A note from Mommy Frog: We have hoppin' news. The ski resorts have reopened for the 2020-2021 ski season. Get the scoop on skiing at Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows during the pandemic by hopping over to our post on what to expect when skiing at the Ikon Pass destinations in 2020-2021.
When you ski Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows it's like getting two ski resorts for the price of one. One lift ticket gives you access to both locations, making these two part of one world-renowned family ski resort. It’s best to approach this large ski destination with a bit of knowledge to get the most out of your visit. There’s a lot going on and you don’t want to miss anything! We hopped to this resort, which is rich in Olympic history, on our recent visit to the North Lake Tahoe resorts. With our Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows guide, you’ll be maximizing your time and riding the mountains like an old pro ... even if it is your first time there.
While one lift ticket allows you to ski or ride at both destinations, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows have different parking lots and different vibes. You can drive to each of them or just hop aboard the 15-minute shuttle ride, the Squaw Alpine Express, to get from one to the other. The two ski destinations merged under one lift ticket in 2011, and the the dream will be fulfilled when they are soon connected via base-to-base gondola! However, they are not currently connected by trail or lift. Both resorts are celebrated for their powder, long season, incredible spring skiing and beautiful views of Lake Tahoe, but they differ in terrain and amenities. Here’s how to get the most out of your day at Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows.
Family's Insider Guide to Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows
At most ski resorts, you can save money by buying online in advance or with multi-day tickets. The same is true at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows. You’ll get the best lift ticket price by buying at least 48 hours in advance and by skiing on less-popular days. If you can ski multiple days, purchase the Tahoe Super 4 Pack, which is good any four days of the season and can be used at either resort. Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows are also part of the Ikon Pass and Mountain Collective.
Even though you could technically use your lift ticket at both resorts on the same day, the resorts are big enough that you'll have plenty of skiing at each resort to fill a whole day. You do not want to spend precious time traveling back and forth between the ski resorts in the middle of your ski day. Once the base-to-base gondola opens, skiing both resorts in one day will become a no-brainer. In the meantime, we recommend skiing at least a full day at each resort.
Keep in mind that if you are flying into Lake Tahoe early in the day and are skiing the same day, present your commercial airline ticket to ski for free! Score! Free half-day skiing is one of our favorite ways to save when flying to Lake Tahoe.
Reserve Lessons at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows in Advance
Are you new to skiing or snowboarding and feeling overwhelmed? Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows is committed to making newcomers become lifelong skiers with their programs for first timers. Here's how to get the best deals on learning to ski.
Reserving lessons at least three days in advance saves $20 over booking your tickets last minute, plus it secures your place as walk-ups may not be available. If your child takes five group lessons, he or she will get the sixth lesson free. A full-day kid lesson with rental package includes lesson, rental equipment, lift ticket and lunch.
If your tadpole has multi-day lessons, here's a tip to make your day easier. Take the helmet and boots with you at the end of the day. You can check skis, poles and snowboards at the Squaw Kids outdoor rental shed. Let them know you will be coming back the next day, so they can set them aside for you! That can be a sanity saver to give you fewer things to transport. When you sign up for lessons, be sure to choose the correct ski resort you plan to visit, Squaw or Alpine.
If your family member has physical, sensory and intellectual disabilities, you can schedule adaptive lessons for either resort though Achieve Tahoe. Arrive at least 30 minutes early on your first day of lessons.
If you have a season to devote to mastering skiing or snowboarding (if you are completely new to both sports), look for the highly affordable Perfect Progression Program. After you take three beginner lessons at Alpine Meadows, you will receive a complimentary unrestricted season pass for Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows! Not only that, but you'll receive a free pair of goggles, a Gogglesoc goggle cover, three lunch vouchers, free lift access and free rentals. After those initial lessons, you can keep building on skills with 50% off group lessons for the rest of the season. You'll also get free rentals for the whole season and more deals!
Choosing the Right Rental Spot
When you reserve your rentals, be sure to choose the correct rental pickup location, Alpine or Squaw. There are rental/lift ticket packages that can save money over purchasing each separately. If you are just trying out the sport, take an affordable half-day Learn to Ride or Learn to Ski package. These packages that cover lift ticket, rentals and beginner lessons. Check to see if you already reserved rentals with the tadpole’s lessons before accidentally reserving more.
Take Advantage of Squaw Valley Parking Perks
Both ski resorts offer free general parking that is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Squaw Valley rewards you for carpooling with closer parking. If you have three or more people in your vehicle, you can access a free carpool lot with 800 spaces at Squaw Valley on a first-come, first-served basis. At Squaw, the premier spaces are staffed on weekends and self-regulated during the week. The 75 premium spots at Alpine Meadows cost $30.
We have a saying: The early frog gets the flies. The best way to get good parking is to arrive early. Once parking is full, you're out of luck unless you arrive by other means. But the best way to get around is to avoid parking altogether by using public transportation and shuttles if you can.
Getting to and Around Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows
The area where the ski resorts are located is called Olympic Valley. It's located on the north side of Lake Tahoe. If you do not live close enough to drive to Lake Tahoe, you'll likely be flying in. The closest major airport is Reno Tahoe International Airport, which is about a 49-minute drive in dry weather. If you are not finding the direct flights you want into Reno Tahoe, consider the Sacramento International Airport, which is about two hours away in clear weather.
When the roads are snowy and icy, you do not have to worry about driving when at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows. You'll find many free transportation options. Free shuttles transport guests between Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley (a 15-minute shuttle ride and shuttles arrive every 5-10 minutes). You can even take a shuttle for a short ride from the village to the SnoVentures activity zone across the parking lot. Guests staying at the Resort at Squaw Creek have a free shuttle between the hotel to the village at Squaw Valley.
Another FREE option for getting around the area in winter is the Mountaineer shuttle service. Think of it like Lyft or Uber, but free for residents and guests visiting Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows (and your furry canine friends too). You'll need to download the app and summon one of the vans from anywhere within each valley to anywhere in that valley. So you can get it to transport you between your lodging and the lifts. You do not need to get in your car! The vehicles are equipped with ski and snowboard racks.
If you are staying further from the mountains and do not have a car, use the free Tahoe Truckee Area Regional Transit (TART). You can park at certain Park & Ride locations in Truckee (on select peak dates) and Tahoe City (daily) and then take the free TART buses to the ski resorts every 30 minutes. Visitors to Alpine Meadows may need to transfer to the Squaw Alpine Shuttle to get to Alpine.
Even though we frogs make good use of the shuttles, we do love renting a car for ease of getting to the grocery store and to more easily explore the area outside the ski resort. Once we price out an airport shuttle for four of us round -trip, we find it's cheaper to just rent a four-wheel-drive SUV. If you are looking to save money on a car rental, your favorite froggy friends can help you get a hopping deal on a car rental.
If you do not want to rent a car at all, you can pay for airport shuttles that take you to the ski resorts. Then you can use the free transportation to get around from your lodging.
You can find a few different places to stay. There are several lodging choices in the Village at Squaw Valley (as low as $248/ night). The village allows you to be in the heart of the action and enjoy easy access to skiing at Squaw Valley. Another location with spacious accommodations that is close to the village and ski slopes is Squaw Creek Lodge. You can ski right to the door of your building! Lodging locations in or near the village make it easy to dine at a number of restaurants, shop and find fun off the mountain.
While Alpine Meadows does not have a village, you can take a free shuttle between the two resorts. Or your can use the Mountaineer app to get a free ride. All the free transportation has certainly made it a lot easier for visitors to stay off the mountain and get around Squaw Alpine without having to drive.
The Resort at Squaw Creek is a ski-in/ski-out, family-friendly hotel location located between the two ski resorts. It is connected to Squaw Valley by ski runs, a lift or a shuttle. The Resort at Squaw Creek has a pool, ice skating rink and a Nordic Center for other activities. It is located about 5 miles from Alpine Meadows. There is no on-site, slope-side lodging at the Alpine Meadows, but there are a few nearby locations. Many visitors stay near Squaw Valley or in Truckee. If you want to stay on the lake, the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe (as low as $290/night) is located in Incline Village on the north shore of the lake (about 22 miles away). You can book your ski hotels through Undercover Tourist for a discount!
Know Your Mountain
Squaw Valley is the larger of the two resorts. It offers a modern village with shops and restaurants, as well as closer access to fun winter activities besides skiing. Squaw Valley offers 29 lifts (including an Aerial Tram and a Funitel) with 3,600 acres and diverse terrain. What's a Funitel, you ask? It's like a gondola but bigger and more stable in the wind. It has two cables. The Funitel at Squaw Valley has room for sitting and standing. Squaw Valley hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics and is home to an Olympic Museum at High Camp (at the top of the Aerial Tram).
Squaw Valley has an uphill capacity of 53,500 people per hour! In comparison, Alpine Meadows has an uphill capacity of 18,700 per hour.
Alpine Meadows offers 13 lifts that access 2,400 acres of terrain and amazing views of Lake Tahoe. Alpine Meadows is the place to go to escape the crowds. Intermediate skiers who try Alpine Meadows find that it has fabulous intermediate runs with a little more elbow room. It's perfect for skiers and snowboarders who are ready to take the next step on blue runs. All the advanced runs are well marked so everyone can safely and comfortably ski to their level.
Even though Squaw is the bigger resort that looks intimidating from the bottom, it actually has a ton of family-friendly terrain with a high percentage of green and blue runs. Most lifts lead you to a variety of runs. That way families with both advanced skiers and less-experienced skiers can each ski to their level and meet back at the lift. Squaw Valley has plenty of easy runs, and both resorts clearly mark the easiest easy way down.
Get in the Zone
Pick up a trail map. You’ll find Squaw Valley on one side and Alpine Meadows on the other. For first-timers, the "Progression Plans" on the map will really help you map out your day. Use them to find the perfect runs for your skiing ability and to progress in skill.
And be sure to take in those blue Lake Tahoe views from beginner and blue runs by High Camp! Newer skiers have more options at Squaw Valley. Up top, there is plenty of easier terrain in the Big Blue Express and High Camp regions. In fact, Squaw Valley has one of the region’s only mountaintop beginner areas. Beginners can take the Aerial Tram right up to High Camp. If skiing back to the village seems too daunting, no worries! You can take the Aerial tram back down at the end of the day. Intermediate skiers will definitely enjoys spending some time cruising the blues in the Shirley Lake and Gold Coast areas.
It's toadally cool that less-experienced skiers have plenty of green and blue runs at the top of the mountain at Squaw! It's fun for learning skiers to get to take in those awesome views that are a bonus to skiing itself. It's no fun to be stuck at the bottom of the mountain on a "bunny hill" the whole time. That being said, first-time-ever skiers have options if they do not want to head up right away. New skiers can gain confidence on the First Venture beginner lift. It's at the bottom of the mountain near the SnoVentures tubing area.
Alpine Meadows has some beginner chairs at the bottom. But the majority of the mountain consists of blue and black runs. If you are an intermediate skier, you cannot go wrong at Alpine Meadows. If you are looking for gentle blue groomed runs, you’ll find them by the Lakeview Chair (check out the views from the top of the chair!) and Sherwood Express. The new Treeline Cirque chair at the mountain's base has a mid-mountain unload station. But just stay seated and take it all the way to the top. That lift opens up access to Sherwood and Lakeview for amazing views and access to fantastic skiing!
Get the App
Be sure to download the Squaw Alpine Mobile App. You can access up-to-date information for lift and trail status, lift wait times and even weather, parking and road conditions. Do you want to know which trails are groomed? Check the app! If you want to track the lifts and trails you've skied, or you like to know how may vertical feet you've skied and your maximum speed, you can track it all through the app. It might even make for some friendly competition! It can sometimes be hard to stay in touch with a friend or family member when skiing and snowboarding. Form a group so you don't lose one another! Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows offer great cell service around the mountain, BTW, so that keeps it easy to stay in touch with your friends in family.
The app can also help you navigate the village so you can find that perfect aprés ski spot, or maybe even coffee in the morning! The Lake Tahoe Weather Blog is another source that will keep you in the know about all things snow (and wind and temperature).
Lock it up
With a great village to explore and other adventures like tubing at the mountain, you’re going to want to ditch the ski boots at some point for some snow boots or shoes. Plan that into your day when you start out. If you are staying in the village, you can just return to your room. If you are staying off-site or at the Resort at Squaw Creek, you might want to use a day locker. Whether you leave shoes in the car or choose to rent a locker, you will be happy to slip your feet into something more comfortable for après ski dining, tubing, snow play or shopping. We like to lock up our extra layers as well. That way we can add or subtract extra clothing items depending on the weather.
All that skiing and snowboarding is sure to make you work up an appetite. At the base of Squaw Valley is the village. The village offers a variety of restaurants and bars for breakfast, lunch or après ski dining.
We enjoyed the Auld Dubliner Irish Pub and Restaurant for dinner. It offers authentic Irish fare. The stuffed tater tots were a big hit with Tad and Lily (and well, Leap and me too)! We found Fireside Pizza Company a great lunch spot to fill up our hungry bellies with gourmet pizza and salad. On a sunny day the outdoor patio is a beautiful place to take in the Village, warm up by the fire, listen to music and enjoy the vibe. People say nice things about Rocker, but we enjoyed Auld Dubliner and Fireside Pizza much more. If you are looking for a sandwich, Dave’s Deli is one of the closest spots to the skiing. If you are looking for fine dining that showcases food from local organic farmers and a nice wine selection, then slide into PlumpJack for a nice meal.
Hop over to Wildflour bakery and be the most popular parent on the mountain when you get your tadpole a cookie punch card. Your little ones will be so hoppy to use it to get big fat cookies each day, and make all their ski school friends super jelly.
If you're loving things up on the top of the mountain, you can stay there and get some good eats at the top of the Gold Coast Funitel and the Aerial Tram at High Camp. Gold Coast is home to the world's first ski-thru Starbucks up at Gold Coast Resort at the top of the Funitel. Skiing a black diamond run with your venti upside-down caramel ristretto macchiato not recommended.
You can grab some food at the top of the Gold Coast Funitel as well as at High Camp. Have a drink and some bites at the Terrace Restaurant & Bar at High Camp. You can sit an enjoy those views for days. Or head downstairs to Granite Bistro. It's a table-service restaurant that overlooks the pool and hot tub (open in warmer weather).
There are many Squaw Valley bars and restaurants to choose from at the base as well as on-mountain dining. In addition to the Ski-in/Ski-out Starbucks, you'll also find a walk-in/walk-out Starbucks in the Village. Mountain Nectar is the spot to buy smoothies, fresh juice and bagels. For dessert, Euro Sweets has gelato, frozen yogurt and candy to hit the spot nicely.
Alpine Meadows has a brand-new lodge at the base of the mountain with a bar, cafeteria and treats. The Chalet is a cute slope-side spot to get that sandwich, grilled cheese or tomato soup. And of course you'll want to ski your way to the Ice Bar on the mountain.
The Resort at Squaw Creek offers several good eats too ... most with a view of Squaw Valley. It has a steakhouse, Italian restaurant, family-friendly pub, deli, breakfast spot and coffeehouse.
With so many choices it is hard to say just where to eat. A better thing to know is when to eat. Eat lunch before 12 p.m. and after 1:30 p.m. for the shortest waits so you can maximize your ski and snowboard time.
Once you snap out of your skis, your winter fun is just beginning. You can check out the events calendar to see what is in store during your visit. We visited Squaw Valley during a music festival. It was fun to listen to the live bands playing all over the Village in addition to the ticketed main event. Squaw Valley has a Winter and Spring Music Series as well as special events during the holidays.
Kids with bounce in their step will be flying high on the Sky Jump in the Village (when the weather warms up) or scaling the climbing wall in the Aerial Tram building. Take a short shuttle ride through the parking lot to SnoVentures for tubing, mini snowmobiles and games for the kids. You can also take dog-sled tours and go cross-country skiing, ice skating and snowshoeing (weather permitting) at the Resort at Squaw Creek. Once spring hits, the giant hot tub opens up at High Camp. Wear your swimsuit under your ski clothes so you can pop out of your skis and hop in the tub! Come summer the pool opens, and you can hike around up there and find water falls and swimming holes! Now that's a year-round resort!
Squaw Valley hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics. You can take a trip back in time at the Olympic Museum in High Camp. You can reach High Camp via the Aerial Tram. It's on the lowest level of the Aerial Tram building. You’ll find more dining, shopping, and spectacular views at High Camp. Aerial Tram admission and the museum are free with your lift ticket. Children 4 and under are free, but they still need a ticket to ride.
During the December holidays and on Saturdays in January through early March you can catch fireworks at 6 p.m. in the village. Sip free hot cocoa while you watch the mountain light up with explosive delight.
With this family-friendly insider's guide to skiing at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows in hand, you should be ready to hop to it and make the most of your trip to Lake Tahoe and Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows. Have any favorite eats or insider tips for taking a family to these resorts? Please share them in the comments section below. Check out our other ski planning posts for tips on saving time and money on the slopes.