Proposed Gondola Connecting Two Tahoe Ski Resorts Moving Forward Following Environmental Lawsuit

A proposal to build a gondola that connects Tahoe ski resorts Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley has cleared a major environmental hurdle, with Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows and the Granite Chief Wilderness Protection League reaching a comprehensive agreement to dismiss the League’s lawsuit against the approval of the Squaw Alpine Base-to-Base Gondola.

The proposed gondola will include 8-passenger cabins and will be 2-miles long, including two base terminals and two mid-stations. It will be able to move 1,400 people per hour between the two resorts, which will now include 6,000 combined acres of skiable terrain.

Following the new gondola’s approval in July 2019, the Granite Chief Wilderness Protection League filed a lawsuit against Placer County and the U.S. Forest Service under the California Environmental Quality Act, challenging “the adequacy of the environmental analysis and the County Board of Supervisor’s decision to approve the project.”

The League had been specifically concerned with the project’s potential adverse effects on the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog, which is endangered. But the new agreement conserves potential habitat for the frog and provides funding for its monitoring, research and potential re-establishment.

“As a high value Sierra wilderness area, the Granite Chief Wilderness needs ever more safeguards to ensure we leave such wild treasures for future generations,” stated Daniel Heagerty, director of the League.  “Squaw Alpine has made significant and greatly appreciated commitments to minimize wilderness impacts and invest in important endangered species conservation efforts. We are very pleased with the Agreement we reached with Squaw Alpine.”

Here are the parameters of the agreement:

  • The League agreed to dismiss its lawsuit against the Squaw Alpine Base-to-Base Gondola.
  • Squaw Alpine agreed to conserve approximately 27 acres of the resort’s private property. These lands, which include pristine wetlands and deep natural ponds, have the potential to serve as habitat for the endangered Sierra Nevada Yellow Legged Frog. 
  • Squaw Alpine agreed to provide funding for the study and potential restoration of the Sierra Nevada Yellow Legged Frog, which was once one of the most abundant amphibian species in California, but has since neared extinction in the state due to habitat loss, fish introduction, climate change and disease.
  • Squaw Alpine agreed to provide separate funding, to be held in trust by the Truckee Donner Land Trust, for the acquisition of private holdings within the Granite Chief Wilderness Area and high resource value lands and/or conservation easements. Land eligible for purchase with the funds include the area within and adjacent to the Granite Chief Wilderness. 
  • Squaw Alpine also agreed to operational limits for the gondola designed to mitigate potential noise, visual, and other impacts to the nearby Granite Chief Wilderness. This includes signage and strict enforcement of the ski area boundary at the KT-22 mid-station, and an annual gondola closing date of no later than April 30. The gondola will operate during the winter season only, when both Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows are in operation, or will stop operations by April 30th.

We are very happy to have worked collaboratively with the League to address their concerns so that resources could be directed to environmentally beneficial purposes, rather than funding an extended lawsuit,” said Ron Cohen, president and chief operating officer of Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows. “We are eager to get going on this game-changing transportation project. We thank the League for its productive approach to resolving the dispute.”

Squaw Valley Resort. Photo: Rennett Stowe

In 2011, Squaw Valley purchased the nearby Alpine Meadows, stoking postulation about a possible merger of the resorts in the coming years. Now, as the project comes closer to reality, skiers will be able to trek from one resort to another in just about 16 minutes.

“Squaw and Alpine are two very different resorts, but one thing they share in common is their guests’ amazing passion for skiing and riding,” Cohen continued. “We look forward to preserving the two unique cultures, while at the same time offering our guests the ability to experience both without having to get in a car or shuttle.” 

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