Pg. 084 The Best Chair­lift in North Amer­ica

The Soul of Squaw Val­ley

Chill Factor - - Introduction - By Reg­gae El­liss

Squaw val­ley’s KT22 chair­lift is con­sis­tently voted as the best chair­lift in North Amer­ica. When you get it on a pow­der day, it is easy to un­der­stand why.

Squaw Val­ley’s KT-22 chair has been voted the best chair­lift in North Amer­ica, not sure by whom, but once you ski the ter­rain that lift ac­cesses, you can un­der­stand why. Squaw Val­ley is renowned for its steep chal­leng­ing ter­rain and names like the Pal­isades, Sil­ver­ado, and Head­wall have earned a kind of in­famy with skiers world­wide. It’s also well known that Squaw Val­ley has plenty of cruisy in­ter­me­di­ate fam­ily-friendly ter­rain, but when it comes down to it, the place of­fers some of the best and most var­ied in-bounds ter­rain in North Amer­ica, and a lot of that ter­rain is found off KT-22.

When I ar­rived with the fam­ily in late Jan­uary for our sec­ond visit to Squaw, the place looked amaz­ing. Reg­u­lar storms had turned on some epic pow­der days in De­cem­ber and early Jan­uary, the re­sult be­ing a cu­mu­la­tive snow fall of six me­tres and 100 per cent of open ter­rain.

The storm cy­cle con­tin­ued. We had two storms in the first five days we were there and scored some deep pow­der days. One in par­tic­u­lar will stay with me as one of the best days of ski­ing I’ve ever had, and most of that morn­ing was spent ex­plor­ing the huge choices avail­able off KT-22.

Many of the cliffs, chutes, and steeps of KT-22 are right un­der the lift, and you wit­ness some pretty amaz­ing ski­ing from the lo­cals as you ride the chair up. Squaw has been re­ferred to as Squal­ly­wood, a term de­rived from big-name lo­cal skiers like Scot Sch­midt, Shane McCon­key, JT Holmes, Brad Holmes, and Aaron McGovern throw­ing down in full view of the crowd.

Some­one told me that KT-22 is like the soul of Squaw Val­ley. At the very peak, an ea­gle sculp­ture sits as a me­mo­rial to Shane McCon­key, one of Squaw Val­ley’s favourite sons who died in a ski base-jump­ing ac­ci­dent in March 2009. The ea­gle is perched above

the drop-in to a su­per steep called McCon­key’s. You can hike up to the ea­gle from the back side of the peak and if you do, you’ll un­der­stand the “Squaw’s Soul” ref­er­ence, as the views are amaz­ing.

How­ever, while 83 per cent of the ter­rain off KT-22 is classed as ex­pert, it’s not all cliffs and tech­ni­cal chutes. The ter­rain is steep, but lines like Chute 75, Ta­mara’s, and GS Bowl are fun, turn­ing on a chal­leng­ing, ex­hil­a­rat­ing run. When it’s a pow­der day, it takes it to an­other level – score a foot of fresh snow on this moun­tain and you are in for one of the days of your life. It is world class.

Be warned, you need to get to the base of KT-22 early if you want to get first tracks as it gets crowded. Mid-week isn’t too bad, and the crowd thins out a lit­tle as the sea­son pro­gresses, but on a week­end it can be hec­tic thanks to the masses who make their way up from San Francisco. There are a cou­ple of groomed runs off the top of KT-22, which also ac­cess some mel­lower off-piste ter­rain, and it is worth ex­plor­ing as you can move into dif­fer­ent de­grees of dif­fi­culty as your con­fi­dence grows. That is the beauty of Squaw – re­gard­less of your abil­ity, you can stay in your com­fort zone, or you can progress and climb out of it. We stayed in Squaw for a month and, like any­where, the more we got to know the moun­tain the more we en­joyed it. The place is pretty amaz­ing and like the rest of the Lake Ta­hoe area, in­cred­i­bly beau­ti­ful. Un­for­tu­nately, Squaw is un­der threat of be­ing over-de­vel­oped, with multi-story apart­ments and even an in­door wa­ter park in the plans. It’s not pop­u­lar around Ta­hoe and the lo­cal com­mu­nity is fight­ing for more re­al­is­tic and com­pat­i­ble de­vel­op­ment, the call be­ing to “Keep Squaw True”.

For Aus­tralian skiers, Squaw Alpine is easy ac­ces­si­ble, United Air­lines hav­ing daily di­rect flights from Syd­ney to San Francisco. Then it’s an easy four-hour drive to the re­sort via the I-80 free­way. Al­ter­na­tively, you can grab a con­nec­tion from LA or San Francisco to Reno, which is a short one-hour drive from Squaw and the other Lake Ta­hoe re­sorts.

For me, Squaw is a des­ti­na­tion that of­fers ev­ery­thing you’d want in an over­seas des­ti­na­tion, but the main in­gre­di­ents are qual­ity snow and good, chal­leng­ing ter­rain. There was a bit of a break in the storm cy­cle in late Fe­bru­ary, but then it kicked in again, March and April of­fer­ing more win­ter-like pow­der days.

When Squaw Val­ley is on, the place is hard to beat. This past win­ter it was def­i­nitely on and KT-22 was at its leg­endary best.

That is the beauty of Squaw – re­gard­less of your abil­ity, you can stay in your com­fort zone, or you can progress and climb out of it.

THIS IMAGE: Deep and light. Niseko on a rare blue-bird pow­der day. Photo: Alister Buck­ing­ham BELOW: Mount Yotei seen from the Rinkan run above Grand Hi­rafu, Niseko. Photo: Peter East­way

There’s plenty of steep, tech­ni­cal ter­rain to keep things in­ter­est­ing when it’s not a pow­der day. OP­PO­SITE: Soar like an ea­gle – the Shane McCon­key me­mo­rial.

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