Squaw Valley has a dedicated area of nursery slopes, the Papoose Learning Area, located right at the base of the mountain, so it’s easy to get to. It has a special double chairlift which has been built for comfort and ease of use for beginners, and of course specially trained staff to help you get on. This newer area is in addition to Squaw’s larger existing learning area up at High Camp, which has five beginner lifts serving gentle terrain. Combine all this with comprehensive learn-to-ski packages, which can include tuition, ticket and lift pass for one low price, and you have a winning combination for your first time on the slopes.
Squaw Valley’s ski area is one of the most expansive in North America, spread across six mountains and incorporating more than a dozen bowls. Unusually the resort does not mark or grade its trails, but grades its lifts by the type of terrain each accesses. It also advises that, in total, nearly half of the entire ski area is graded intermediate.
Some of the resort’s most popular skiing is reached via the Squaw Creek or Red Dog lifts which access fast, smooth cruising trails. The wide open bowls of Gold Coast are also popular, accessed via the Funitel lift or the Squaw One Express. The longest trail is the Mountain Run which descends 3.2miles (5km) right back to the mountain base.
Squaw Valley has a reputation for expert level terrain, with a third of the mountain graded at this level. The slopes have been attracting daredevil skiers for more than 60 years, since long before the term 'extreme’ was used to describe the most adventurous skiers and boarders. Famous names who either stayed here or were regulars include Steve McKinney, Jonny Moseley, Shane McConkey, Jeremy Jones and CR Johnson and in keeping with a ski area that is located in the same state that’s home to Hollywood, many extreme ski movies have been shot here.
Perhaps the most famous steeps are found on the KT-22 peak (named after the 22 kick turns one of the first ‘extreme’ skiers took to get down it in the 1940s). The many other challenges include tree skiing on Granite Chief, the Headwall and Silverado bowls and between the cliffs of Broken Arrow.
The opportunities are so many and in many case so steep, it’s worth tackling new routes first in a ski school class or other guided group, because that lack of conventional trail grading can make it difficult to identify just how tough some areas are.
Snowboard / Freestyle Skiing
In the land of laidback boarding culture, in a resort with deep powder and real grass roots, you’d expect boarding to be a huge part of the mountain, and it is. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, terrain parks are a relatively new phenomena on Squaws slopes however. Surprising because, given the resort’s deep boarding roots, you’d expect to have seen every part of the sport catered for here since the early years, decades ago; but perhaps not so surprising when you think that Squaw’s boarding culture is so deeply engrained, there are so many natural hits anyway, and the boarding spirit here is so pure, it seemed for a long time that terrain parks were not needed, something other resorts did to boost their cred towards the level Squaw was already way beyond.
That all changed a few years ago and the resort now boasts three parks and a super pipe, and stages numerous high calibre events.
For the past few years the in-ground Superpipe in Riviera has been a focus of freestyle attention, and terrain park features in the Monster Park there have been expanding beneath the High Camp Chair where there are ever more lines, including a rail line. You’ll also find park staff have used a lot of wood and ‘recycled’ industrial items to create more terrain features. Beneath this is the High Camp Railyard.
The Ford Belmont Terrain Park, accessed via the Cable Car, Belmont Lift and High Camp Lift, is great for those getting in to park skills with two lines of boxes, rails and other introductory features. It and the Monster Park are both floodlit for night riding.
There are 18km of cross country ski tracks at Squaw, accessed via the Resort at Squaw Creek (+1 (530) 583 6300). The trails cover about 400 acres of terrain in very scenic locations on what is in summer meadowland and hillside. There are trails for all standards, although a little over two thirds of them are graded easy, so it’s a good place to learn. There are 20% intermediate grade runs too and 10% expert. Trails are named after other Olympic venues including Calgary and Oslo. Rentals are available on site and a free short shuttle bus ride links the trail head to the main parking lot by the Alpine slopes.
All trails start at the Resort at Squaw Creek which is just a short, complimentary, shuttle ride from the Squaw Valley Parking Lot. Hop on the shuttle near the preferred parking area of the main lot. Call for more info.
Average Snow and Weather Conditions
Snow cover is rarely an issue at Squaw Valley which has built a reputation as ‘North America’s Spring Skiing Capital’ because, when most US ski areas close in early April, Squaw Valley is just warming up, as it were, with a laid-back Californian vibe centred on the High Camp base where an outdoor pool comes in to play for a new dimension in on-mountain après-ski.
Squaw is typically open from mid-November through to late May and has 600 acres (15%) of its terrain covered by snow making. Average annual snowfall is one the deepest in the world with over 12 metres (37 feet) falling each year. When the snow falls, it falls big time as Squaw Valley still manages to report more than 300 days of cloudless, sunny skies each year.