The string of upgrades and renovations at Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows will move forward this summer with a $17 million investment into both mountains from Alterra Mountain Company.
Following a $1.4 million lodge renovation at Alpine Meadows last year, the mountain will be getting a $10 million high-speed lift to replace Hot Wheels chair lift.
"We see a lot of value over at Alpine Meadows that we think often gets overlooked. A good way to bring that focus back is to improve the guest experience there," said Liesl Hepburn, public relations director at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows.
Planned for this summer the project will replace the slow-moving three-passenger lift, with a high-speed detachable quad chairlift following the same path as the existing Hot Wheels lift. However, it will add a 1,300-foot extension up to east ridge of Ward Peak, landing between Art's Knob and the top terminal of Sherwood Express. It will feature a mid-station, where the top of Hot Wheels sits, allowing guests to exit at the top of beginner terrain or ride the chair to the top, with a total ride time of five minutes.
"Getting back to Sherwood is not easy. It's a really long traverse and this is a good way to make that terrain more accessible," said Hepburn. "Your most expert skier will be stoked to get up to Art's Knob in five minutes and your beginner skier can take that first stop on the lift and get into the beginner and intermediate terrain."
The start of construction on the lift will depend on the weather, Hepburn said, noting the massive amount of snow on Sierra slopes — including a record 300 inches in February at Squaw Valley.
"We just have to wait and see on the snow melt," she said. "The plan is to have it done for next season."
While plans for the chair lift have been in the works for at least three years, Hepburn said the resort secured U.S. Forest Service and Placer County approval earlier this year.
Squaw Valley will be seeing more improvements to its beginner terrain at High Camp with a new rope tow eliminating the need to traverse uphill to get to the lodge. Other improvements include a new magic carpet and snow fencing which will all be installed this summer.
In recent years, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows have made multiple investments in their infrastructure spending $1.8 million on renovations to High Camp two years ago followed by $4 million in investments into snow safety tools last year including new Gazex avalanche exploders.
"It's tremendously encouraging what we're seeing from Alterra," said Hepburn. "Obviously they're recognizing some of these elements that can elevate our guest experience."
This is the first full season Squaw and Alpine have been operating on Ikon Pass under Alterra's umbrella. The planned projects are part of a $181 million investment Alterra has made into its 14 North American resorts. This includes $32.3 million toward gondola and lift improvements, $27.1 million toward "customer friendly" technology innovations, $8.3 million toward snow-making, $6.2 million toward dining experiences, $6.3 million toward summer activities, and nearly $10 million in planning for future developments.
"The culture that's created by having that type of investment, their faith of what we can do with our guest experience and what were currently doing is definitely positive," said Hepburn.
STILL in the works
Squaw Valley is still aiming to redevelop the Village, a 25-year development project originally submitted to Placer County in May 2012, which involves the development of up to 850 hotel, condominium and residential units and a 90,000 square-foot indoor adventure center. Despite backlash from environmental groups such as Sierra Watch and a series a lawsuits filed against the project, courts have continued to rule in favor of the resort.
Still in the works are plans for a base-to-base gondola from Squaw Valley to Alpine Meadows which is pending approval from Placer County and the U.S. Forest Service. If approved the eight-passenger gondola will allow guests to travel 15 minutes from one mountain to the other.