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What Sets Squaw Valley Apart From the Rest

Story by Teton Gravity Research

In the heart of Northern California's Sierra Nevada Mountains, there lies a mountain, a playground really, that holds my heart. Tightly. Squaw Valley is a ski resort unlike any other and remains one of my favorite places on the planet to slide on snow. Now, I should preface this with the fact that I was born and raised in Squaw and the surrounding Tahoe area. Heck, my mother went into labor at the Wildflour ‘Cookie Shop’ (delicious btw) at the base of the mountain. I am most definitely what some may call a Squaw Snob. That being said, hear me out.

So let’s start with the terrain. Squaw seems like a chunk of snowy mountain that was designed specifically for skiing. Even better? They have chairlifts that go everywhere you want to go. I like to call it no-commute skiing. You ride up a chair, you get off, you ski down, you get back on the chair. Minimal to no sidestepping, hiking or traversing necessary. Of course if you need a little boot pack in your life, pop up to the Palisades or Granite Peak for a great ski paired with a fabulous view of Lake Tahoe. But I am telling you, its not necessary to get to the goods. 

Take KT-22 for example. You get off the chair and you have multiple aspects to choose from right at the tip of your skis, giving you choices to find the best snow. All options are steep, fun and littered with sweet features and cliffs that actually have tranny (and some that don’t of course so don’t hit those). I know there are those folks out there that may like to get away, take less chairlifts, earn your turns and all that good stuff. I hear that and I like that sometimes too. But when I ski Squaw, I find the T-to-B style of terrain means I ski a ton! So many runs, so many turns. It is rad. Couple that with magical flying couches full of friends, that drop you exactly where you want to be.

While the skiing and terrain set Squaw on a tier of radness, there is a specific season where no ski resort star shines brighter. Spring skiing at Squaw is hands down, unmatched. They do call it the Spring Skiing Capital after all. Those long warm days in April, May and often June, sometimes even July, when most ski resorts are closed, snow left rotting away, Squaw is kicked into high gear. Blue skies and sunshine are basically a guarantee in the late Spring and with Squaw’s array of aspects to choose from you can ski the whole day on beautiful, buttery, soft, corn snow. Just follow the sun and you will have fun! 

It gets better with a sick park that only gets built up to its full max in the spring. Furthermore, Squaw hosts one of the best pond skims ever. It is on an actual pond, which makes the stakes higher because, trust me, you don’t want to swim in Lake Cushing… Beyond that, one of the key aspects of good spring skiing is sunny, outdoor après. Squaw has lots of bars, right at the base, all with patios, all of which get afternoon sun. The crown jewel of après is of course Les Chamois, mostly referred to as The Chammy. With an outdoor west-facing bar and patio, it is post spring ski bliss!

Now, in talking about Squaw, I have to bring up something that I seem to hear a lot about. The vibe. I have been lucky to travel and ski all around the west and beyond, and when you tell people you are from Squaw one sentiment always seems to come up, “oh that place, it’s so agro there!” Okay, so I can see why people might think this but I am here to tell you there is a bit of a misconception. Yes there can be a lot of vocal interaction with people while skiing at Squaw but you must understand the intention. Squaw is at its core all about fun and the people who call it their home mountain have that fun engrained in their soul. It is all about the joke, the joust, the jibe but it is seriously all in good fun. The art of the heckle is alive and well in Squaw. It has to be. You really can’t ski anything rad at Squaw without someone seeing it, usually watching from the chair. It’s like being in the spotlight, whether you like it or not. 

Now, for those of you who have ever had a little stage fright, you know there are a lot of ways to handle it and sometimes that extra little motivation from some bro on the chairlift is all you need for that tiny extra boost to go ahead and send it! The thing is, you must know that the heckler on the chair has been in your boots. In the spotlight, at the top of the line, unable to back down because everyone would see and they just needed a little extra boost. Beyond that, whether you stomp or explode, they always cheer. Yes the heckle is a bit of a dated, hyper-masculine tradition, but understanding the intention is everything. At Squaw, it is all in good fun and just know, if you are getting heckled, you are doing something right.

My love letter to Squaw could go on and on. The long list of incredible skiers to call Squaw home has inspired myself and others for generations. The king of that list is of course Shane McConkey, whose spirit seems to live among the powdery playground, at the top of every peak and in every powder stash. And there are so many more, too many to list. I bet if you think about it, you can think of a skier or snowboarder hailing from Squaw that has inspired you. The magic of Squaw is massive and surrounds you when you are on the slopes. Maybe there is a secret ingredient in the delicious Wildflour ‘Cookie Shop’ cookies (so good I had to mention them again) that makes people want to send, want to have fun and want to ski till their legs fall off!

I know every ski resort has a story, a past and many people who love it dearly. Yes, ladies and gents, I am a Squaw Snob, but I love skiing, everywhere. With that, I invite you all to come see, ski and enjoy all that I love so dearly about this mountain. If I catch you on a chairlift ride, please tell me what you love so much about your home mountain, maybe invite me to take some runs with you there sometime and please, please heckle me for being a Squaw Snob.  

- Amie Engerbretson