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This North­west gem pro­vides thrilling steeps, end­less groomers, breath­tak­ing scenery, gourmet din­ing, on-moun­tain ski shops, slope­side ac­com­mo­da­tions, and the only high-speed gon­dola in Washington State. Av­er­ag­ing al­most 500 inches an­nu­ally, the snow here falls by the foot, giv­ing pow­der-hounds plenty to smile about. The re­sort spans over half a dozen peaks and lends it­self to seem­ingly lim­it­less op­tions, in­clud­ing easy ac­cess to some of the re­gion’s best back­coun­try ter­rain. There’s some­thing here for ev­ery­one to en­joy. We’ll see you at the top!

(which stood for Gaffney’s Nu­mer­i­cal As­sess­ment of Rad­ness) for things like fart­ing in the gon­dola line or ski­ing naked.

Af­ter KSL bought Squaw, Gaffney watched from a dis­tance. When the de­vel­op­ment project was pro­posed, it was not only the size and en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact that he dis­ap­proved of; it was how the new man­age­ment rolled it out.

The ini­tial vil­lage project called for 3,500 ho­tel rooms, but that’s been nearly halved over the years. Gaffney ar­gues that the re­duc­tion is part of the prob­lem. “It was clearly an ef­fort to mis­lead the pub­lic, so that any re­duc­tions in the plan would make it ap­pear they were work­ing with the pub­lic,’” Gaffney says. “That’s psy­cho­log­i­cal an­chor­ing in ac­tion—1,500 bed­rooms feels like we got a deal com­pared to 3,500. Just like when the used-car sales­man says, ‘It was $3,500, but I’ll let you have it for $1,500.’”

In 2013, Gaffney wrote an opin­ion piece for the lo­cal news­pa­per ti­tled, “What Would Muir Do?” In it, he talked about his in- ter­nal strug­gle to speak out against the de­vel­op­ment plan, while oth­ers felt like they had to stay mum to keep their al­liances with the re­sort. Ul­ti­mately, he de­cided he couldn’t keep quiet. Wirth, the Squaw CEO, sent Gaffney an email af­ter that story came out with a sub­ject line that read, “I’m dis­ap­pointed.”

Gaffney couldn’t be stopped: He be­came a board mem­ber for Sierra Watch, ral­lied troops to speak at pub­lic meet­ings, and in 2014, he made an an­nounce­ment via so­cial me­dia that he was step­ping down as a Squaw am­bas­sador. (Wirth, for his part, has said that Gaffney was never of­fi­cially an am­bas­sador.) In 2017, when the women’s World Cup came to Squaw, the first time it has hosted one since 1969, Gaffney or­ga­nized a small protest and held up signs that read “Wa­ter­parks don’t be­long here.”

“Work­ing against a bil­lion-dol­lar com­pany is a big chal­lenge,” Gaffney says. “Money has the power to in­flu­ence peo­ple. But the so­cial con­se­quences re­veal an in­fec­tion spread­ing and I wanted to be on the side of treat­ing it.”

I’m run­ning across the Squaw Val­ley park­ing lot in my ski boots, late for an ap­point­ment with Andy Wirth. Tower 16, a con­sis­tent pitch be­low the tram­line, had been es­pe­cially good af­ter another storm de­posited a few more inches, and I had to squeeze in an ex­tra lap.

I show up in Wirth’s of­fice breath­less and sweat­ing through my long un­der­wear. Wirth moved here seven years ago for the CEO job from Steam­boat Springs, Colo., where he’d started as an in­tern in the mid-80s and worked his way up to senior vice pres­i­dent of sales and mar­ket­ing. He’s a savvy vet­eran in the re­sort man­age­ment in­dus­try, but in Ta­hoe, he’s a rel­a­tive new­comer.

The goal at Squaw, he says, is to im­prove the qual­ity and va­ri­ety of lodg­ing to keep the re­sort com­pet­i­tive. He says com­mu­nity in­put has been a main pri­or­ity—they’ve held 400 pub­lic meet­ings, con­ducted con­sumer re­search, and ef­fected changes

based on that in­put, he says.

“We’ve done ev­ery­thing we can to make ev­ery­one feel like this plan is their plan,” Wirth says. “But there’s a small group of folks who feel like they didn’t get what they wanted.”

Wirth says the di­a­logue about the project is fraught with am­bi­gu­i­ties and false­hoods. Take the wa­ter­park. “It never was a wa­ter­park. No neon or­ange and blue tubes. It’s go­ing to be an in­door/out­door moun­tain ad­ven­ture cen­ter,” Wirth says.

If it feels like a se­man­tic de­bate, it is. It’s also a mas­sively com­pli­cated, emo­tion­ally charged one. “So much of the op­po­si­tion is based on a lack of in­for­ma­tion,” ar­gues Theresa May Dug­gan, a long-time Ta­hoe res­i­dent who was hired by Squaw as a com­mu­nity li­ai­son. “If they only knew all the ben­e­fits that were com­ing. It’s easy to say no. It’s much harder to be in­formed and say yes.”

“You’re ei­ther for it or against it—there aren’t many in be- tween,” adds Roy Tus­cany, a Squaw skier who lives in Reno, and who, of­fi­cially, is for the vil­lage project. “It does say some­thing about our com­mu­nity. I don’t think there’s a more pas­sion­ate group of peo­ple than Squaw skiers. We need to keep the her­itage but it’s time for some im­prove­ments.”

There are skiers at ev­ery re­sort who feel like the moun­tain be­longs to them, that they get a say. Squaw’s no dif­fer­ent. Peo­ple love this place and want to see it thrive. But how you de­fine thrive de­pends on who you ask.

“Moun­tain com­mu­ni­ties are made up of many voices,” says Wirth. “I don’t think any­one can ar­bi­trar­ily claim to be the voice of this com­mu­nity. You take a look at the Keep Squaw True spokes­peo­ple and you scratch your head and say, ‘Who ap­pointed them Cap­tain Com­mu­nity?’”

It’s nearly June and I’m still ski­ing KT-22. Sixty-de­gree tem­per­a­tures are serv­ing up slush by mid-morn­ing, but thanks to last win­ter’s bounty, Squaw’s promis­ing to stay open un­til the Fourth of July, or longer.

I ride Siberia chair and hike to the top of the Pal­isades, an iconic gather­ing of el­e­va­tor-shaft chutes that tower over the rest of the moun­tain. I boot­pack up bar­ren rock to get there, but at the top, Main Chute looks as snowy as if it were Jan­uary. If the six-story moun­tain ad­ven­ture cen­ter goes in at the base of the re­sort, you’ll be able to see it from up here. But if I look the other way, I can see the shim­mer­ing cobalt wa­ter of Lake Ta­hoe and vast and rugged wilder­ness stretch­ing west from the Pa­cific Crest as far as I can see.

Here’s the thing about ski ar­eas: While the real-es­tate bat­tles hap­pen at the base, no­body can touch what we all came here for: the ski­ing. Wirth put it best. “Whether it’s me or Ricky Bobby run­ning the place, no­body can change the fact that this is a great moun­tain,” he says.

Here, even Gaffney agrees. “This year, the place lit up with the weather,” he says. “Enough snow can mend our wounds. Enough snow can bring the moun­tain to life. And it’s the moun­tain that’s drawn us here.”

Top: Gaffney’s “Squal­ly­wood” out­lines over 150 iconic Squaw lines, and is pretty much con­sid­ered one of the best books ever writ­ten on the sport. Bot­tom: A blue­bird sky and plenty o’ pow make Robin McEl­roy a happy girl.

Left: Squaw Val­ley CEO Andy Wirth stands his ground: “We’ve done ev­ery­thing we can to make ev­ery­one feel like this is their plan.” Right: The Squaw side­coun­try went off this sea­son. Pic­tured is skier Eric Bryant.

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