Ski season is here and those in the know will head to beautiful Squaw Valley for its excellent terrain, alpine charm and après fun. The lofty monuments that mark both the entrance to the valley and its Olympic legacy lend only a hint of the splendor hidden beyond. Nestled at the base of six towering granite peaks, the toy-like mountain village is an inspiring sight from the road leading in. There’s something about the setting that feels far-flung from California. And why not? Squaw Valley was modeled after the iconic ski resorts of Europe. Yet, the clear days and deep cerulean skies are 100 percent Tahoe.
Host to the 1960 Winter Olympics and proving ground to some of the world’s best skiers, Squaw Valley Ski Resort is renowned for its varied terrain and technical lines. Just ask the die-hards who never tire of endless laps off the legendary KT-22 run. But who knew Squaw was ideal for beginners too? Instead of being stuck in parking lot snow, kids and never-evers can frolic at mountaintop Bailey’s Beach and enjoy the same Sierra vistas as everyone else.
For blue lines, hit the fast lifts and quick tree runs in the Shirley Lake area. Or try nearby Alpine Meadows. Your lift ticket gets you access to the adjacent resort, a mere 15 minutes away via a free shuttle that runs throughout the day (800-403-0206, www.squaw.com; 800-403-0206, www.skialpine.com).
Like its European progenitors, the resort was created with recreation at two levels of the mountain. Take the thrilling Aerial Tram that ascends 2,000 feet to High Camp where you can ice skate above the clouds or join the party at the heated pool and hot tub. Or board the Funitel — the only European-style gondola in existence in the United States — up to the Gold Coast area where you’ll enjoy a decidedly American invention: a ski-in ski-out Starbucks (800-403-0206, www.squaw.com).
One part alpine village and one part Epcot, the Village at Squaw Valley is an atmospheric outdoor marketplace with restaurants, boutiques, and ever-present views of Tram Face, the striking mountain cliffside with a less-than-cuddly name. Given the number of mountain outfitters, you’d be fine packing only a toothbrush. Newly opened Parallel Mountain Sports is a one-stop shop with a comprehensive selection of gear and outerwear. Across the way, upscale PlumpJackSport has fitted ski and winter wear to transition you seamlessly from the lifts to the lounge (530-452-4478; 530-584-6181, www.plumpjacksport.com).
Wildflour Bakery is known throughout the mountain for its fresh, still-warm cookies and Scharffen Berger hot chocolate. But go in the morning and tell yourself it’s for one of their breakfast sandwiches or homemade bagels (530-583-1963, www.wildfloursquaw.com).
There’s no shortage of casual spots to grab a pint and a bite after the slopes, but tradition maintains that you join the rest of the mountain on the patio at Le Chamois. A local institution since 1969, “The Chammy” is the quintessential après-ski bar. You’ll rub shoulders with ski legends … and everyone else for that matter. Yep, it’s crowded, boisterous and undeniably fun (530-583-4505, www.squawchamois.com).
Feeling more Burgundy than Bud? Sample a flight at the alluring Uncorked at Squaw Valley. Owner Kali has created a soulful wine bar and retail shop that’s a warm haven in the Village. Settle in with a cheese plate or snag a bottle to take to dinner (530-584-6090, www.uncorkedsquaw.com).
Families and groups will appreciate Fireside Pizza Company for its streamlined service and reliable grub. Pizzas do exactly what pizzas should and a gluten-free option has everyone covered. Mason jars are alternatively filled with beers and draft root beer while a blazing firepit warms the brave folks outside (530-584-6150, firesidepizza.com).
Popular sushi spot Mamasake encourages you to get raw at Squaw. Creative rolls, large cuts of nigiri and an assortment of fusion comfort foods are a welcome break from the ubiquitous burgers and pizzas. Projection-screen ski flicks and a nice beer and sake list keep the vibe lively (530-584-0110, mamasake.com).
A snowball’s throw from the lifts, the PlumpJack Squaw Valley Inn is an ideal base camp. It’s a stylish, boutique property with a modern lodge motif. Rooms are winter cozy with gratifying extras like plush robes, single cup Keurigs, and free WiFi. Guests are also treated to a hearty breakfast spread with warm dishes complemented by homemade breads, jams, and granola. But what did I secretly love the most? The luxurious bottle of hand cream that provided thoughtful relief to dry winter hands (530-583-1576; www.plumpjacksquawvalleyinn.com).