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California Express: A Dream Come True

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By Matt Reardon

When I first heard about the California Express, the gondola proposed to connect Squaw Valley with Alpine Meadows, I thought, “this will never happen.” This area is rather hesitant when change is introduced, congruous with most mountain towns. People like things to stay the same way as when they first arrived. This I understand.

Each mountain has its unique vibe — there is no doubt. If you’ve skied here long enough you can differentiate between the earthier, low-key Alpine guy vs. the “hey, look at me, I’m rad” Squaw equivalent. Is it a good thing to connect two of the best mountains in California or will it taint that special je ne sais quoi each mountain holds?

I remember looking at a Lake Tahoe map years ago, dreaming to ski the steeps of Squaw. It was only at a second glance I noticed our hidden gem, Alpine Meadows. What a concept to connect two powerhouses — why wasn’t it already done?

I cannot begin to recount the times I’ve wanted to jump over to Alpine mid-day but didn’t want to interrupt the beautiful flow state happening on KT-22. Still, I want the full experience so I de-boot, drive through sometimes painful traffic, re-park, boot up again, and clamber over to Summit then to Scott late in the day, and perhaps a final lap on Munchkins. Sounds like an epic day, doesn’t it?  

The California Express gondola would make this vision a better reality and reduce traffic by moving nearly 3,000 thousand riders per hour between congested base areas … without cars. This was actually the original dream of founders Wayne and Sandy Poulsen.

I remember hearing mixed emotions when KT-22 was changed from a slow double to a high-speed quad, encapsulated in the quintessential photo of Jeff McKittrick riding the final KT chair with an R.I.P. cross. Chatter at that time said it would ruin KT-22 by quadrupling the skier traffic. In the end, it helped disperse skiers, reduce the cluster at the bases, and enhance the ski experience. 

My fiancée and I recently visited Whistler in British Columbia, for a wedding in mid-September. I marveled at the engineering it must have taken to accomplish the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola, yet I thought to myself: One can ski both mountains from one base, so why all the hassle? Yes, it is an incredible tourist attraction for all walks of life, skier or not. You can have a farm-to-table dinner in your gondola car with 5-star fine dining, which is a great feature, but what’s the purpose?

I’ve done a fair amount of research after our trip. Whistler now thrives yearlong. We stayed for a full week and didn’t drive a car once as public transportation was always available. Moreover, on a Wednesday night in the off-season, the village teemed with positive energy from both visitors and locals. People have options for lodging which leads to competitive rates. Guests are not forced to drive in and out each day, which we know creates havoc on roads at peak times.

Squaw’s village was originally designed to be similar, but development was halted when Intrawest folded. Currently, what we have is an incomplete vision. At the moment, there are only 1,100 rentable pillows in Squaw Valley, but the resort can sell up to 13,000 lift tickets daily. Clearly, the math here is an issue.

It would be wonderful for our ski area to be an example throughout the industry with regard to sustainable growth. Not only doing what is right with regard to our footprint, but additionally demonstrating economic sense in a blueprint that all ski areas could follow. Change is inevitable — I’m embracing it.   

~ Matt Reardon is the executive director of the Squaw Valley Institute, a member of the Marker Völkl international team, an international recording artist and award-winning singer/songwriter, and proud father. These views are his own and do not reflect the views of the Squaw Valley Institute.

 
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Reader comments so far...

EKIHD | Truckee
Yeah whatever dude base to base aint peak to peak btw and wont reduce traffic on hwy 89 between Truckee and Tahoe city youre just another wanna be bro bra of Wirthlesness cause its all about your ego and what you have to gain and not using any logic or any real studies to prove any benefits of traffuc mitigation just more narcsissitic hype bra p.s. go a little easier on the bleachin the teeth really phoney lookin yo

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The Opinion Page is your place to spout off. This section contains letters to the editor and longer My Shot pieces. Also, the Spout features two bimonthly perspectives — In the Past, delving into Tahoe Truckee history, and In the Moment, an artistic musing of a moment today.

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October 11, 2018