Opinion: Dear Bay Area — please support Keep Squaw True campaign
September 14 marked snowfall in the Tahoe Basin for the 2016-17 season. With the first snowfall, Tahoe resorts are preparing for winter. Lift operators are hired, season passes printed, and the oh-so-important cookie cart is being prepped at the Olympic Village.
For Bay Area residents, the first snowfall marks planning weekends away from chilly fog and traffic. It is a reason to escape to paradise with blue bird days, snow-capped trees, and a milky way amongst the stars.
For Tahoe locals, the first snowfall means continuing the fight against KSL to “Keep Squaw True” and protect what makes Tahoe the mountain town it is.
For those unfamiliar to the mountain, Squaw Valley has a history unlike others. In the 1950s, Squaw had just one chair lift, two rope tows and a fifty-room lodge. There wasn’t much, but that didn’t stop the tiny resort from being chosen to host the 1960 Olympics.
It was during the Olympics that Squaw began to shine. In previous Olympics, athletes stayed in hotels or with local families. This time, due to the small population of Tahoe, Squaw created the first Olympic Village.
The opening and closing ceremonies were nothing to look down upon either, as both were funded and produced by Walt Disney (although the opening ceremony was delayed due to a massive blizzard, shutting down traffic).
Squaw Valley made an international name for itself with the success of the 1960 Olympics, but to modern day locals, the Olympics aren’t what makes this mountain special. It’s the legendary people that do.
This mountain fosters individuality. It created athletes like Scot Schmidt, the biggest extreme ski star to ever exist, and Shane McConkey who called Squaw Valley his playground. It was here where he became freeskiing’s biggest icon.
The success of Squaw is due to the people who believe in maintaining the hometown feel. Those people have gathered together in the nonprofit organization Sierr Watch, through its Keep Squaw True campaign.
Keep Squaw True’s mission is to maintain what makes Squaw “awesome.” Some members grew up on the mountain, others fell in love here and chose to spend their lives living like locals. Either way, their lifestyles of day skiing, powder hunting, and appreciating the beauty of Squaw Valley is being threatened.
There is a proposal on the line to upgrade Squaw, a proposal that locals have been fighting for years. KSL, the current owners, are seeking approvals for 4 city blocks worth of condo hotel high rises, a 90,000-square-foot indoor waterpark, $3.5 million “cabins” in Shirley Canyon, and parking garages on what little would remain of the existing lots in the Olympic Village.
Many Bay Area residents welcome the expansion. For them, there is the potential for more accommodations at a cheaper price. It means comfort and luxury. Many view the resort expansion in a “bigger is better way.”
Yet, Tahoe locals fear what KSL has in store. For them, this proposal means the potential for 25 years of construction. Not during a weekend or two, but every single day. For 25 years. It means too much traffic for the one-lane roads. It means too many people to accommodate at restaurants and bars, leading to frustration for everyone. It means turning Tahoe into something it was never meant to be.
If the local concerns aren’t enough, the environmental concerns are. This expansion would destroy the Tahoe region. With the increase in cars, people and housing, water might have to be pulled from the Truckee River and Squaw Creek, water that the region just doesn’t have with the drought and current local resources. It means erosions during construction that goes into the rivers and lakes, ruining the clarity of Lake Tahoe, currently one of the clearest lakes in the world.
Right now, the Milky Way shines at night. There are too many stars to count. As soon as high-rise hotels come, that view can be kissed goodbye.
Right now, Tahoe is home to some of the most unique, passionate skiers and snowboarders in the world.
Right now, Squaw is rare. There are very few mountain towns as beloved as this one is.
So this is a plea to the Bay Area. Come to Tahoe, enjoy it for what it is. Gaze at the stars. Savor the fresh air. Smell the pine trees. Make snowmen. Tahoe needs your help to keep it true. Squaw needs your help to stop the expansion at Squaw Valley.
Lily Dubuc is a San Rafael, Calif., resident.