Earlier this fall, Squaw Valley Ski Holdings submitted its formal application to the Placer County Planning Department to build the three-stage gondola connecting Squaw Valley with Alpine Meadows that was first announced last spring. Leitner-Poma will design the system on the heels of completing Squaw’s Big Blue and Siberia six-packs. LPOA has lots of experience building detachable lifts with angle stations including similar three-section gondolas at Breckenridge and Sunshine Village.
The Squaw-Alpine gondola will be around 13,000 feet long with 37 towers and two ridge-top angle stations. The unique system will have three haul ropes but only two drives located at the end stations (Breck and Sunshine’s gondolas have just one rope & drive each.) In this sense, the base-to-base gondola is really two gondolas similar to Whistler Village and Revelstoke. What’s different at Squaw is the center section will operate with the Alpine drive by sharing a common bullwheel where the sections meet. As such, the Squaw section could be run independently but the other two spans must operate together. Regardless, cabins will normally make the entire trip from Squaw to Alpine. The gondola’s hourly capacity will be 1,400 passengers per direction with 8-passenger cabins and a line speed of 1,000 fpm. Squaw also plans full-speed operations during a power outage with generators at each drive station.
The north mid-station on the Squaw side will be sited on private lands near the summit of the KT-22 detachable quad while the south mid-station will be in the Tahoe National Forest within Alpine’s existing permit boundary. Skiers will be able to access some pretty awesome terrain from both mid-stations when conditions allow. The Squaw Village terminal will sit between KT-22 and the Squaw One Express while the Alpine terminal will be between the Roundhouse Express and Hot Wheels. The gondola will actually fly over Alpine’s base lodge and under Squaw’s Funitel. One interesting point from the application is that the Alpine mid-station at just over 7,700 feet in elevation will have no permanent road access or power line to it, which is part of why the central section has no drive motor of its own. The terminal control systems, lights, etc. will run off a line generator and diesel genset.
The county application also introduces a plan for eight Gazex exploders to reduce avalanche hazards along the lift line. Gazex is a product of the MND Group, which also owns LST Ropeways. Brighton, Crystal Mountain, Jackson Hole, Wolf Creek and Snowbasin already have Gazex systems. While relatively rare in the states, there are more than 2,200 Gazex exploders is use worldwide. If you ever get the chance to watch a Gazex mission, they are super cool!
The base-to-base gondola would only operate in the winter months and have extended hours to allow guests to transition between ski areas. Gondola cabins will be stored inside over the summer and likely on storm nights. Squaw Valley points out that many beginner and intermediate skiers staying in the Village at Squaw would take the gondola to ski the more suitable terrain at Alpine Meadows. I imagine the gondola would operate similarly to Telluride’s Mountain Village gondola, where lift tickets are only checked upon exiting at a mid-station.
This project still has to finish county review and go to the Forest Service so I expect construction will not happen until 2017 at the earliest. If you like lifts it will be worth the wait!