My Turn | Dear KSL: Don’t make Squaw a ‘big box’ resort
KSL proposes to impose a mini-Vail set of resort hotels and condos on Squaw Valley, but it is a mismatch. KSL’s plan fails to understand what is unique about Squaw Valley and so fails to match its development to values true to our community.
What built Squaw Valley starting in the 1950s was a passion for skiing and boldly exploring a new sport. These pioneering, athletic skiers love the sport so much they would sleep in their car in order to get first tracks. This same passion can be witnessed today on any powder morning at the KT chair lift.
The extraordinary experience for a Squaw Valley shier is being in a beautiful box canyon with steep hillsides and contrasting rock and forest. Squaw Valley has enough cliffs and steeps to challenge the best skiers and riders. The spirit of these mountain athletes is part of the extraordinary experience. But a stack of large hotels and generic condo buildings filling the current parking lot is not a village. It would have no heart, no soul.
What if the structures were more like what an Alpine village really looks like and were designed to accommodate all of the endeavors associated with mountain adventure?
What if the two rivers now placed into a linear ditch next to the parking lot were restored to crisscross in a natural way with village structures built around them and bridges and pathways linking the structures?
Shouldn’t the village be about something more than luxury hotels which can be found in any big city? Why not base the village around the values that energize the people who go to Squaw Valley: adventure, innovation, challenge, independence, intelligence, achievement, fun, high energy and social mixing with similar passionate people?
Sundance has shown that this approach can be wildly successful from both a corporate and cultural standpoint, but I fear that KSL’s plan will shut out the very people who energize and make Squaw Valley special.
It is no coincidence that the Squaw Valley passion consistently produces Olympic skiers and iconic mountain men who have taken the sport and its equipment into new realms. Ask yourself why Shane McConkey chose to live in Squaw Valley?
There is a demand for adventure loving people to find appropriate housing in Squaw Valley.
Those who once lived in their vans now can afford to buy condos and homes. Some homes being built in Squaw Valley are large, but not for the sake of being large.
They are homes for three or more generations to share the love of Squaw Valley.
In contrast, the gigantic monolithic structures proposed by KSL are not in harmony with the spirit of the people or the beauty of the valley. The structures dwarf the present village. The structures block pedestrian views within the complex.
The existing village was appreciated because the size is appropriate and the structures form corridors to highlight views of the mountain. The KSL structures block the sight lines and views from the current village. The KSL proposal would also make it difficult for local and day skiers to park or gain access to the mountain.
Instead of faux alpine multi story hotel/condo building, what if innovative structures were designed to accommodate innovators of mountain equipment and design, film maker studios, think tanks and non-profits? People would be drawn to facilities year around that house physical arts like yoga, meditation, gyrotonics and pilates.
Places for training and mountain adventure like rock climbing and acrobatic skills with a unique gym for mountain athletes would attract adventure loving people.
Most skiers also have a second sport which they love like mountain biking, rock climbing, yoga and similar mountain athletic-esthetic activities.
A low-cost locker room should be included where people passionate about such activities could share experiences. KSL could take such a core, restore the Squaw Valley creeks and build hotels and condominiums to complement and not compete.
It could be a four-season destination specifically designed for adventure, athletic, and artistic oriented people.
It could provide an environment to stimulate the poets, visionaries and spiritual among us.
KSL’s design legacy will last long after they have sold their interest. KSL could build a one-of-a-kind resort embodying the values of community and adventure which draw people to Squaw Valley, or KSL can reduce this amazing place to just another commonplace, “big box” ski resort.
To anyone who cares about Squaw Valley as a place or community, the choice makes a difference.
Bob Barnett is a Fairfield, Calif., resident who owns a second home in Olympic Valley and has skied at Squaw Valley for many years.
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