Host for the VIII Olympic Winter Games in 1960, Squaw Valley near Lake Tahoe is regarded as the spiritual home of modern extreme skiing in the USA; it was here in the mid-1980s that veteran ski-movie producer Warren Miller first filmed the pioneering professional extreme skier Scot Schmidt skiing off a 30m cliff in the Palisade sector, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Squaw Valley's extreme-ski pedigree still draws many of today's top freeskiers and freeriders, who come here not only to bag the area's now almost legendary headline cliff hucks but also because Squaw Valley's ski area largely consists of big ungroomed (unpisted) bowls, offering vast expanses of open terrain where pristine powder lines can often be found for many days following fresh snowfalls.
And it certainly receives plenty of that powder, the accumulated snowfall history records for Squaw Valley average over 11 metres per season.
Despite its reputation as an extreme-skier destination, Squaw Valley is actually a very well-rounded resort and is in fact one of the biggest ski areas in the USA, containing a great range of terrain suitable for all abilities; the resort also offers a good selection of high-quality slope-side accommodation in two pleasant purpose-built base-area developments, together with first-rate on-mountain amenities to cater for all categories of visitor.
One of the unique features of Squaw Valley ski area is that so much of its ungroomed (unpisted) terrain is lift-served and readily accessible.
The beginners' areas and novice-friendly green-classified marked trails together with the majority of blue-classified intermediate runs are regularly groomed (pisted), but almost all other slopes of high-end intermediate grade and above effectively offer an in-bounds backcountry experience where visitors are free to choose their own lines of descent according to their ability.
There's a compact beginners' area with a separate children's zone on the base-area slopes in front of the main resort village, plus a straightforward first proper piste for novices served by a quad-chairlft nearby; beginners also get to share in the stunning high Sierra scenery of the upper bowls too, thanks to Squaw's big cable car (Aerial Tram) and Funitel gondola lift, which transport slope-users and sightseers alike up to the resort's incredible High Camp services station and the surrounding novice-accessible high-altitude slopes.
There are fabulous summit-to-base cruises and masses of inter-piste powder slopes for intermediates to enjoy, as well as a number of trickier next-level options for pushing limits and building skills.
Advanced and expert visitors will probably already have a bucket-list that includes most of Squaw Valley's headline descents and most notorious features: KT-22, The Fingers, Palisades, Moseley's Run, Poulsens Gully, Headwall, Broken Arrow...
Squaw Valley's ski area is effectively one big natural terrain park, but freestylers who prefer to ride the pipe and/or to jib rails & boxes are also catered for with several snowparks up in the Gold Coast and Riviera areas of the core upper sector; there's also a beginners' snowpark down by the base area.
Off the slopes and apres ski
The main base-area village at Squaw Valley is a pleasant European-styled purpose-built development of luxury and mid-range hotels and apartments and contains a good selection of shops, cafés, restaurants and bars in a pedestrian-friendly plaza-style layout. There's also a separate smaller satellite base-area development at Squaw Creek, around one kilometre to the east, that has its own home-run pistes and is linked into the main ski area by chairlift.
Between these two bases there's a spacious meadow area used for cross-country skiing, along with a lift-served snow-tubing hill; other activities available at Squaw Valley include dog-sledding, snowshoeing, horse-drawn sleigh rides, an indoor climbing wall, plus a handful of spas, swimming pools and fitness suites at the resort's hotels.
The most noteworthy non-ski visitor attraction is the amazing High Camp services station at the top terminal of the cable car, sited at 2,500m: this superb facility houses a spa, a heated outdoor leisure pool (Springtime only) and an outdoor ice-skating rink, together with café-bars and a restaurant, offering far-reaching vistas over the Squaw Valley ski area and its surrounding peaks to Lake Tahoe in the distance; quite literally breathtaking.
Apres ski in the main village is fairly animated yet generally low-key: there are fire pits around the base area where you can sit and chat outside over a convivial drink or two, plus there's a selection of good basic bars, of which Le Chamois & Loft Bar is the prime apres ski magnet; the popular Cornice Cantina also morphs into a disco-bar later in the evening. The resort's handful of restaurants cover the other options for nightlife in Squaw Valley.
Bars and clubs