SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Squaw Valley USA, the iconic Lake Tahoe-area resort that has been home to some of the country's top downhill skiers, is joining operations with neighboring Alpine Meadows in a deal to be announced Tuesday.
The merger comes as Tahoe resorts and business leaders are studying a bid for the Winter Olympics, perhaps for the next available Games in 2022. Squaw Valley president and chief executive Andy Wirth is part of that effort but said it's too soon to tell if the merger will help Lake Tahoe's effort.
In the near term, he and other resort officials hope the merger will boost tourism and make the area more attractive to skiers from abroad and other states.
"For many decades, a great number of people in this area have seen the benefits of combining Alpine and Squaw Valley," Wirth said. "This is something that benefits our guests and consumers."
Squaw Valley and Alpine executives told The Associated Press about the operating agreement in advance of Tuesday's formal announcement. The merger is expected to be made final before the start of the coming ski season.
Under the deal, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows will retain their identities but be owned and operated by a new parent company called Squaw Valley Ski Holdings LLC. Squaw Valley owner KSL Capital Partners LLC will become the majority owner of the new company, while JMA Ventures, which owns Alpine Meadows, will have an ownership stake.
Between the two resorts, Wirth said guests will be able to access more than 6,000 skiable acres, providing "more value, more terrain, more variety." The two resorts are between Truckee and Tahoe City on the lake's north shore, about 45 miles west of Reno and 100 miles northeast of Sacramento. They share a common ridgeline but are not connected by ski lifts.
"There's a lot of interest and focus on this region," Wirth said. "We have an outstanding airport down the road at Reno; we have a great airport at Sacramento. And there's so much more we think could be done overall in this region."
Wirth said the resorts will retain their identities and that no plans are under way to connect them because the common ridgeline is owned separately.
"While that vision doesn't escape us, we're really focused on the now," he said.
The merger comes less than a year after Squaw Valley was sold to KSL, a Colorado-based investment firm. Squaw was founded in 1949 by Alex Cushing, a legend in the industry for helping launch the sport in the U.S. after he landed the 1960 Winter Games, the first Olympics to be televised. Alpine Meadows opened the following year.
Squaw is renowned among expert skiers for its steep chutes and long runs, most notably KT-22, which features the kind of runs found on World Cup and Olympic alpine courses around the world. Julia Mancuso, who won two silver medals at the Vancouver Games, and Jonny Moseley, the 1988 Olympic gold medalist in moguls, have trained there.
Olympian Tamara McKinney, who won a World Cup title in 1983, coaches at Squaw. While lesser known, Alpine Meadows has its share of challenging steeps but is regarded as more laid back and has been popular with generations of Northern California skiers.
Squaw has about 4,000 acres of skiable terrain. Combined with Alpine Meadows, the two parks cover more than 6,000 skiable acres across eight mountain peaks, with a top elevation of about 9,000 feet.
By comparison, Heavenly Ski Resort in South Lake Tahoe has 4,800 aces of skiable terrain while Mammoth Mountain in the Eastern Sierra has more than 3,500. Vail Ski Resort in Colorado has a total skiable area of 5,289 acres and Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia claims 8,100 acres.
Squaw Valley also has embarked on a five-year, $50 million capital improvement plan that will upgrade two chairlifts, create a new village restaurant and bar, and add services that include a snowboard and demo rental center, day lodge and family recreation center.
Todd Chapman, president and chief executive of JMA Ventures, said the transaction was a strategic move as the ski industry moves to offer customers more amenities. JMA will continue to independently operate Homewood Mountain Resort on Lake Tahoe's west shore.
Last year, Vail Resorts Inc. acquired Northstar-at-Tahoe Resort, also in North Lake Tahoe, and announced a $30 million life and village upgrade. The Broomfield, Colo.-based ski company also operates Heavenly.
Chapman said the transaction came out of the belief by Squaw and Alpine executives that "there was something better out there that we could deliver for the customer."
California has the second-highest number ski visits of any state, according to the National Ski Areas Association, the trade association for ski area owners and operators. California had 12.2 percent of the nation's ski visits last year while Colorado had 20.4 percent.
Starting Tuesday, skiers and snowboarders will be able to buy season passes for the combined resort starting at $439 for adults. The first season pass will be auctioned on eBay with proceeds benefiting the Humane Society of Truckee Tahoe.