Thursday, April 24th, 2014

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Squaw Valley and Alpine Studying Backcountry Access

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This is the best news I’ve heard in a long time. Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows have teamed up to study the possibility of opening up backcountry access gates for those of us who like to wander beyond the boundaries.

This could potentially open up a HUGE amount of side-country, lift accessed terrain. Since Squaw and Alpine merged, one of the biggest questions has been what their plans are for the terrain that separates the two resorts. Now we have a good idea.

Ducking ropes has traditionally been a big no-no at Squaw, and many passes have been confiscated for skirting the rules. It looks like that attitude has changed with the KSL acquisition. Halleluiah!

Backcountry access is a no-brainer at many famous resorts like Telluride, Jackson Hole, and the like. It doesn’t look like there will be any movement on the existing policy for this season, but I’m happy to see the new management bringing Squaw into the 21st century.

See below for the official press release

The author in backcountry terrain near Squaw Valley.

The author in backcountry terrain near Squaw Valley.

Squaw and Alpine Meadows Announce Study to Determine Possibility of Backcountry Access Gates

SQUAW VALLEY, Calif. — Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows are announcing a new pilot study to determine the possibility of creating backcountry access gates permitting on-snow travel between Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows.

During the 2011-12 winter operating season Squaw and Alpine Meadows management, ski patrols from both resorts, and the US Forest Service will begin a pilot study to investigate the possibility of creating several backcountry access gates permitting travel between Squaw and Alpine Meadows. If successful, the pilot study would result in a policy which could permit skiers and riders with specialized backcountry training and equipment to access the wilderness land connecting Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows.

“We will be working with closely with our partner, the United States Forest Service, to conduct the pilot study,” said Andy Wirth, CEO of both Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows. “With the safety of our guests and our team members as our primary concern, we will be doing our due diligence to determine whether or not backcountry access between Squaw and Alpine Meadows is a possibility.”

Since Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows joined under common ownership this fall, both resorts can be accessed on one lift ticket or season pass for the 2011-12 winter season. Shuttles will run constantly between Squaw and Alpine Meadows this winter, providing convenient and quick access between the two resorts.

The boundary management policies of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows will remain much the same as they have in previous years. With the exception of the conditions dependent pilot study, Squaw Valley’s boundary will remain closed as it has in prior years. The Alpine Meadows Ski Area boundary will be managed as it has been in the past. The project will include route selection, potential issues relating to backcountry access during in-bounds closures, search and rescue issues, and interface with private land and wilderness areas.

The goal of the pilot study will be to determine whether or not feasible locations for backcountry access gates exist – and if so, where the best locations would be in terms of topography and exposure. The pilot study will be launched when adequate snow conditions have been reached.

  • Patrick

    Matt! As a Squaw patroller, what do you think of the increased likelihood of SAR callouts and avalanche incidents that may result? There have been avalanche fatalities in recent years in both Squaw and Alpine side-country accessed from the lifts.

  • http://www.sierrajournal.com Matthew DiPietro

    I’m sure incidents of both will go up – simply because there will be more people and more activity in those areas. It’s unclear how the avalanche terrain will be managed. And it sounds like there will be some control over who has access. The press release mentions education and equipment requirements. That would be a good move I think.

    IMHO, if Squaw and Alpine want to play in the big leagues with premier resorts like JHMR, they simply have to open up this kind of terrain. Skiers these days expect to have access to the side-country.

  • http://none Ray

    Matt, I think everyone wants to see this access, but of course with measured risk in opening this sort of terrain. Expert skiers with preparation would likely be able to access this. However, what are your thoughts on them finding reasonably safe and controllable routes for something other than expert skiers?

  • http://www.sierrajournal.com Matthew DiPietro

    Hi Ray. I’d suggest to you that backcountry terrain is by definition uncontrolled, expert terrain. By venturing beyond the boundaries of the ski area, the skier is taking a calculated risk that is part and parcel of the backcountry skiing and riding experience. Natural snow, unmarked obstacles, and avalanche danger are the norm in the backcountry. Before skiers and riders venture into that kind of terrain, they must be confident in their skills and knowledgable enough to stay safe on their own. Thanks for the comment!

    • Ray

      Matt,
      Duh! , of course! thanks.