Outdoor Blog

Squaw Valley’s Top 10 Advanced Ski Runs

Views of Lake Tahoe are plentiful from Squaw Valley (Photo: Keoki Flagg)

Views of Lake Tahoe are plentiful from Squaw Valley (Photo: Keoki Flagg)

When I started skiing in my mid-twenties, much later in life than the tots I see careening around the mountain, all my friends skied at Squaw Valley so that’s where I skied too. I worked hard to learn to ski, wanting to join my friends on the harder lifts, never satisfied to just cruise on the groomers. I won’t ever have quite the natural grace of those who start to ski when they can walk, but my skills have improved over the years. I’m a product of the Advanced Ski Clinics (intensive  5-day courses that are, unfortunately, no longer offered at Squaw), Extremely Canadian (Whistler), Felix Belczyk Race Camps (Blackcomb)  and many days skiing gates on Mt Hood in the summer, which have allowed me to conquer many advanced and expert runs at Squaw.There are still a couple of elusive lines I’ll probably never get to, though, like the Light Towers and Eagles Nest.

Long known for its legendary steeps, Squaw Valley, home of the 1960 Winter Olympics, offers plenty of challenging terrain for advanced and expert skiers. Beginners have it made too, with stunning views of Lake Tahoe from the beginner runs at High Camp. While there are lots of intermediate runs they tend to be fairly short and lack the variety that the advanced runs offer.

Squaw Valley, comprised of six peaks (Snow King – 7,550’, Broken Arrow – 8,020’, KT-22 – 8,200’, Emigrant – 8,700’, Squaw Peak – el. 8,900’, Granite Chief – el. 9,050’) spread across 3,600 skiable acres, is a large, snowy playground. The vertical rise of 2,850  feet of granite outcroppings, chutes and bowls creates lots of nooks and crannies to test your skills.

These top 10 advanced runs, compiled by a group of long-time Squaw Valley passholders, are steep enough but the steepest will be listed in the “Top 10 Expert Runs” article that will up the ante. A lot of locals restrict themselves to a single lift, KT-22, where many of the longest and most vertical runs are, but there is a lot of good terrain all over the mountain. These are some of the less obvious advanced runs that a casual visitor might not easily discover. Follow the sun and start high at Granite Chief, working your way down the mountain to Red Dog in the afternoon. The runs are listed roughly in order from top to bottom.

Be aware that Squaw does not differentiate between black diamond runs (and doesn’t use the double black designation that other ski areas use) so “easy” black diamonds like Sun Bowl or Red Dog Face are rated the same as steeper runs like the Slot or Dead Tree—hardly equal runs in terms of difficulty. The vertical terrain at Squaw challenges even professional skiers so if you’re new to the area make sure you understand Squaw’s scale of Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced—each ski area has its own method of determining the level of difficulty.  Squaw does split intermediate runs into “more difficult” (single blue square, solid line on the map) and “most difficult” (double blue square, dashed line on the map). The double blues, often steeper runs that are usually groomed, may be analogous to advanced runs at a smaller ski area. Black diamond runs at Squaw are almost never groomed and you should be prepared for moguls and unexpected obstacles.

If you’re not sure of your ability be sure you can ski most of the double blue squares (upper intermediate) such as Siberia Ridge (Siberia Express), Red Dog Face (Red Dog), Saddle (KT-22) and High Voltage (Granite Chief). Better yet, take a lesson or hire a mountain guide and ask your coach whether you’re ready to tackle the steeps.

Arm yourself with a  trail map  or download the Squaw Valley app on your mobile device and go for it! Within your ability and conditions, of course.

Head Wall, center, from the meadow (Photo: Squaw Valley)

Head Wall, center, from the meadow (Photo: Squaw Valley)

1. Granite Glades

Get a taste of off-piste skiing and ski the trees on skier’s left of the Granite Chief chair. You’ll feel like an explorer in the quiet boundary of the ski area. As you’re going up the chair look to the right to see untracked powder on storm days and let everyone else race for the groomed runs. You can swing way out to the left initially but start working your way to the right to get back to the Granite Chief chair.

Chair: Granite Chief, exit right to Hidden Bowl, or if left, immediately look for a way down right under the chair.

Easier way: Exit left and take one of the (usually) groomed runs down, either High Voltage or Main Backside.

2.  Granite Chief-Arete

This is a hidden run in plain sight between Shirley Lake and Granite Chief, known by different terms like “the nose”. It will take you away from the crowds onto a little used, open slope that offers a series of linked turns before connecting with the tail end of High Voltage.  Next door, Break It Out offers a bumpier alternative through a narrower chute.

Chair: Granite Chief, exit left and traverse the ridge, heading toward The Attic. If you look down a narrow gully with lots of moguls you’re likely on top of Break It Out. Keep going through a narrow band of trees to reach Arete.

Easier way: Take one of the (usually) groomed runs down like Main Backside.

3.  Granite Chief-Magoos

This is a short, stepped ridge near the top that you can dance down before joining with the Main Backside. It’s a great place to practice your bump skills unless you get to it right after a storm.

Chair: Granite Chief, exit left and traverse the ridge past Main Backside

Easier way: Take one of the (usually) groomed runs down like Main Backside.

4. Funnel

Shaped like a funnel this bowl hangs above Shirley Bowl, squeezing skiers into a skinny notch unless it’s a huge snow year when the notch is wide. The first few turns can take your breath away, especially if you start to skier’s left in the Funnel.

Chair: Emigrant, exit right if you can, otherwise exit left and swoop around immediately under the chair. The pitch eases slightly to the right.

Easier way: Emigrant Face (will take you back to Emigrant Chair) or over the backside toward Granite Chief-Attic (to Shirley Lake Express).

5.  Silverado-Tram Bowl

You can sometimes find stashes of winter snow in this playground under the tram line at the High Camp complex. Follow the terrain as it twists and turns through Tram Bowl, Hanging Gardens and Kathmandu to Silverado.

Chair: Take Shirley Lake or Solitude up, then scoot through the beginner area at High Camp. Exiti to Gate 6 below Baily’s Beach, above the Tram Bowl and watch for cliffs (marked with signs).

Easier way: Bail from the gate and head over to the Land Bridge.

Rippin' up the powder under the tram line (Photo: Keoki Flagg)

Rippin’ up the powder under the tram line (Photo: Keoki Flagg)

6.  Horse Trails

There are a series of steep lines that often have good snow off the Cornice Ridge that are collectively referred to as the Horse Trails. Start with the one labeled on the map, then check out some of the other lines to skier’s left of the main one.

Chair: Cornice II if it’s running, otherwise Headwall  Express, exit left and ski all the way down the road to the ridge. After skiing down from the ridge, turn right to connect to Mountain Run.

Easier way:  Go just a bit further down the ridge to Bullet.

7.  Tower 16

This used to be a secret spot but once it was officially named, printed on the map and made accessible by the Broken Arrow lift  it’s been discovered and crowds pour onto it in the spring. Good snow can still be found so it remains a favorite.

Chair: Broken Arrow, exit right. You might be able to find fewer moguls if you enter further to skier’s right than the hordes pouring down the center line.

Easier way: Exit left to Malibu or the Land Bridge to Silverado.

8.  KT-22-Enchanted Forest

This is a fun run with lots of rolling terrain changes, drops and ridges. It isn’t as well-known as some other runs so it doesn’t get as crowded. On the way up the KT-22 chair you can get a good look at some of the many other advanced runs off this legendary chair that accesses some of the steepest terrain at Squaw. Enchanted Forest is not named on the map—it’s between the Saddle and Bullet. Watch for little cliffs and make sure you have an out—take it easy the first time through.

Chair: KT-22, exit right and head down the road toward the Saddle. From the top of the Saddle look for skier trails to skier’s left.

Easier way: Take the Saddle, which is usually groomed.

9.  Women’s Downhill

If you have a need for speed you can pretend you’re an Olympian on this long, smooth descent from the top of this airy ridge. Choose your route carefully—many a skier has rocketed down this slope on his backside.

Chair: KT-22, exit left or Olympic Lady, exit right.

Easier way: Take the Saddle from KT-22 (exit right), which is usually groomed. Once you go left from the lift there is no easy way down.

10.  Red Dog Ridge

You have to traverse quite a way but skiing through the sun-dappled trees on a spring afternoon is a blast when conditions are good. It is peaceful and quiet in the forest and there is room to spread out and pick parallel lines if you’re in a group.

Chair: KT-22, exit left and traverse the ridge as far as you can, past Olympic Lady and East Face.

Easier way: Take the Saddle from KT-22 (exit right), which is usually groomed. Once you go left from the lift there is no easy way down.

 

These ten runs will give you a good overview of some of the terrain that has made Squaw famous. If you’re looking for more of an adrenaline rush stay tuned for our favorite expert runs. If you really get the bug get “Squallywood, a Guide to Squaw Valley’s Most Exposed Lines”.

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Information:
Squaw Valley
1960 Squaw Valley Road
Olympic Valley, CA 96146
Snow Phone 530-583-6955

Lift tickets: $95-102 per day. Multi-day and online discounts available.
Lodging and travel information is available online.

Getting There:
To reach Squaw Valley from San Francisco by car (200 miles; approximately 4 hours, depending on traffic and weather):

  • Take Interstate 80 northeast into the Sierra Nevada.
  • Exit at Truckee, onto Highway 89 SOUTH, towards Lake Tahoe/Tahoe City/Squaw Valley.
  • Follow Highway 89 south 8 miles to the Squaw Valley Rd. Exit.
  • Turn RIGHT and follow Squaw Valley Rd. to the base of the mountain.
Village at Squaw Valley (Photo: Tor Johnson)

Village at Squaw Valley (Photo: Tor Johnson)

 

One thought on “Squaw Valley’s Top 10 Advanced Ski Runs”

  1. Squaw Valley’s Top 10 expert runs | Inga's Adventures January 19, 2014

    […] top to bottom, starting higher up the mountain. To follow the sun, start with Granite Chief (see Squaw Valley’s Top 10 Advanced Ski Runs). Basic pointers are given but you need a map to know where to go. If you want to back out see […]

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