Squaw Valley, still the best slopes in Tahoe

January 26, 2010 — by Emily Williams

When the weather turns cold, Lake Tahoe becomes a big destination for skiers, snowboarders and even sledders seeking a sweet ride and good snow. But the problem seems to arise not from the five-hour drive, but where to go once you get there. There are a variety of ski resorts that cater to different people, but one of the best is Squaw Valley USA.

Squaw’s big mountain can handle crowds, so even on a busy weekend, lines are relatively short. This also means there is a greater variety of runs for people of all levels to enjoy themselves. For those who don’t enjoy hitting the slopes, the ice skating rink at High Camp can be accessed by a cable car for some winter-time entertainment.

Squaw, home of the 1960 Winter Olympics, may seem intimidating to beginners because the first visible runs are KT-22, Red Dog and Exhibition/Searchlight, black diamond and blue squares, respectively, but there are plenty of beginner runs at the top of the mountain. Just take Gold Coast Funitel up and the chair lift, Links, to either East Broadway and the Gold Coast Lodge for hot chocolate or ski back down to the bottom of Links again.

For more intermediate skiers, Solitude and Shirley Lake are nicely groomed runs, though Shirley Lake is steeper. Red Dog is more challenging and can tend to be icy on warmer days, but when the temperature drops, it is also a nice slope with multiple ways down.

The views from black diamond KT-22 are superb, so don’t be scared off by the threatening signs at the bottom of the lift. The Saddle is a fun double-blue way to get down the mountain, but for more advanced skiers the West Face, 75 Chute and the Nose are all good runs off KT.

One of my favorite Intermediate-Advanced and Advanced runs is Granite Chief, accessed only from Shirley Lake. Any run off Granite Chief is either an ungroomed chute or bowl, some more difficult than others. The Shirley Lake area (which includes Granite Chief) is a great place to ski because the variety of difficulty allows skiers of all experiences stay in the same area and still challenging themselves. Just be make sure you aren’t caught on that side of the mountain when the lifts close at 3:30 because the only way out is a bit of a hike.

Off Emigrant is The Funnel, a steep, ungroomed “expert only” run leading straight into Shirley Lake. Another great Advanced and Expert area is Headwall where any way down is great because of the northern exposure, but the best runs include North Bowl and the Face.

As for the crazy thrill seekers, a hike across sharp rocks to The Slot, a steep and narrow run, is well worth the effort with a word of caution against high winds. Perhaps the scariest, most challenging slopes are the rarely open Palisades, only accessible by a major hike from Siberia up to an almost vertical slope that often has a huge cornice.

In addition to the great mountain, Squaw offers cheaper prices for teens 13-18: for an all-day ticket on a holiday weekend, a teen ticket costs $64 while the adult price is $88. The only real downside is the lack of good customer services sometimes, but if you can over look this flaw, there’s no problem.

No matter how experience a skier you are, from pizza wedge beginner to psycho helicopter skier, Squaw is worth at least a day of your weekend, with good prices and the best mountain in Tahoe. Even if your parents drag you kicking and screaming for “family bonding time,” there is always the hot chocolate to look forward to after (Dave’s Cafe at The Olympic House Building has the best, they even offer whipped cream.)