacts of climate change to the ski industry include later seasonal snow, less snow coverage, earlier wet snow avalanches and, on average, shorter winters.
By the 2050s, ski seasons are projected to be three to six weeks shorter in California’s Sierra Nevada, the report states.
“Climate change is a growing, long-term threat to all ski resorts,” Wirth said. “However … we very much have the ability to adapt and hedge our businesses … So, while climate change is most certainly a real threat, it’s not a direct threat to our existence as viable businesses.”
Wirth went on to say, “There are many facets to our ability to hedge our business, not the least of which is our snowmaking capabilities, which have been a focus of our capital investment over the past three years. Since the mid-80s, the length of ski seasons has actually materially increased with the advent of snow making. We have other tools by which we can effectively manage our business through such challenging times.”
Some future sustainable efforts planned by the resort include Squaw’s Member’s Locker Room receiving a high-efficiency boiler in 2015; analyzing solar power installations; and continuing to expand recycling and composting efforts.
“We are dedicated to preserving our winters and alpine environment for current and future generations,” the report states in closing. “We understand that our business is dependent on our ability to care for and cherish our natural resources … We pledge to continue to reduce our footprint, remain early-adopters of sustainable technologies and to work within our community to encourage our peers and partners to do the same.”
The festival, now in its sixth year, combines yoga, music, speakers and outdoor adventure into a unique celebration in the High Sierra.
“Nestled in one of Mother Nature’s most picturesque creations, this four-day retreat will gather together yoga enthusiasts, families, foodies and mindful adventurers for an unforgettable getaway,” according to a press release from organizers. “Surrounded by the High Sierra peaks, attendees can practice yoga from renowned instructors, take in live music from today’s conscious artists, participate in inspiring lectures, venture in outdoor activities such as hiking, paddle-boarding, biking, and indulge in organic delicacies.”
Seane Corn, Shiva Rea, Rod Stryker, Gurmukh and Eoin Finn are among the numerous yoga instructors participating in the event, which begins Thursday and lasts through Sunday afternoon.
Philadelphia, Pa., DJ RJD2 headlines Friday night’s musical acts, while Colorado electronic-outfit Big Gigantic headlines Saturday Night. Polyphonic Spree is among the final performers of the festival, playing a Sunday afternoon set. Nahko and Medicine for the People, MC Yogi, Ana Sia and DJ Cakra Khan are also included among the musical acts at the festival.
“If yoga is the soul, music is the beating heart of Wanderlust,” according to organizers. “True to our name, music at Wanderlust is just as much about discovery as it is about spending an evening with artists you know and love. We offer a wide variety of musical performers in myriad settings, from the epic main stage and live performances that accompany your yoga classes to intimate pop-up acts.”
In addition to music and yoga, Wanderlust offers hikes, adventure runs, biking and meditative rafting, as well as activities like hooping, aerial yoga and slacklining. Daily family yoga classes are also being offered for the first time at the festival, allowing kids of all ages to learn and practice yoga alongside their parents.
Gabrielle Bernstein, chef Sarah Copeland and meditation teacher Sally Kempton are among the featured speakers at the festival’s Speakeasy, which encourages audience participation.
“These are not stuffy lectures, but rather candid conversations that take place in an intimate environment where you can get up close and personal with some of the most engaging personalities at Wanderlust,” according to the festival.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been six years since we landed our first event in Squaw Valley,” said Wanderlust co-founder Jeff Krasno in a statement. “This magical place has inspired us to continually innovate around how man can work harmoniously with nature. We look forward to another year of bringing people together to celebrate, exchange ideas and experience the good things in life.”
OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. — Between a proposal to expand the Village at Squaw and a separate effort to incorporate Olympic Valley, the famed Sierra location of the 1960 Winter Olympics could see big changes in the future.
The Sierra Sun recently sat down with Andy Wirth, president and CEO of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, discussing everything from past decisions to potential ones. Below is an excerpt of the Q-and-A:
Sierra Sun: In 2010 you became president/CEO of Squaw Valley, and this September marks the third year of the Squaw/Alpine merger. What are some of the big changes you think have taken place since?
Andy Wirth: “Importantly, from the customer’s view, we’ve invested in virtually every facet of the mountain experience. We’ve invested a great deal of money, time and effort into the quality of our snowcats, our grooming fleet, the quality of our snowmaking facilities, our snow guns (and) the training of our team. And so I know one thing that’s changed — I know that now, compared to four years ago, the quality of that part of the skiing experience is vastly improved.
“Now the interesting dialogue turns to when are you going to connect the two (resorts). Well, I’m proud to say that’s going to happen sometime in the near future. I can’t divulge how exactly … We think that’s beneficial to literally every single person in this community.”
Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows CEO
“… We’ve also invested very heavily in the food and beverage operations both on the mountain and at the base of the mountain.
“… No. 3, something of which I’m most proud of, is that Squaw Valley, when I came here, was not known for its service levels, and we’ve gone from one of the lowest-rated ski resorts in North America, to we’re now in the top 20 percent. Last year — not this past ski season, but the past season — we had the highest service scores of any ski resort in California, better than anyone in Lake Tahoe, better than anyone else in the state of California. We’re exceedingly proud of that.
“… We’ve actually developed a service culture. We have a service culture that people believe in and people are proud to be a part of. With that said, we still know there’s so much more ground that needs to be taken, and what I mean is everything from the friendliness and attentiveness of our lift operators to the people working in the parking lot, parking cars to the ski patrollers who are actually engaging in customer service and customer interactions.”
Sun: What about the Squaw/Alpine merger?
Wirth: “I’m prideful in saying we’ve done something that people have been talking about since the 50s — we acquired Alpine Meadows. It was in a distressed situation. We acquired Alpine Meadows, and we’ve enhanced the service levels there.
“… Every aspect of the history and the culture we celebrate, we support and honor at both mountains, but to actually do something people have been talking about for decades and actually own and operate both mountains, now that’s the business accomplishment.
“But really the most important thing was the value to the customer. You get two mountains, over 6,000 acres of skiing on one pass and on one lift ticket. It’s really a simple value statement.
“… Now the interesting dialogue turns to when are you going to connect the two. Well, I’m proud to say that’s going to happen sometime in the near future. I can’t divulge how exactly. … We think that’s beneficial to literally every single person in this community. At the very least, it pulls cars off the road; at the very most, it makes us a more popular destination.”
Sun: What role do you think the village expansion plan may play in the resort’s standing in the ski industry?
Wirth: “There’s no doubt that the combination of the service culture being vastly improved, the investments that we’ve made in the mountain experience, coupled with if we can build viable, reliable mass transit for our staff, our locals and our guests along with quality lodging, I think we could easily find ourselves in the top five, top three destinations in North America, which again is where we used to be.
“… So really that’s why we call it the ‘Renaissance.’ We’re wanting to go back to a place; we’re not trying to contrive something new. We see there being value to everybody, all local customers, all locals by going back to where we used to be.
“… There are 82 acres of asphalt out there, and we think those 82 acres of asphalt can be something better. … We think those parking lots can be something better that don’t tear at the fabric of the soul of the community. … I have everything to lose if we don’t observe and respect and cherish the legacy and history of this place. We have something unique and special, why would we see to dilute or change that?”
Sun: As for the incorporation effort, if it is successful, what is the biggest concern you have for the future of the valley and Squaw?
Wirth: “In the very outside chance that the Incorporate Olympic Valley effort is successful, as the CEO of the parent/holding company of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, I am and would be extremely concerned as to the financial viability and solvency of the new entity and operating a business in such an unnecessarily, fiscally volatile city. In speaking to my friends in Mammoth Lakes, which a few years ago filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy, every indication was that it was a challenge to the citizenry, the community and the ski business. The IOV assertion that they have the financial aspect of this endeavor covered is just simply untrue, and in turn, it would inject a tremendous amount of unnecessary risk, with no added value or benefit to the region, into the day-to-day lives of the people who live here and/or own property here.
“Moreover, the fact that the Resort at Squaw Creek, Squaw Valley Lodge and many other landowners … are now very aggressively seeking to be excluded from this “idea” is very telling.
“… As an engaged and very active citizen of the North Lake Tahoe community, I am and would be concerned about the inevitable, obvious and deeply concerning isolation from the rest of the region and community of North Lake Tahoe. We are just one part of an expansive interrelated community. Our staff, our customers and our friends are from the entire North Lake Tahoe area; to isolate a tiny portion of the region and retain the revenues for a small city’s use deprives the people of the region and of the community who presently benefit from our fiscal role in this society. It’s not at all an approach or an endeavor that benefits the region or community, but instead isolates and deprives.”
Sun: With this year’s mild winter, how did Squaw and Alpine fare in terms of business?
Wirth: “The 2013-14 winter season was a challenging season for all businesses in the region and … Squaw Valley Ski Holdings … was certainly adversely impacted by the weather. However, our substantial investment in the entire snowmaking system, snow grooming fleet and the entire mountain vacation experience allowed us to be not only competitive but have more and higher quality terrain and chairs open than our nearest regional competitor. Most importantly, the customer input and feedback was extremely positive, in the context of the tough season, relative to our service levels and our operations teams’ at-times Herculean efforts to open terrain.
“While I am not at liberty to disclose skier visits, revenue and EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization), it’s fair to say while our results were disappointing relative to our original plans, we were not only competitive within the region but outperformed those mountains in the region during key timeframes.”
Sun: What outlook do you have for future winters? What precautions, if any, may be taken at Squaw and Alpine should mild winters continue?
Wirth: “Relative to weather, I am and we are firm believers in climate change, and therefore, very long term, there’s understandable concern for the ski industry as whole. However, we are developing a planning approach that … accommodates increased volatility in weather, as there’s much research that indicates that while climate change is quite real, it doesn’t necessarily mean less snowfall for certain regions, but increased volatility of weather patterns. We will continue to invest in our snowmaking systems … along with every facet of the mountain experience.
“Specifically, relative to climate change, we know that our destinations’ largest contribution to GHG (greenhouse gas) is not our operations, but the vehicles used by our guests at embarrassingly low average ratios of customers per vehicle. There are many reasons for that, including the lack of viable, consistent and reliable mass transit in the region like one can find in Aspen, Park City, Whistler Blackcomb, Steamboat Springs and more. To enhance the guest experience and support our commitment to the environment, we are making every effort to lead and drive change in the region so to develop, in some cases, enhanced traditional transit systems, and in some other interesting cases, non-traditional solutions to our region’s transportation challenges.”
Sun: Speaking of winter, where do we stand as a region, and where does Squaw and Alpine fit in, with trying to host the Winter Olympics again?
Wirth: “Three years ago, I was selected by the governors and lieutenant governors of Nevada and California to be chairman of the bistate Lake Tahoe Winter Olympics Committee. It was and still is a group with no specific affiliation to a particular city, but the epicenter of any and all thinking, logistics and more is Lake Tahoe. … My friend and peer at Vail Resorts, Blaise Carrig, also serves on this board. Blaise and I see the possibility of hosting a Winter Games as an opportunity to substantially enhance the roads, transportation and transit infrastructure in the region just as those benefits accrued for Salt Lake City/Park City in 2002 and Vancouver/Whistler Blackcomb in 2010.
“At the time of formation, we were at the very incipient stages of considering a run at the 2022 Winter Olympics as Lake Tahoe; however, the United States Olympic Committee, in a very wise move, chose to pass on Winter 2022. The USOC continues to evaluate the opportunity to pursue a Summer 2024 Olympics and/or a Winter 2026 Olympics. Until their evaluation is complete, we remain in a holding pattern.”
DETAILS of NEW SQUAW-ALPINE INTERCONNECT TIMELINE
In 2010, Squaw Valley was sold to a private equity firm named KSL Capital Partners. KSL almost immediately acquired neighboring Alpine Meadows in 2011. Their obvious next move was to buy the 460-acre piece of land that lies between the two resorts and connect Squaw and Alpine, thereby creating the largest ski resort in the USA. To make this happen, they’d need to negotiate with Troy Caldwell, the owner of White Wolf, for that 460-acre parcel in between Squaw & Alpine.
Yesterday, I had a phone conversation with Troy Caldwell. We spoke about where he and KSL are at on the negotiating table and how soon they estimate this Squaw-Alpine connect to be completed. Here’s what he had to say (scroll down a bit):
DETAILS of NEW SQUAW-ALPINE INTERCONNECT TIMELINE:
– Interconnect now 2-2.5 years away from completion, not 5-10 years out as previously thought
– Hand shake agreement currently between Troy & KSL, no signed contract
– Still planning for White Wolf ski resort to have both public and private zones
TROY CALDWELL INTERVIEW:
Me: So, how are negotiations going with KSL as far as the creation of the new interconnect between Squaw and Alpine?
Troy: “It’s going well. We’re moving forward and trying to figure everything out. We’re aligned & headed for the same goal.”
Me: Great. That’s what we all wanna hear. So, you’re moving forward, but there’s been talk of a hand-shake agreement and no signed contract just yet.
Troy: “That’s correct. No signed contract, but we have a hand shake agreement.”
Me: Ok, a hand shake agreement sounds like it’s working out so far. What people really wanna know is how far off if the completion of the interconnect? People are very excited to see this “biggest ski resort in the USA” realized. Is the final product still 7-10 years out as you thought it was in our last interview?
Troy: “We’re gonna up the ante on this one and get it done quite a bit quicker than what we previously thought. We’re gonna lop off some time. It was 5-10 years out, now it’s looking like 2-2.5 years away. We’ve got our fingers crossed that we can make everything work out.”
Me: Wow, that’s fantastic. People around here are gonna be fired up about the new timeline. Are you still planning to have your own ski resort with both public and private zones?
Troy: Yes. We are still plan on White Wolf having both public and private zones. We’re gonna do the best we can to make the interconnect work in the best way possible for the big and small people.”
Me: One thing so great about this project is that you know you have the entire community supporting you. People around here respect what you’re you trying to do, they respect you, and they respect your history of being a ski bum, a professional skier, a blue collar guy, and living a life that most of us can relate to.
Troy: “Thanks. Yeah, we’ve got the support of the community and that feels good. There are a lot of hurdles and obstacles to get there. But, if a lot of people want something to happen, it’s usually gonna happen.”
Me: Sounds good. Ok, that’s it. Thanks for your time, Troy. Anything else?
Troy: “Nope, we’re just excited that it’s moving forward and hopefully a little sooner than we though.”
This new information from Troy about the timeline is spectacular. Instead of having to wait a never-ending 10 years and not even know if we’ll still be able to ski by the time it’s done, we’re now only going to have to wait 2 1/2 years, an amount of time that will literally fly right by.
* * *
I want to say thanks to Troy for this interview. I know we are all gonna be ecstatic once we see the first signs of construction begin.
Check out my last two interviews with Troy here: Troy Caldwell Interviews
Learn More about White Wolf:
WHITE WOLF DEATILS:
- 460 acres
- Purchased by Troy in 1990 from Southern Pacific Railroad for $350,000
- Includes 75 acres of Squaw Valley ski resort that includes the upper half of the Olympic Lady chair and the top third of the KT-22 chair.
- Troy was sued multiple times by Squaw Valley over the past 15 years
- Connecting Squaw, Alpine, & White Wolf would create the largest ski resort in the USA
TROY’S WHITE WOLF DREAM:
- A small high-end ski resort
- Gondola & 3 ski lifts
- Mid mountain hotel
- Small village complete with ice skating rink
- Troy understands that all of the above may not come to fruition, but this is his grand vision for White Wolf