7 Tips for Skiing at Squaw with J.T. Holmes

The pro skier, BASE jumper, and speed rider, who grew up chasing Jonny Moseley, Tom Day, and others, knows every inch of Squaw. Here are some of his favorite spots. By Ryan Dionne
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The pro skier, BASE jumper, and speed rider, who grew up chasing Jonny Moseley, Tom Day, and others, knows every inch of Squaw. Here are some of his favorite spots. By Ryan Dionne

1. One of the first places at Squaw to fill in each season, Tamara’s has everything from open powder fields (stay skier’s left for steeper lines) to nicely spaced trees and fun, optional cliff jumps. Follow the cat track left at the base of Olympic Lady and you’ll find more powder on the lower slopes near the Exhibition lift.

2. From the top of the Olympic Lady lift, fade skier’s right near the cliff area for a straightline-to-air chute with an incredibly smooth landing. Just shut down your speed quickly because the line gets steeper, with more trees. Enter the halfpipe-size gully after the trees and pop off the right wall for a great back-flip booter.

3. There’s a reason this line is named after the legend. McConkey’s is a proving ground for serious skiers. Its entrance is a puckering 68 degrees, and a fall could send you tumbling through the trees at the bottom. If you stick it and navigate the trees, you’re lined up perfectly to choose a less stressful line through the Baby Fingers, which has smaller cliffs and chutes.

4. Nose to Fingers is Holmes’s favorite line at Squaw. From the top of the KT-22 Express lift, follow the ridge that parallels the chair until it steepens. From there, go right to pick your way through Coleman’s area via lines like Coleman’s Alternate and Railroad, which have tight chutes and mandatory airs. Or spot the clump of trees, which marks the takeoff for Booger Rock; then carry your speed through the flats to the Fingers. It’s a series of steep chutes and spines with true Squallywood visibility (it’s right under the chair). It’s a popular zone, so pick your line and stick to it or risk being sloughed. You’ll know if you ski it well from the chairlift reaction.

5. Shortly after KT-22 Express opens, check out Headwall, where you’ll find Squaw’s trademark buttery wind-buff. “It gets constant refills,” Holmes says. His favorites are Headwall Face and Hogsback.

6. Mainline Pocket is rife with high-speed straightlines with long run-outs, technical descents with minor consequences, and endless fun. It’s a zone, Holmes says, that’s great no matter the conditions because of the terrain. To get there, traverse south from the Emigrant lift and follow the five-minute bootpack.

7. The big zone off the Broken Arrow lift has a mix of straightline possibilities, optional airs, and open spaces. It’s a lesser-known, unintimidating zone that’ll hand you 1,500 to 1,600 vertical feet of sunny fun. It still gets steep, sloughs, and has some cliff drops, but for the most part what you see is what you get. But ski it early before the sun has its way with it.


> Squaw has a ski-in, ski-out Starbucks, but most locals go to Wildflour Baking Company. The chocolate-chip cookies go perfectly with the slow-drip coffee.

> For a healthy lunch, swing in for soup and grilled cheese at the local fave Soupa. If burgers and beer are on your menu, try Rocker. 


Ride the Granite Chief chairlift on a powder day if you feel like showing off—small and large cliff bands are located right under the chair for prime spectator heckling."Make sure that every line you’re going to ski is in plain view for everyone to see," jokes pro skier and Squaw local Elyse Saugstad. "Right before you drop into your line, claim aloud how cool you are." Eben Mond at Squaw Valley.

Squaw Valley: 5 Insider Tips

There have been whole books (like Squallywood, by Robb Gaffney) written about how to ski the gnarliest lines at Squaw Valley, California. So there aren't a lot of secrets left. But we uncovered a few insider tips (with help from local pro skier Elyse Saugstad) that might help anyone planning a visit to Squaw.

Squaw Valley 2011

Squaw Valley

Squaw Valley Ski Resort is located in Olympic Valley, California and is the second largest ski resort at Lake Tahoe. Squaw Valley was the site of the 1960 Olympic Winter Games.

Snow at Squaw

Opening Day at Squaw

Squaw Valley will crank the lifts on November 21, with opening ceremonies that include skier and BASE jumper, J.T Holmes, leaping from the Cable Car and a champagne toast with Johnny Moseley.

Tucker enjoys pats on the head, chasing balls, and avalanche rescue operations.The ladies love Tucker. So do the grown men, children of all ages, and anyone with a camera phone or a spare hand. I’m riding up the Gold Coast Funitel at Squaw Valley with the golden retriever and his handler, ski patroller Pete York, and I’m learning that it’s hard to conduct an interview when you’re seated next to a good-looking dog. But Tucker is more than just York’s best friend and the darling of Squaw visitors. He is also trained in avalanche rescue, which is why he and York have been invited to assist the Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association (CARDA) with security operations at the Vancouver Olympics. Four other canines of the Squaw Valley Avalanche Rescue Dog Team and four more handlers will travel with them.

Squaw Dogs Head to Vancouver Olympics

Tucker is your typical golden retriever who likes to roll in the snow and chase balls. He and his owner, Pete York of the Squaw Valley Ski Patrol, also work together on avalanche rescue operations and will travel to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics to assist with security. By Olivia Dwyer

How to ski squaw thumb

How to Ski Squaw Like a Local

Squaw is revered for it’s steep terrain, local vibe, and quality skiers. But there are rules to follow if you want to fit in. Here’s our guide to skiing Squaw like you’re a local.