Field of Dreams - Ski Mag

Field of Dreams

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True Squaw

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The mantra of every business maven who's hawking self-improvement books or working the seminar circuit is "Follow your dreams. Don't let the naysayers steer you off course or the curmudgeons of practicality beat you down, they preach. And if your dreams are eluding you, follow them more passionately and you'll certainly get there.

If this were true, an astounding number of men would be dating Jessica Alba and weight loss would be a whistle away. So this dream-chasing business must be trickier than advertised.

Skiers are all dreamers, of course, for if nothing else they dream of skiing. Frequently the dream is of total immersion in the sensory jet stream that is skiing. One question every skier eventually asks himself is, are there ways to arrange a life so the skier's dream becomes a reality? It turns out there are. Although the paths to dreamland are varied, for skiers who set the bar high they often lead to California's Squaw Valley.

Alex Cushing's dream led him to open Squaw in 1949. He was a man of endless optimism and dogged perseverance. Both of which were tested during the early years. Avalanches destroyed the resort's chairlift, Squaw One, each season for the first three winters. In the fourth year, a flood devastated the resort, and during the fifth year, the lodge burned down. Cushing didn't blink.

And in 1954, when he read that Reno, Nev., was bidding to host the 1960 Winter Olympics, he decided that Squaw should also give it a go - though at the time the resort boasted all of one chairlift, two ropetows and a 50-room lodge. He later admitted that applying to host the Games was a publicity stunt. "I had no more interest in getting the Olympics than the man on the moon, he famously said.

Squaw Valley won by one vote on the second ballot. The success of the Squaw Olympics - the first televised Winter Games - brought worldwide recognition for North American skiing and firmly placed Squaw on the ski map.

Alex Cushing died last summer at age 92, creating speculation as to whether Squaw would be sold. Nancy Wendt Cushing, Alex's wife and business partner for two decades, quickly puts that question to rest. "There will always be a Cushing at Squaw, she says.

Nancy Cushing emphasizes that maintaining Squaw's independence is her vision - and was Alex's vision - for the future. She sees Squaw's renegade status as one of the area's most valuable assets. "We have a culture. A style. An attitude that's unique to us, Cushing says. "We are a skier's mountain. We are not in the business of selling the most condos.

When asked what differentiates Squaw from the rest of the other resorts, Cushing answers, "our terrain. She takes pride that Squaw regularly mints world-class skiers. "We have more Olympians than any other mountain. And there's a good reason for that, she says.

The birthplace of American extreme skiing, Squaw never has had a problem attracting a loyal following. And it's one of the few resorts on the continent that matches Alta, Utah, in eliciting a lifelong devotion from its clients. But Cushing's strategy looking forward is to broaden Squaw's appeal beyond its status as a playground for extreme skiers. She envisions her resort as one of the world's elite mountain destinations.

This is the driving force behind recent transformations, such as the beautiful new section of the base village, which was completed in 2003. Developed in partnership with resort conglomerate Intrawest, it's the new nucleus for après-ski and nightlife, and it includes lodging for 280 guests, trendy shops, an urban-style coffee house and the other services that today's skiers demand. It's a clear indication that a new Squaw is starting to put down roots next to the old Squaw.

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Cushing admits that taking ca of her aging husband had dominated her time in recent years. "There will be more attention to the resort now, she says. So look for more upgrades. A flagship hotel at the foot of the mountain "is in the discussion for the future of Squaw, as are other limited real estate projects. But never one to venture far from Squaw's roots, Cushing proudly points out that the resort will officially open some previously out-of-bounds terrain this season. "We take care of our skiers, she says.

For the small cadre of Squaw skiers who form the nucleus of Adventure Film Works, it was Squaw's outlaw vibe that first brought them here. Their dream began to form several years ago during undergraduate years on the Cal (UC Berkeley) Ski Team - a loose collection of ski junkies - some of whom actually raced with distinction. After diplomas were handed out, responsible careers beckoned. But the allure proved hollow. So it came to pass that Miles Clark abandoned a promising future in medicine - prepared for with a degree in molecular cell biology - and headed straight for Tahoe.

Now, five years later, Clark chases the dream across the peaks of Squaw. And the journey has become the destination. He's a sponsored athlete now, skis every day, and never has to ski alone.

Accompanying Clark in the quest to spin fame and riches from Squaw powder is Zach Browning, another alumnus of the Cal Ski Team. Browning and Clark applied themselves to the task of conquering the Squaw Hit List, the rite-of-passage descents that quickly define both the skier and the man.

What the Berkeley boys soon learned is that there are enough gut-check lines at Squaw to fill a book (demonstrated definitively by Robb Gaffney's Squallywood). Clark and Browning were men on a mission. They ached to learn every inch of the sheer face of Eagle's Nest, a defiant crown of steep pitches that looms over the top of KT-22, an enormous expert's playground that cascades down towards the Fingers - where on powder days legends and locals alike race to the hoots from the chairlift above.

While KT-22 is unquestionably home to Squaw's most sought-after expert lines, there are other sections of the mountain that also demand perfect technique. Any number of plunges off the Palisades will get your attention. There's V-Rock on Broken Arrow or Goodwill's over in Granite Chief with its notorious blind takeoff. If you happen to hit the Silverado area just right, you can head for The Spigot, a vertiginous slope that will remain etched in memory forever - whether you nail it or not.

It was on such a run that destiny tapped Duane Kubischta on the shoulder. One afternoon, the patrol fortuitously dropped the rope leading into Silverado as Kubischta waited. One remarkable run in two feet of new snow later, his life had turned in a whole new direction.

He decided at that moment that he had dabbled enough in filmmaking and that several fellow Cal racers already living at Squaw were solid enough skiers that he could make a movie of their exploits - and just as easily as that a dream was fulfilled, and Adventure Film Works was born.

Last season Kubischta released Hustle and Snow, which earned entry into the Banff Film Festival. This season, he looks to do well and to do good with the release of Weather We Change, a film that follows several Tahoe athletes as they ski epic lines and also confront the ramifications of global warming. Kubischta has now experienced just enough success to not only keep his dream of making ski movies alive, he dreams of the greater achievement of making movies for other folks so he can spend winters skiing, rather than filming other people skiing.

This wasn't exactly the life path Kubischta had charted coming out of college as an engineering major. Since graduation, his day job was working at the Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute, one of the main centers that helped sequence the human genome. "We take the microbes, pound them up, pull out all the DNA, attach little fluorescent markers to them, and run them through the sequencers, he explains.

[pagebreak]

He'll probably be back working at the DOE this summer, but if Weather We Change reaches a wider audience, the world of microbial genome sequestration might lose a troubleshooter, but Kubischta will have a carved a dream out of one run down Silverado.

Kubischta's experience of Squaw Valley is not all that uncommon. At first the place can seem massive and impenetrable, made more obscure by a trail map that doesn't do the mountain justice.

When the big storms move in and hover, it's hard to tell where you've been, where you are or where you're going. (When it snows here, it snows with a vengeance: In the April Fools Blizzard of 1958, more than 15 feet of snow fell in 20 days.) Local knowledge, therefore, is worth acquiring. For instance, if you follow the right folks, you discover terrain like Olympic Lady, Enchanted Forest and the upper reaches of Cornice Two, all powder havens that load with snow and rarely get the traffic that can congest the West Face of KT.

Squaw embraces a bundle of terrain, some 4,000 acres, spread over several peaks, with a lift network that is the envy of any resort north of Mammoth Mountain. With all this acreage and so many lifts (34), it's possible to fritter away run after run seeking but not finding. Then you stumble upon the perfect fall line, the sun bursts through, the Sierra powder - much lighter than local lore would have you believe - splashes against your chest with every turn, and you're ready to move here and never leave.

The mountain's unwillingness to readily yield its secrets is part of the reason Squaw feels more like a club for hardcore skiers than an elite destination resort seeking universal appeal. Squaw, like any swanky club, takes a commitment from its guests and a long period of indoctrination for full privileges to be granted. But once you cross the threshold from visitor to club member, it's difficult to go back to ordinary skiing again. The place gets under your skin, which is why on powder days liftlines form for KT-22 before 7 a.m. That's a two-hour commitment from locals - something you don't see at most major resorts.

The on-mountain experience isn't all about steeps and bumps and powder-choked funnels, but that's the type of terrain that gets noticed around here. While the resort grooms plenty of terrain, you won't find the miles of long lilting meadows that the vacationing skier is used to encountering at resorts like Vail, Snowmass or Sun Valley.

And to be fair, the Squaw culture so revels in its rich tradition of the elite and the extreme that any intermediate terrain is nearly an in-house secret. But it's there. From the base, ride Red Dog and Squaw Creek to warm up. Then head to the groomed boulevards and comfy trees of Shirley Lake and the open bowls of Gold Coast. The Shirley Lake six-pack opens this season and should greatly improve the intermediate experience here.

Next, before testing yourself on the wide spectrum of steeps, are the advanced-intermediate lines of Siberia Bowl, which offer bumps on the edges and a groomed thoroughfare down the middle. But because it's the steeper stuff that dominates the terrain, the mountain is at its best on powder days, which tend to be plentiful. (In March 2006, it snowed a foot every day for two weeks, though last season proved to be drier than most.)

The abundance of advanced terrain means that even popular lifts like KT-22 yield untracked lines late in a powder afternoon. "On a storm day, KT-22 is where you want to be, confides Kubischta. "You're basically making laps in the trees. It fills in really deep in Enchanted Forest and in the trees on the side of West Face. Tom's Tumble and Heidi's also fill in really well.

All these runs are easily accesseduman genome. "We take the microbes, pound them up, pull out all the DNA, attach little fluorescent markers to them, and run them through the sequencers, he explains.

[pagebreak]

He'll probably be back working at the DOE this summer, but if Weather We Change reaches a wider audience, the world of microbial genome sequestration might lose a troubleshooter, but Kubischta will have a carved a dream out of one run down Silverado.

Kubischta's experience of Squaw Valley is not all that uncommon. At first the place can seem massive and impenetrable, made more obscure by a trail map that doesn't do the mountain justice.

When the big storms move in and hover, it's hard to tell where you've been, where you are or where you're going. (When it snows here, it snows with a vengeance: In the April Fools Blizzard of 1958, more than 15 feet of snow fell in 20 days.) Local knowledge, therefore, is worth acquiring. For instance, if you follow the right folks, you discover terrain like Olympic Lady, Enchanted Forest and the upper reaches of Cornice Two, all powder havens that load with snow and rarely get the traffic that can congest the West Face of KT.

Squaw embraces a bundle of terrain, some 4,000 acres, spread over several peaks, with a lift network that is the envy of any resort north of Mammoth Mountain. With all this acreage and so many lifts (34), it's possible to fritter away run after run seeking but not finding. Then you stumble upon the perfect fall line, the sun bursts through, the Sierra powder - much lighter than local lore would have you believe - splashes against your chest with every turn, and you're ready to move here and never leave.

The mountain's unwillingness to readily yield its secrets is part of the reason Squaw feels more like a club for hardcore skiers than an elite destination resort seeking universal appeal. Squaw, like any swanky club, takes a commitment from its guests and a long period of indoctrination for full privileges to be granted. But once you cross the threshold from visitor to club member, it's difficult to go back to ordinary skiing again. The place gets under your skin, which is why on powder days liftlines form for KT-22 before 7 a.m. That's a two-hour commitment from locals - something you don't see at most major resorts.

The on-mountain experience isn't all about steeps and bumps and powder-choked funnels, but that's the type of terrain that gets noticed around here. While the resort grooms plenty of terrain, you won't find the miles of long lilting meadows that the vacationing skier is used to encountering at resorts like Vail, Snowmass or Sun Valley.

And to be fair, the Squaw culture so revels in its rich tradition of the elite and the extreme that any intermediate terrain is nearly an in-house secret. But it's there. From the base, ride Red Dog and Squaw Creek to warm up. Then head to the groomed boulevards and comfy trees of Shirley Lake and the open bowls of Gold Coast. The Shirley Lake six-pack opens this season and should greatly improve the intermediate experience here.

Next, before testing yourself on the wide spectrum of steeps, are the advanced-intermediate lines of Siberia Bowl, which offer bumps on the edges and a groomed thoroughfare down the middle. But because it's the steeper stuff that dominates the terrain, the mountain is at its best on powder days, which tend to be plentiful. (In March 2006, it snowed a foot every day for two weeks, though last season proved to be drier than most.)

The abundance of advanced terrain means that even popular lifts like KT-22 yield untracked lines late in a powder afternoon. "On a storm day, KT-22 is where you want to be, confides Kubischta. "You're basically making laps in the trees. It fills in really deep in Enchanted Forest and in the trees on the side of West Face. Tom's Tumble and Heidi's also fill in really well.

All these runs are easily accessed by lift. That's appreciated by skiers in the know. At Alta, Jackson or neighboring Alpine Meadows, you'd have to traverse and hike 10 minutes to get to terrain that approximates what's at hand off KT.

If you don't live in northern California, the gateway to Squaw is Reno, Nevada, where the airport is usually less than an hour from Squaw's doorstep. If it's your first ski visit, you should plan on staying long enough to sample some of the other nearby Sierra resorts, which include notables Alpine Meadows, Sugar Bowl and Northstar on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, and Heavenly Valley and Kirkwood on the south shore.

[pagebreak]

Each certainly has its unique appeal, but the queen of the region remains majestic, inspiring, timeless yet ever-evolving Squaw Valley, where dreams have the audacity to come true.

SIGNPOST: Squaw Valley, California
Vitals: 4,000 skiable acres; 2,850 vertical feet; summit elevation 9,050 feet; 450 annual inches; 170-plus trails; 34 lifts. Tickets: adult $73; children 12 and under $10; youth 13—18 $55; senior 65—75 $45; 76-plus free

Lodging: The PlumpJack Inn is chic and top notch (rooms from $239). For a wide range of prices and locations, contact Squaw's central reservations, 800-403-0206; thevillageatsquaw.com.

Dining: For a sit-down breakfast, head to the Blue Onion Cafe. The Wildflour is the call for bagels and baked goods. Get a quick perk-me-up at the new Starbucks. Grab lunch at High Camp and dodge the crowds at the base. Le Chamois (The Chammey) is a Squaw tradition for après. The Plaza Bar works especially well if you want to watch a ball game. Dinner will not disappoint at The PlumpJack Cafe, which lives up to its San Francisco roots. The new Dubliner Pub always kick-starts an evening out.

Don't Miss: We probably don't have to tell you this, but spend some time on KT-22 enjoying its legendary lines. Stage a reenactment of Sandy Poulsen's famous 22 kick turns 60 years ago that inspired the name. On powder mornings, the liftlines form early. Also, nightskiing is a parental sanity saver. It's included in the price of a day pass, extensive (summit to base) and will keep your older kids worn-out, happy and manageable.

Getting There: Squaw is roughly 200 miles from San Franciso, which is about a four hour drive. The Reno airport is 40 miles from the slopes, about an hour drive, with shuttle service available.

Information: Resort: 530-583-6985, squawvacations.com. Village at Squaw Valley lodging (new base village): 866-818-6963, visitinglaketahoe.com.

ssed by lift. That's appreciated by skiers in the know. At Alta, Jackson or neighboring Alpine Meadows, you'd have to traverse and hike 10 minutes to get to terrain that approximates what's at hand off KT.

If you don't live in northern California, the gateway to Squaw is Reno, Nevada, where the airport is usually less than an hour from Squaw's doorstep. If it's your first ski visit, you should plan on staying long enough to sample some of the other nearby Sierra resorts, which include notables Alpine Meadows, Sugar Bowl and Northstar on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, and Heavenly Valley and Kirkwood on the south shore.

[pagebreak]

Each certainly has its unique appeal, but the queen of the region remains majestic, inspiring, timeless yet ever-evolving Squaw Valley, where dreams have the audacity to come true.

SIGNPOST: Squaw Valley, California
Vitals: 4,000 skiable acres; 2,850 vertical feet; summit elevation 9,050 feet; 450 annual inches; 170-plus trails; 34 lifts. Tickets: adult $73; children 12 and under $10; youth 13—18 $55; senior 65—75 $45; 76-plus free

Lodging: The PlumpJack Innn is chic and top notch (rooms from $239). For a wide range of prices and locations, contact Squaw's central reservations, 800-403-0206; thevillageatsquaw.com.

Dining: For a sit-down breakfast, head to the Blue Onion Cafe. The Wildflour is the call for bagels and baked goods. Get a quick perk-me-up at the new Starbucks. Grab lunch at High Camp and dodge the crowds at the base. Le Chamois (The Chammey) is a Squaw tradition for après. The Plaza Bar works especially well if you want to watch a ball game. Dinner will not disappoint at The PlumpJack Cafe, which lives up to its San Francisco roots. The new Dubliner Pub always kick-starts an evening out.

Don't Miss: We probably don't have to tell you this, but spend some time on KT-22 enjoying its legendary lines. Stage a reenactment of Sandy Poulsen's famous 22 kick turns 60 years ago that inspired the name. On powder mornings, the liftlines form early. Also, nightskiing is a parental sanity saver. It's included in the price of a day pass, extensive (summit to base) and will keep your older kids worn-out, happy and manageable.

Getting There: Squaw is roughly 200 miles from San Franciso, which is about a four hour drive. The Reno airport is 40 miles from the slopes, about an hour drive, with shuttle service available.

Information: Resort: 530-583-6985, squawvacations.com. Village at Squaw Valley lodging (new base village): 866-818-6963, visitinglaketahoe.com.

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