Palisades Tahoe Ski Resort in California is often voted one of North America’s best ski resorts. This reputation has been well-earned over decades of dedication to growing a vibrant ski culture. Nestled within two mountains, spanning 6,000 skiable acres accessed by 43 lifts – to date, the most in the United States – Palisades Tahoe offers progressive terrain and winter activities for everyone.
These lands were first inhabited by the Washoe Tribe, who lived in the area surrounding Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The Washoe continue to call this area home, but western migration in the 1800s, brought on by the quest for gold and silver, opened the area to a level of development that changed everything. In 1945, Wayne and Sandy Poulsen bought land from the Southern Pacific Railroad and partnered with Alexander Cushing to develop the mountain for skiing. The partnership later dissolved, but Cushing pushed ahead with creating what was then called Squaw Valley Ski Area. Four years later, the longest double chairlift in the world was traveling up the mountain, and the hill was open for business.
During the next 50 years, Cushing served as chairman of the company, pursuing his vision for the mountain and contributing significantly to the resort’s growth. In 1960, the mountain established an international reputation when it hosted the first Winter Olympic Games in the western United States. By 1968, the largest aerial tramway in the world was installed at the Palisades base area, and almost 20 years later, ahead of most of the industry, the resort opened to the new and radical sport of snowboarding.
Over the following years, building a new village at the base area, The Village at Palisades Tahoe, added additional lodging, food and shopping opportunities. In 2011, the Palisades and Alpine sides of the mountain merged to become Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows offering access to 6,200 acres and over 270 runs. The resort continued to grow in capabilities and reputation, joining the Ikon Pass family in 2018, adding a new high-speed quad chairlift in 2019, and sending athletes to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team and the 2022 Winter Olympics.
In 2020, the resort made the historic decision to remove the derogatory racial slur from its name since it didn’t align with the company’s values and became Palisades Tahoe, named after the bold lines of cliffs on each of the resort’s two mountains. This was no easy task, considering the established signage, paperwork and red tape involved in the process and the area’s history. Still, it was a necessary step to show respect to the Washoe Tribe and to define a new era at Palisades Tahoe. While the resort’s terrain remains the same with its legendary lifts and trails, Palisades Tahoe continues to evolve under the leadership of president and COO Dee Byrne.
The resort today
Thirty chairlifts, including the aerial tram and the only funitel in the U.S., move visitors efficiently and quickly across the resort. On a 10-minute ride soaring above the iconic Tram Face, the aerial tram brings visitors to High Camp, 8,200 feet above sea level. With the completion of the Base to Base Gondola, Palisades Tahoe is now one of the largest resorts in North America and the biggest on the Ikon Pass.
“We’re really like two different ski hills in one,” said Patrick Lacey, the public relations manager at Palisades Tahoe. “Alpine offers world-class skiing, but still has more of that ‘mom-and-pop’ feel, whereas the Palisades side has some of Tahoe’s most legendary runs right under the chairlift. Powder days at Palisades are a serious show.”
For those wanting to develop their abilities, the Palisades Tahoe Ski & Snowboard School offers lessons for every skill level. On the Palisades side, beginners can learn how to ski or snowboard at High Camp while enjoying views of Lake Tahoe.
Lacey says that the resort offers many popular after-skiing activities. For example, the Sunset Happy Hour includes a tram ticket, a complimentary drink voucher with appetizers and a full bar available at the High Camp destination.
“We are hosting the men’s slalom and giant slalom events for the World Cup this February, one of only four U.S. resorts featured on the circuit this season. And we are known as the Spring Skiing Capital with our warm California temperatures, abundant snow and many outdoor activities and celebrations.”
Additional winter activities
Snow tubing sessions for adults and kids run from the Palisades base area, while the popular Disco Tubing event takes place at night on most Saturdays, featuring colorful LED lights, lasers and live DJs. Cross-country skiing and snowshoe trails add to the expansive list of things to do. On select dates, visitors can enjoy a guided snowshoe tour followed by a four-course Bavarian-style dinner at The Chalet at Alpine. Signature events, such as the holiday season’s Merry Days & Holly Nights, are big annual attractions. The Village at Palisades Tahoe also offers gear outfitters, slope-side lodging, coffee shops, wine bars and restaurants.
Making it all work
More than 2,600 employees keep Palisades Tahoe operating efficiently, from tram tech apprentices to talented chefs to snow groomer operators.
“We have all the latest grooming technology, with our machines and equipment kept at different locations,” Lacey said. “Most are deployed on the Palisades side at the top of the funitel, with the rest on the lower end of the Alpine side.
“We also do a lot of snowmaking, especially during the early season when we don’t always have snow, keeping focused on the main runs for visitors to enjoy first. That way we aren’t using a lot of water, as we always try to be more environmentally friendly.”
Lacey says the resort recently added automated fan guns to replace snow guns. “It is essential to have state-of-the-art, remotely-controlled snowmaking systems to ensure a superior snow surface for races and mogul competitions. Plus, the resort is committed to providing reliable, intermediate terrain right out of the base area for all guests.”
With so many different departments at the resort, a wide range of training is required, including snowmobile certifications, maintenance training and lift operations.
Lacey said, “We follow all [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] guidelines, ensure the power lifts are inspected correctly, complete load tests for all lifts and offer intensive courses for ski patrol, including avalanche training and lift evacuation. Training is of paramount importance here all year round.”
What’s the latest?
The Base to Base Gondola, which opened on Dec. 17, 2022, is the first of its kind in North America, connecting the two base areas of Palisades Tahoe as envisioned more than 70 years ago. With four terminals, 96 cabins and eight people per cabin, the gondola is 2.4 miles long and travels from The Village at Palisades Tahoe to The Alpine Lodge in 16 minutes. The gondola can operate as one continuous lift or as two separate lifts from each base area to the top of KT-22, allowing expert skiers and riders to unload at the KT-22 mid-station, KT Mid.
To compensate for the gondola’s mass, there is less distance between lift towers, which means it can withstand stronger winds than the current fixed-grip chair. There were 177 conditions of approval for the Base to Base Gondola project which were implemented to help protect the air, water, sound, wildlife and soil stability of the construction zone and the Truckee River Watershed.
During the 1960 Olympics, Red Dog was one of the few lifts in operation at Palisades Tahoe. In 1989 it was upgraded from a two-seater to a three-person lift, and now, more than 30 years later, it’s being replaced with a high-speed, detachable six-person lift, slated to open this season. The new Red Dog chair will increase uphill capacity by 50 percent. Moreover, the base terminal has been moved to the east side and will give skiers direct access from the parking lot, passing over the Far East Express and terminating in the same place it did previously.
The funitel, a key connection between the lower and upper mountain at Palisades, underwent a $4 million overhaul of the electrical, power and control systems. Expansion and improvements of the Funitel Plaza have also created easier access from The Village to the lifts, addressing stormwater and snowmelt management to make the area easier to traverse.
The Alpine Lodge has also been undergoing improvements, streamlining the traffic flow through the breezeway and expanding the sun deck and snow beach. In addition to the gondola base terminal, there is a new maintenance facility for the resort’s employees. Overall, these changes have improved lodge-to-snow access in the area and will make for better ease of travel. Plans are in the works to invest further in the overall resort experience at Palisades Tahoe while still respecting the environment and bringing positive changes to the community.
It all began 73 years ago with a vision of a world-class ski resort overlooking the beautiful Tahoe Valley. Today, the Palisades Tahoe Ski Resort is fulfilling that dream for generations to come.