Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows today announced a comprehensive agreement with the Granite Chief Wilderness Protection League regarding the proposed California Express gondola. The environmental advocacy group will drop its lawsuit contesting approval of the project in exchange for new conservation efforts by the ski resort. The Forest Service issued its Final Record of Decision approving the gondola on January 31st. With these developments, all major hurdles have been overcome.
“We are very happy to have worked collaboratively with the League to address their concerns so that resources could be directed to environmentally beneficial purposes, rather than funding an extended lawsuit,” said Ron Cohen, president and chief operating officer of Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows. “We are eager to get going on this game-changing transportation project. We thank the League for its productive approach to resolving the dispute.”
Squaw Alpine will set aside approximately 27 acres of private property for conservation. These lands, which include pristine wetlands and natural ponds, have the potential to serve as habitat for the endangered Sierra Nevada Yellow Legged Frog. Additionally, the resort agreed to provide funding to study recovery of this endangered species. Squaw will also grant money for the Truckee Donner Land Trust to acquire parcels elsewhere in the vicinity of the Granite Chief Wilderness.
Squaw Alpine also agreed to operational limits for the gondola designed to mitigate potential impacts to the nearby wilderness. These include strict enforcement of the ski area boundary at the KT-22 mid-station and an annual closing date of no later than April 30th. The gondola will run during the winter season only when both Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows are in operation.
The lift will be impressive with two base terminals, two mid-stations, two drive systems and two parking facilities. 33 towers will be built along three segments spanning a total of 2.2 miles. A ride along the entire alignment will last 16 minutes. Hourly capacity will be 1,400 guests per hour and direction with eight passenger cabins. No manufacturer was announced but renderings show Leitner-Poma terminals and Sigma cabins. The gondola will likely use similar design principles to the recently-constructed Treeline Cirque, which features an angle station and two haul ropes but only one drive system and a double-grooved bullwheel.
Squaw Alpine has not publicly confirmed a construction timeline but notes the lift could be completed in one summer. The approved alignment requires moving Red Dog‘s base terminal. That lift is planned to become a Leitner-Poma six place chairlift, which could make for a very busy construction season. Alterra Mountain Company, owner of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, typically confirms big ticket capital projects the first week of March.
When complete, the California Express will unite 6,000 acres of terrain at Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows. “Squaw and Alpine are two very different resorts, but one thing they share in common is their guests’ amazing passion for skiing and riding,” said COO Cohen. “We look forward to preserving the two unique cultures, while at the same time offering our guests the ability to experience both without having to get in a car or shuttle.”