Opinion: Roller coaster not acceptable for Squaw Valley | SierraSun.com

Opinion: Roller coaster not acceptable for Squaw Valley

Ed Heneveld
Guest Column

Apparently desiring more activity options for their village guests, Squaw Valley Ski Holdings (SVSH) has resurrected a previously rejected, highly visible metallic roller coaster ("Timberline Twister") proposed on the Red Dog mountainside. In an on-going survey conducted by Friends of Squaw Valley, this project has been rejected by 75 percent of the respondents.

This Timberline Twister was first suggested in 2012, when SVSH also proposed their Village at Squaw Valley expansion. Not wanting additional controversy and following outcry from both residents and visitors, the coaster application was withdrawn.

Now, five years later, SVSH has resubmitted its application for a roller coaster with a motorized cable pulling riders 1,370 feet up the hill, descending on 3,380 feet track to the loading station, one car every 30 seconds.

While the project proposal states otherwise, the environmental analysis assumes operations from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., 365 days a year. If the commitment is for shorter hours, why analyze longer hours?

Squaw Valley COO Andy Wirth justifies this theme park attraction by stating, "Our guests have told us loud and clear that they want more activity options when they come to visit".

SVSH also claims the twister is not expected to generate incremental additional visits — thereby attempting to avoid the issue of traffic impact — a subject of local concern and an issue under close scrutiny in Sierra Watch's environmental lawsuit against the proposed Village.

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The existing Twister at Heavenly and the planned coaster at Northstar are suspected competitive motivating factors for a similar "amenity" at Squaw. Why innovate when you can duplicate? Does Tahoe really need 3 roller coasters? Does one belong in Squaw Valley?

With concern that this application, like the proposed Village expansion, was proposed without any advance notice and little community input, the Friends of Squaw Valley initiated a survey to assess how residents and visitors feel about the Twister. The results to date (over 800 responses as of September 25) have been quite telling, with more responses daily as the survey gets wider distribution.

The makeup of the respondents shows they are the very people whom SVSH says desire this amenity:

29 percent are permanent residents, 22 percent are part-time residents, 41 percent are frequent or occasional visitors, 8 percent are "other".

76 percent are season pass holders.

If SVSH is correct about "more activity options", these respondents should be in favor of the Twister, but the survey results show otherwise.

76 percent of the respondents are not in favor of the Twister, 16 percent are in favor, with the rest undecided. A total of 76 percent said the Twister should not operate at night.

As with the proposed Village's Mountain Activity Center (aka Water Park), the most often cited complaint about the Twister is "Not compatible with Squaw Valley's character", with additional concerns about environmental impact, noise pollution, light pollution, and traffic and parking.

An interesting side note is that the proposed location of the Twister base terminal is sandwiched between Far East lift and Building 1B of the proposed Village expansion — one of the buildings on the sacred "snow beach" — a "jewel" of the proposed Village development. Imagine the reactions of the owners in Building 1B having the Twister, with its noise and screaming riders, operating just outside their windows, day and night, all year long. Even if one accepts the notion of this amusement park ride, the proposed location, at the end of our valley's box canyon, facing the village and local homes, causes alarm.

To better understand life with a Twister, we contacted friends who live near the Snow King coaster in Jackson, Wyo. (note that many Twisters, like Heavenly's, are found up on the mountain, not adjacent to residences). As expected, the comments are not favorable:

Impossible to shut out the screaming, shrieking, or car clanking on track seams

Gets buried in the winter (note: Heavenly Twister sustained significant damage last winter)

Ski terrain underneath is lost due to support cables and clearance issues

Perhaps the most telling comment comes from a 9-year-old responding to the Friends' survey who said, "The beauty of nature and the mountains don't mix with man-made roller coasters. They are two different kinds of fun and it would ruin both to smoosh them together".

This coaster proposal is in application process with Placer County. Public hearings are required.

If you would like to take the Friends of Squaw Valley survey, please go to https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/FOSVTimberline

You may review the results online at our website http://friendsofsv.org/timberline-twister-survey-results/

Ed Heneveld is chairman of Friends of Squaw Valley

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