California is blessed with several top-notch ski resorts and, so often, we just don’t think about them once we get past ski season. But for those who love alpine scenery and the fragrance of a summertime forest, ski areas are even more appealing in warm weather.
A case in point is Squaw Valley, a former Olympics ski venue known for heavy snows throughout the winter months and seemingly endless terrain to challenge every kind of skier or boarder. But in summer, those same mountainsides turn into lush green meadows and colorful flower fields where scenic trails take vacationers just about as far away from everyday city life as they’ll ever get.
It’s almost a shock to the senses to visit Squaw Valley in the dead of winter – as we did this year – and then return on a glorious summer day. The buildings look about the same but everything else has changed. What was covered in a blanket of deep snow has now emerged to offer a vibrant mountain panorama that is painting-perfect.
The cross-country ski area we saw last winter at the Resort at Squaw Creek was now transformed into a world-class golf course. No ice skating rink this time of year – just swimming pools and hot tubs to rival the best resort on the Mexican Riviera. And behind it all, the scenic splendor of the mountain that Squaw Valley skiers have come to know and love.
During ski season we had stayed in the “Village” at the base of the ski facilities at Squaw Valley. This time, we chose the Resort at Squaw Creek, a high-end but reasonably priced resort hotel that recently underwent a $53 million renovation that converted 405 guest rooms into 238 condo units of various sizes. Most of the condos were then sold to the general public for $300,000 and up, with about 90 percent of them placed back in the rental pool for hotel guests. The result: Totally upgraded accommodations that now have more the feeling of a vacation home than a hotel room.
But the change-over has not been without its complications, according to Doug Phillips, sales and marketing director for Resort at Squaw Creek.
“People have this idea in their heads that it’s no longer a resort,” Phillips said, “— that you can own it but you can no longer stay there. And then some people think it’s going to be like Grandma’s condo, that you never know what you’re going to get and that one unit is going to be different from another unit.”
Wrong on both counts, Phillips said. The resort is operating just as it did prior to the renovation except that the units are now updated and higher quality. The new owners have strict guidelines in terms of décor and how the units are to look. For all intents and purposes the Resort at Squaw Creek is still a hotel, just with individual owners now sharing in the overall investment.
We can attest to the upgrades and luxury condo feel – amenities like flat screen televisions and fireplaces are included along with fully furnished modern kitchens with granite counter-tops. Our condo was stylishly decorated in brown and beige tones with everything in it brand-new. And, like many of the units at the resort, ours included a stunning view of the mountains that are part of the Squaw Valley ski area.
That view provided all the temptation we needed to leave the condo and head for the pool and other recreation facilities that are part of the resort, and part of the Squaw Valley summer program. With its mountain location, the Resort at Squaw Creek offers a wide array of recreational activities ranging from biking to horseback riding to fly-fishing to whitewater rafting. Swimming, tennis, golf – even a luxury spa -- are all available right at the resort. Special note to parents: the resort’s water slide will be a sure hit with your kids.
The Squaw Valley ski area is just a five-minute free shuttle ride from the resort and we took some time to explore the many resort-style shops in the area, all decidedly less busy in summer than they were during a visit just a few months earlier. Several restaurants are available, all with that trendy ski resort feel and prices to match.
During summer, Squaw Valley operates its famous cable car, which will take you to the High Camp area and the jumping off point for hikers who want to explore many of the area’s trails. Visitors can hike on their own or take part in one of the many guided hikes offered by the ski area. You can even bring your dog if you’re on a day trip to the area – it will cost you from $10 to $32 per person depending upon age to ride the cable car, but there is no charge for Fido.
The trails from High Camp (elevation 8200 feet) are varied. For example, you can take the High Camp Loop, which is a one-mile gentle slope that, in winter, is used as the area’s beginner ski and snowboard slopes. Great views of Lake Tahoe are the reward for a one-mile hike from High Camp to the top of Gold Coast Chairlift. A little more difficult hike would be the trail from High Camp to Emigrant Chairlift, about a 1.5-mile trip with a 500-foot elevation gain. At trail’s end, though, it will all be worth it: a 360-degree view of the Lake Tahoe area and you’ll also see the historic Watson Monument.
Surprisingly, there’s a lot of civilization up at High Camp. The High Camp Bath and Tennis Club offers three different restaurants to enjoy a meal on the mountain while enjoying the spectacular views. The Olympic Museum at High Camp offers a look at memorabilia from the 1960 Winter Olympics and, if you’ve brought your swimming suit, you can even indulge yourself in a swimming lagoon that features lap lanes, waterfalls and a 25-foot diameter spa heated to 102 degrees.
Keep in mind that Squaw Valley is just minutes from Lake Tahoe, where another set of recreational opportunities are just waiting. Many resort guests spend time down on the lake boating or just enjoying California’s most scenic lake resort area. The drive around the lake will make you want to stop often to take pictures.
On this particular trip we were content to spend our time in Squaw Valley. One trip to Squaw in summer and it becomes very obvious you don’t need skis or a snowboard to get a lot out of this scenic recreation area.
Squaw Valley offers different fun in summer