A 16 minute flight between Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows took a jump forward this morning as the Truckee National Forest and Placer County released the draft environmental impact statement for the California Express gondola. The big three stage lift was first proposed by the owner of both mountains, KSL Capital Partners, more than two years ago and is now being championed by Alterra Mountain Co. At 808 pages, the EIS required under the National Environmental Policy Act outlines three possible alignments which could unite the steeps and village at Squaw Valley with the beginner and intermediate paradise of Alpine Meadows.
Two of the alternatives are new while the other two should be familiar to readers of this site. Other concepts such as a pulse gondola, expanded shuttle service and even an underground train were eliminated as part of the preliminary review, which was completed by SE Group and Ascent Environmental of Sacramento. Alternative 1 is the required no-action option, which would keep Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows separate but equal. Shuttle buses would continue running every 30 minutes between the two mountains, which already share a common lift ticket.
The lift would move 1,400 skiers per hour in 8-passenger cabins painted white to blend in with the winter environment. It would operate from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm with skiing allowed from the mid-station(s) when conditions permit. There would be separate drive systems and separate cabin parking facilities at each end so two sides could operate independently. The middle section of the lift would operate as part of the Alpine Meadows side and approximately 40 percent of the cabins would be stored at Squaw Valley with the remaining 60 percent at Alpine during storm events and the summer.