Squaw Valley USA preps for ‘renaissance’
OLYMPIC VALLEY – Nearly a year to the date after his official hiring as CEO at Squaw Valley USA, Andy Wirth revealed plans last week for numerous transformative projects at the North Shore ski resort.
In what he is dubbing “The Renaissance,” Wirth said the comprehensive capital improvement plan will “address deficiencies while enhancing our strengths in a manner that is consistent with the legendary history and culture of Squaw.”
“We want to advance this resort into a world-class ski destination, while respecting the past,” he said during an interview in his office Thursday morning at the mountain.
Wirth had previously announced that KSL Capital, which bought the resort last year, planned to invest $50 million into capital projects at Squaw, but until now, the specifics of how that money would to be utilized remained vague.
On the mountain
For dedicated skiers and snowboarders, upgrades to ski lift infrastructure may be the most pertinent.
Tentative plans that have been submitted to Placer County Department of Planning for approval indicate Squaw will replace the Granite Chief lift with a high-speed quad, while realigning the High Camp and Links chairlifts to facilitate easier flow and access to beginner and intermediate terrain.
“We want to make Squaw more approachable, more friendly and more inclusive,” Wirth said.
The plans also call for the removal of Newport, East Broadway, Main Line and East Broadway chairlifts, with the addition of two transport tows to allow for smoother flow around the intermediate High Camp area.
However, Wirth pointed out that lift infrastructure improvements will not be implemented until the summer of 2012, meaning a lot could change in the meantime.
More certain is the expenditure of nearly $2.5 million on grooming equipment, which include six new grooming machines, two ramp-cats that will address the ramps to and away from chairlifts and a winch cat, which allows grooming operations to take place on steep slopes.
“We want the most optimal surface for our customers,” he said.
Squaw will name ski trails and provide trail signs and updated maps in an effort to make the mountain more navigable, Wirth said.
Food and drink
Wirth is not satisfied with the current state of food and beverage operations on the mountain.
“You have to be honest with where you are if you are going to get better,” he said.
Thus, Squaw has contracted Levy Restaurants, headquartered in Chicago, to refurbish its entire operation, which includes upgrades to Gold Coast, Olympic House, High Camp and Blue Coyote Sports Grill. The resort, which was purchased by Squaw in May, will be revamped and renamed in the coming months, Wirth said.
“We want to improve the form, function and aesthetics of our offerings,” he said.
Streamline ticket buying
In an effort to improve customer access to the mountain, Wirth said the resort will tear down current ticket portals, which he labeled “an eyesore,” and Squaw will begin construction on a new sales and service center at the east end of Olympic House.
“All of our season passes, day lift tickets, special tickets and other services will be centralized in this building to make it easier for people to attend to their needs in one place,” he said.
Wirth called the building a clear aesthetic upgrade over existing facilities.
Finally, Wirth is investing in a new communication network to communicate to customers in real time regarding expected times for chairlift openings, particularly during inclement weather.
“Right now there is a communication gap between mountain operations and our guests regarding exactly when terrain will open,” Wirth said.
Squaw has contracted Lumiplan, a network communications company that specializes in developing information systems for public transportation networks in Western Europe.
“I’ve worked a lot with airlines, and if Delta can tell its customers that a flight scheduled to take off at 9 a.m. is now leaving at 9:28, why can’t we do the same thing for our customers,” Wirth said.
Wirth said times when terrain is expected to open will be posted on LCD panels throughout the village, and customers will also have the opportunity to access data through social media platforms and smartphone/tablature technologies.
“We want to provide accuracy and communicate in an open and honest way,” he said. “I just don’t feel that putting a yellow light next to Headwall on a sign is the best way of doing that.”
Wirth stressed that safety will always be paramount when assessing where and when to open terrain.