Living the dream

Joanna Hartman
Sierra Sun
Ryan Salm/Sierra SunTroy Caldwell stands on his property with his towers for a future chairlift in the background.

For nearly 16 years Troy Caldwell has been working on a chairlift that would connect uncharted terrain of two of the most challenging ski resorts in North Tahoe.

And it looks like he’ll have to wait another year to ski his Alpine Meadows property from the comfort of a private chairlift.

“We certainly would like to have been further along,” Caldwell said, “but we’re still having a good old time doing it. We’re living a dream.”

The lift, as well as the 460-acre property, is known as White Wolf. And if the powers that be at Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley USA could agree, the lift could connect the two resorts.

But that is for the resorts to haggle over. Until then, Troy and his wife, Sue, will continue their 37 years living in the Tahoe area and push forward with the chairlift.

In 1990 they tried to buy a 40-acre parcel near the base of Alpine Meadows to open a lodge and bed and breakfast, but the real estate company said it couldn’t divide the 460-acre property.

That’s when the vision was born: Almost 400 acres in Alpine Meadows and 75 acres in Squaw Valley where Caldwell wanted to construct a chairlift to connect the two resorts.

However, Alpine and Squaw could not reach an agreement for the interconnect, Caldwell said. That’s when he had another vision ” private skiing.

Five years ago Placer County issued Caldwell a permit for private use of the chairlift allowing up to 25 “qualified” friends and family per day. Placer requested the skiers and boarders using White Wolf do so in a safe fashion, so those who plan to ski the terrain are taking avalanche safety classes.

The Caldwells are prohibited from selling tickets to access the lift.

If later Caldwell wanted to sell the chairlift to the resorts as a way to connect the two, a new permitting process will apply, said Placer County principal planner Bill Combs.

“It’s a one-of-a-kind situation, obviously. He’s really constructing it in a non-impactful way,” Combs said.

Numerous legal issues have impeded the speed of the lift’s construction. A local homeowners group sued Placer County for issuing the permit and the Caldwells are currently tied up in a lawsuit with Squaw Valley regarding a “contract dispute.”

“I can’t afford to do lawsuits and the chair at the same time,” Caldwell said.

Squaw Valley USA leases part of Caldwell’s property, including the top of KT-22, for $15,000 per year.

But Caldwell has managed to keep the cost of the actual project down because so many people have volunteered their time to help with construction. The only overhead cost is materials. Caldwell estimates the total cost of the chairlift at near $500,000.

While the politics and regulating agencies make the project increasingly expensive and difficult, local help keeps it enjoyable, Caldwell said.

“The locals are really, really supportive of the whole thing. They’re part of the inspiration,” he said.

Both Troy and Sue have been part of the ski world for decades. Troy competed on the US Freestyle Team and Sue worked at Alpine Meadows for roughly 30 years as the special tickets manager. Rachael Woods, public relations at Alpine Meadows, has worked closely with the Caldwells.

“I think it’s a really great, interesting, inspiring project,” Woods said of White Wolf. “Their goals and ambitions are quite simple; they want to play outside.”

Caldwell said he has completed about 90 percent of the overall project, including the paperwork and legal issues. The lift is still waiting for its bottom terminal, cable and chairs, and Caldwell will need another full summer of work to finish the lift. He hopes to have it ready for next season.

If the two resorts never come to terms on a resort interconnect, Caldwell would like to divide and sell the White Wolf parcel to people who want to buy a stake in the private ski area. The resort would be funded and run by the private community.

“We anticipate that we are going to make our living on this,” Caldwell said.

Other places in the country are also catering to those who want to avoid lift lines and have a chance at fresh tracks. The Yellowstone Club in Montana offers “the world’s only private powder” as a membership-only ski and golf community. The resort has more than 2,200 skiable acres and requires a $300,000 membership fee and real estate ownership to join.

Silverton Mountain in Colorado operates in a unique way as well ” one chairlift with guided or unguided skiing. The mountain is open for weekends to less than 80 skiers per day. Bear Creek Mountain Club in Vermont limits its number of guests with a reservation system. And Battle Mountain in Colorado is planning development of 4,300 acres for a private ski resort.

While Caldwell is more than a year away from his dream of making turns on his own turf, he said he is enjoying the process.

“It’s cool to fulfill a dream like this in the mountains,” he said. “It’s cool to make your contribution to the mountains ” especially from the local folks.”

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