I started skiing when I was three and every year my father would take us to see the new Warren Miller film every year before the beginning of ski season. We also watched plenty of ski movies at home. By the time I was six I knew that I'd one day have to visit Squaw Valley, the cradle of extreme skiing and snowboarding.
Twenty seven years later, at the age of 33, I finally got my chance.
Learning how to get around the mountain was a challenge. Squaw Valley is a complex mountain with a non-traditional layout. It encompasses 3600 acres that span six peaks and it has 30 lifts, with a the beginner area located at the top, rather than the bottom, of the mountain. So, it can take a new visitor a bit of time to figure out exactly how to get where they want to go.
Generally speaking, Squaw Valley is shaped like an inverted triangle with all riders funnelling down to one main base area. So, the bottom half of the mountain is highly trafficked and has few runs compared to the top half, where it sprawls out across a wide variety of terrain.
We started each day by taking the Gold Coast Funitel (a funitel basically a really big gondola on two cables) to the upper part of the mountain, where there was access to lifts leading to the famous chutes of the Palisades, the extreme terrain in the gates above Silverado, and the speedy groomers in the Shirley Lake Express area, an area popular with locals. The top of the funitel is also the location of the first ski-in ski-out Starbucks in the known universe, which may or may not have affected our decision to start the day there.
During the first two days of the trip the conditions were less than ideal. Squaw had not received snow for a couple of weeks, and the last dump that it had received had already been scraped away by the throngs of Christmas visitors. So, we stuck mainly to warp-speed runs down the groomers in the Shirley Lake Express area, which is always a great time in the absence of fresh pow..
On the second night, it snowed hard. We fell asleep in our condo in the Squaw Valley Village to the cheers of skiers and snowboarders excited for the following day.
We started the following morning be exploring the cliffy black diamond terrain in the Cornice Bowl, which is accessed by the Headwall Express Chair. The snow was light and the terrain steep and practically untouched, but the face wasn't getting as much sun as we needed to take photos for our coverage of the resort, so we headed over to the Emigrant Chair.
From the Emigrant Chair we could see a single figure who had hiked to the peak of Emigrant and was looking off the cornice down into the untouched pow field that is the Mainline Pocket. He made the first tracks. We decided that we wanted to be second and third, so, after we unloaded we traversed the ridge and hiked up to the spot where we had seen the man standing.
Dropping off the cornice and into the that untracked field was one of the best moments of snowboarding I've had in recent memory. I hit the soft snow at high speed and laid out a long frontside turn. I got to make three or four beautiful s-turns sending up twenty-foot rooster tails. It was a glorious fifteen seconds.
Dropping into the Mainline Pocket was definitely the highlight of the day, but it certainly wasn't the end of the fun. Next we headed over to the Granite Chief Chair, which I'd been eyeing since we arrived. The area around the chair is a playground of spaced trees and and medium to large cliffs -- perfect for a powder day. We cruised through the trees and got to huck a couple of fifteen-foot cliffs. The snow was so soft that I even stuck them, and left Squaw Valley a happy snowoboarder.