A project, viewed by some in the Truckee-Tahoe area as controversial, is officially underway at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows.
On Monday, the first work began on the resort’s base-to-base gondola — an undertaking years in the making that will eventually allow guests to ride from The Village at Squaw Valley to the Alpine Meadows base area.
Tree cutting is already underway at the Alpine Meadows base area and adjacent Caldwell property, and will be followed in the coming months by excavation and blasting work.
The resort has no estimate on its website on when the gondola will be operational.
“It’s a complicated project with a lot of moving parts,” said Public Relations Director Liesl Hepburn in an email. “We understand that the intermittent closures are a real inconvenience, and will be communicating actively to help people make their plans.”
The project includes two base terminals, two mid-stations and 33 lift towers. Additionally, guests will have the option of disembarking at the KT-22 mid-station in Squaw Valley. Installation of the gondola won’t open up additional terrain, but will provide guests with a roughly 16-minute ride between resorts in its eight-passenger cabins. The gondola will only operate during the winter season and will stop operations by April 30.
Resort officials said impacts of the work being done include noise from chainsaws and tree felling, and from heavy machinery and blasting. Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows also stated a helicopter will be used in the work as well.
Another impact that will be felt by community members and visitors will be trail closures on the Five Lakes Trail and Western States Trail. There will be 41 days of anticipated trail closures now through August.
While providing a boon to skiers and riders during the winter months, the project, which was approved by Placer County in July 2019, has been criticized by some in the community and faced a lawsuit from the Granite Chief Wilderness Protection League. Ultimately, the suit was dismissed after the resort agreed to various protection measures for the Sierra Nevada yellow legged frog habitat and the Granite Chief Wilderness Area. The settlement, according to Hepburn, also involved the resort providing $450,000 to the Truckee Donner Land Trust during the next 10 years for the purchase of land within and adjacent to the Granite Chief Wilderness Area.
As work begins in the area and “trail closed” signs go up, a number of residents have expressed concerns regarding the impact of the project, arguing the resort has done a poor job communicating plans for the summer.
“We were very surprised how many days the Five Lakes Trail is going to be closed and how much is going on there. Helicopters, chainsaws, big machinery that’s being brought up there, and crews — it’s a big deal,” said Judy Bruner, who owns two homes in Alpine Meadows.
Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows provides updates on trail closures via its website and app, but exact dates aren’t confirmed. The resort also said in its May 7 update the Five Lakes Trail wasn’t anticipated to be closed due to tree cutting, but on Wednesday another update was provided, stating the trail would be closed the following day and today for tree cutting.
“I think they should make it more publicly known that the trail is going to be closed,” added Bruner. “I think you’re going to have people driving up there and just finding a sign that the trail is closed.”
While some members of the community have been frustrated by what they’ve said is a lack of communication, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows said the closures of the Five Lakes Trail and Western States Trail were an analyzed impact of the project, which included years of public input through various meetings.
Further, information and updates on closures and impacts of the gondola project can be found at blog.squawalpine.com.
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-550-2643