$1-billion Squaw Valley development plan moves closer to approval

Lake Tahoe can be seen from the top of the tram at the Squaw Valley ski resort in March.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

A sweeping development plan at the ski resort near Lake Tahoe that hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics has moved a step closer to reality.

The Placer County Planning Commission voted 4-2 Thursday night to approve the Squaw Valley expansion project and forward it to the county commission for final consideration.

If approved, Squaw Valley Real Estate would be allowed to add nearly 1,500 motel rooms, condos, time shares and retail space in Olympic Valley over the next 25 years at an estimated cost of up to $1 billion. Plans also call for construction of a 90,000-square-foot indoor adventure center and water park at the resort.

Opponents say the project would generate too much pollution, traffic and noise. Critics including California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris also say the increased traffic would threaten public safety by raising the risk of traffic accidents, especially in Squaw Valley, where just one road connects the valley to Highway 89 south of Truckee.

“Because of the proximity of the proposed development to Lake Tahoe, we are concerned about the impacts the development will have within the Tahoe basin,” Harris said in a 15-page letter to the commission this week. “We are particularly concerned with the project’s resulting increases in vehicular use and traffic within the basin.”


Squaw Valley Chief Executive Andy Wirth said 90% of the redevelopment would happen on existing parking lots already zoned for development at the resort, which has more than 170 trails and 16 bowls across 3,600 skiable acres.

Wirth said the new development is crucial to reestablishing the resort as a “preeminent destination.” He cited Colorado-based Vail Resorts’ recent purchase of Whistler-Blackcomb in British Columbia, Canada, as an example of the increasing efforts by major resort operators to remain competitive in a challenging industry.

The development will “position the resort as a true four-season destination, provide more year-round jobs, on-site affordable workforce housing, tens of millions of dollars in other benefits to our local community and assist in stabilizing the North Lake Tahoe economy,” he said in a statement Friday.

The Squaw Valley Municipal Advisory Council representing local citizens voted against the project in May, but the Placer County Commission has the final say. It’s expected to consider the proposal this fall.

Tom Mooers, executive director of the environmental watchdog group Sierra Watch, said opponents of the project are disappointed but won’t give up their fight to “keep Squaw true.”

“The bad news is that the planning commission chose irresponsible development over the values of Tahoe, the will of the community and the laws of California,” Mooers said Friday. “The good news is that this is not a done deal. The proposal will go to the county board of supervisors next, and it’s up to them to stick up for Squaw.”