Squaw is the American birthplace of extreme skiing. About twenty years ago, Squaw locals began skiing impossible lines from the Palisades, essentially a cliff with snow stuck to it. In the early 1980s, Scot Schmidt, arguably the father of extreme skiing, arrived in Squaw to pull 100-foot cliff jumps. Thus was a reputation born, and it still lives today. To earn your spurs as an extreme skier or snowboarder -- or "free rider" in the current nomenclature of mountain sports -- all road leads through Squaw.
But the extreme reputation aside, Squaw is actually a reasonably well-rounded ski area. There's a good amount of skiing for all ability levels, and the relatively new Resort at Squaw Creek is an exercise in extreme pampering. Squaw skiing can be ridiculously intimidating, but it doesn't have to be. New this year amid a flurry of run upgrades is an on-mountain demo center.
Squaw's extreme rep may overshadow the mellower side of the mountain, which is more substantial than you might think. From High Camp, about halfway up the mountain, there is plenty of novice and lower-intermediate terrain. What I like about this cluster of runs is that beginners can experience the thrill of being high on the mountain, rather than being stuck around the base area. At the end of the day, simply ride the tram or the Funitel Lift back to the bottom.
Intermediates tend to congregate around High Camp, too, although there are longer intermediate runs from the Squaw Creek Chair. As for expert skiing, the number of intriguing lines is impossible to calculate. KT-22 and the Headwall Express are particularly popular, and justly so. But I happen to like Granite Chief, which sees far less skier traffic. The runs are shorter, but the fresh snow stays untracked longer.
What's There: If you want to learn to ski Squaw in classic Squaw style, join the Egan and DesLauriers brothers, all renowned extreme skiers, for their X Team clinic in February (800-XTEAM70). Otherwise, jump into a class under the guidance of the Squaw Valley Ski and Snowboard School.
Hang out at High Camp, one of the most complete (and complicated) on-mountain facilities in skiing. If the kids aren't into skiing, there's ice skating, snow tubing, and bungee jumping to keep them entertained.
Where: Squaw Valley is 42 miles from Reno, 96 miles from Sacramento, and 196 miles from San Francisco -- all via Interstate 80.
By Tim Neville
Price: $$$ Number of Runs: 75 Number of Lifts: 19 Terrain: 36% beginner, 42% intermediate, 22% advanced Skiable Acreage: 2,054 Vertical Rise: 3,400 feet Season: November to April Annual Snowfall: 225 inches Web Site: http://www.sunvalley.com/
Hollywood hotties, Olympic skiers, and John Kerry may flock to sexy Sun Valley these days, but America's first ski resort has been drawing us hoi polloi since '36. Swaths of immaculate corduroy run for miles here, so pray your legs last. No sweat if they don't: French chefs and other fanciness await below.
Why we love it: Fantastic snow-making gear, five-star base facilities, and runs so fast and long you can attempt to break the sound barrier -- after stuffing your face with beignets, of course.
Number-one run: Crank the bindings and launch down Warm Springs. After a continuous 3,100-foot vertical loss on a blue groomer, your quads will glow like an Apollo capsule on reentry.