Ski industry news: Squaw-to-Alpine gondola approved by Placer County

Placer County on Tuesday approved the fourth alternative for the gondola, which would occupy the least amount of land.

Placer County on Tuesday approved the fourth alternative for the gondola, which would occupy the least amount of land.

OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. — Access to two resorts via a gondola ride is moving closer to reality for skiers and riders at Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows with the Placer County Board of Supervisors' unanimous approval of the project on Tuesday.

The approval “represents one of the last crucial steps toward connecting Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows,” said Ron Cohen, president of Squaw Valley, in a statement.

The gondola would begin at Squaw Valley, traverse over privately owned property and end at the Alpine Meadows base area.

“Connecting these two resorts that are under the same ownership provides that rich winter experience,” said Heather Beckman, associate planner for Placer County.

The project received preliminary approval from the Tahoe National Forest earlier this year, but still must be formally approved in order to move forward.

According to Squaw Valley, it's unknown when construction could start.

The project includes two base terminals and two mid-stations. The approved project will have less of an environmental effect than alternatives, as it occupies the least amount of land spanning 11,700 feet. Approximately 20% of the project will be located on national forest lands.

An environmental impact report released by Placer County and the U.S. Forest Service outlined four possible options for construction of the project.

“The chosen alignment arrived at through this long and detailed process is the most environmentally favorable plan and is also the alignment which is located furthest away from the wilderness boundary,” said Cohen.

The Squaw Valley terminal will be near the Reg Dog chair lift, with a mid-station near the top of KT-22. The Alpine Meadows base terminal would be situated to the southeast of the Alpine Meadows base lodge, between the Roundhouse Express and the Hot Wheels chair lift, with a mid-station around 650 feet northwest of The Buttress in the northern portion of the Alpine Meadows.

The eight-passenger gondola would be able to transport up to 1,400 people per hour and will only operate during the winter season, according to a staff report.

According to the resort, “the gondola is primarily aimed at improving the skier experience, not at increasing visitation.” Skier visitation is expected to increase by 70 additional skiers per day in an average season or 211 additional cars on a peak day.

While 7,000 people signed a petition in favor of the project, it still received criticism.

“Sierra Watch will work with our conservation allies to figure out the next steps in our long-term commitment to defend our irreplaceable mountain resources,” read a Facebook post this week from the environmental organization.

The group has long been a opponent of further development at Squaw Valley, filing a lawsuit last year against Placer County's approval of a 25-year village redevelopment project at the resort. A judge ruled against Sierra Watch in August.

During a public hearing last spring Alpine Meadows residents expressed concern with the installation of eight Gazex avalanche exploders around the gondola. In the final report, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows decided to pull the Gazex exploders from the project.

“Next we await potential modifications and a decision from the U.S. Forest Service,” the post from Sierra Watch read.

Hannah Jones is a reporter for the Sierra Sun, a sister publication of the Northern Nevada Business View.


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