Work A Ski Season at Palisades Tahoe (Squaw Valley / Alpine Meadows)
Discover information on working a ski season at Squaw Valley and browse winter jobs.Squaw Valley / Alpine Meadows USA
Host of the 1960 Olympic Games, Squaw Valley, now named Palisades Tahoe, has retained its status as one of the most well-known resorts in California and, indeed, the US. The resort gained further recognition during the 1980’s when Warren Miller choose Squaw Valley as the place to film a number of his vintage ski films involving the earliest cliff jumps and back country exploits.
Squaw Valley is a ten-minute shuttle from another of California’s best resorts, Alpine Meadows. As an employee, you get free access to both mountains. A free shuttle, the Squaw/Alpine Express, runs between Squaw’s village and Alpine Meadows.
Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows are usually open from November to mid-May each season – one of the longest seasons in the US. With the combination of huge snow, sunny days, massive terrain and lively nightlife around Lake Tahoe, Squaw / Alpine can lay strong claim, along with Mammoth Mountain, to being among the best Californian resorts at which to work a season.
Location and Getting There
Squaw and Alpine are located near Lake Tahoe, in northern California. Tahoe City, by Lake Tahoe, is a ten-minute drive away as is the picturesque town of Truckee. The closest major town is Reno, a 45 minute drive down the mountain into Nevada.
Reno has an airport servicing flights from all over the country. Alternatively, Squaw Valley / Alpine Meadows are a three and a half hour drive from San Francisco international airport.
Unfortunately, transport around Lake Tahoe is not well coordinated with a number of different buses servicing different parts of the lake.
If you are arriving at Reno airport, you are able to take the North Lake Tahoe Express which is a shuttle service from the airport. A one-person, one-way ticket to Olympic Valley is $45.
If you are coming from San Francisco, you could take the Amtrak Bus to the town of Truckee, from where you can catch the Tahoe Area Rapid Transit (TART) bus. You could also take the bus to Reno, and then switch the the North Lake Tahoe Express. The Greyhound Bus also goes from San Francisco to Truckee or Reno.
Getting to Work and Around the Area
The TART bus is the public transportation service that operates along the North Shore of Lake Tahoe, including Olympic Valley, Tahoe City and Truckee. All Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows employees receive a free bus pass for the season.
Employees with vehicles can also drive to the resort and park in designated employee parking. Staff living in Olympic Valley (Squaw Village) are able to do without a car and can walk to work which is handy.
Mountain and Town Vibe
Olympic Valley is at the base of the Squaw Valley and is a proper resort village with shops, bars and accommodation. Alpine Meadows has only one large base lodge at the hill and a hotel.
Squaw Valley is a lively mountain that is home to some of the world’s best skiers and snowboarders. Riding up the chair you can often catch a glimpse of some of the best riders chewing up the chutes and cliffs.
Squaw and Alpine staff generally come from the east coast of the United States, South America, Australia and New Zealand, while a significant number of Squaw and Alpine staff are permanent residents of the North Lake Tahoe area.
There is generally a good vibe among staff although it’s not as tight as a small mountain resorts given its size.
Terrain at Squaw and Alpine
Between the two resorts, Squaw and Alpine offer the most skiable acres of all the Tahoe resorts with access to 6,000 skiable acres, 42 lifts and over 270 trails.
Squaw is set over six peaks, has a large vertical drop of 2854 ft (870 meters) and steeps, trees and bowls that have made the mountain legendary – making it the home to some of the best current-day riders. Squaw is definitely a beacon for extreme riders with its wide selection of kick-ass expert terrain and gnarly cliffs.
At the top, the bowls are tree-less, which allows for open-bowl free-riding and space to charge while there are some great technical chutes, particularly near Squaw Peak and Siberia Bowl.
Nonetheless, if you come to work a season as a new rider, there is plenty of beginner and intermediate terrain to allow you to work up to the steep stuff. The Aerial Tram takes riders up 2,000 feet to the High Camp where you find an expansive beginner area with incredible views over Lake Tahoe, a mountaintop hot tub (in the spring), dining and a historic Olympic Museum.
There are a number of good glade runs down lower and a number of good wide-open cruisers. In total, there are 29 lifts and 3,600 acres of skiable terrain. There is also night skiing at Squaw so you can get runs in even if you’ve worked at day shift.
However, the crowds at Squaw Valley can get huge and you will often find yourself having to dodge other riders and wait in long lift lines, especially on busy days and powder days.
- Base Elevation: 6,200’
- Peak Elevation: 9,050’
- Vertical rise: 2,850’ / 869 m
- Average Annual Snowfall: 450 inches (11.1 m)
- Runs: 25% Beginner 45% Intermediate 30% Advanced
- Skiable Acres: 3,600
- Trails: 170+
- Bowls: 16
- Longest Run: Mountain Run, 3.2 miles or 5.15 km
- 29 Lifts (1 Aerial Tram, 1 Funitel, 4 express 6-pacs, 3 express quads, 1 Fixed-Grip Quad, 9 Triple Chairs, 5 Double Chairs, 3 Surface Lifts, 2 Carpets.
Alpine has a more solitary feel and lower profile than Squaw with fewer amenities, but a very relaxed and friendly vibe to go with the adventurous terrain. The vertical is smaller than at Squaw and, while the front side has a few beginner runs down lower, Squaw probably has more on offer for beginners.
The upper front side and back bowls of Alpine Meadows have some beautiful expert terrain particularly on the South Face on the back side and around the Alpine Bowl Chair. The 2,400 acres includes seven bowls, summit-to-base groomed slopes, cornices, chutes and glades – all serviced by 13 lifts. In addition, there is some good back country access.
The crowds are generally smaller than at Squaw if you need to find a bit of solitude.
- Base Elevation: 6,835’
- Peak Elevation: 8,637’
- Vertical rise: 1,802′
- Average Snowfall: 450 inches
- Runs: 25% Beginner, 40% Intermediate, 35% Advanced
- Skiable Acres: 2.400
- Trails: 100+
- Bowls: 7
- 13 Lifts: (1 express 6 person, 2 express quads, 3 triple chairs, 5 double chairs, 2 surface lifts)
Snowfall and Weather
It dumps down in Squaw and Alpine with around 450 inches of powder falling annually (11.4 meters). This is due to the location of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
Being relatively near the coast, the Sierra Nevadas receive the brunt of the storms that move off the Pacific Ocean. As the storm reaches the mountain range, which rises so sharply, the moisture rapidly cools to drop as powder.
The snow here is not as dry or fluffy as in the Rockies. However, big storms can produce bigger snowfalls than in the Rockies. For example, in 2014, the Squaw got more than three feet of snow in a single February day. The biggest snowfall month is usually December, followed by March, which means some good late season riding.
Additionally, Squaw and Alpine get over 300 days of sunshine a year meaning many a powder-bluebird day. Temperatures are generally much milder than resorts in the Rockies and in Canada, with the coldest month of January hovering around 36f (0c) during the day and 16f (-9c) overnight.
Between the two mountains, nearly all levels of skiers and riders can test their chops in the terrain park with six parks of varying difficulty.
Alpine Meadows provides a nice beginner to intermediate terrain park experience with small to medium sized features.
Squaw Valley has some of the country’s most recognized terrain parks. Squaw’s parks are often ranking in the top 10 in the country by various magazines while the Superpipe is always highly rated too.
How to Get a Job at Squaw or Alpine?
You are able to apply late-summer through fall. All winter jobs are posted online at www.squaw.com/employment. If offered an interview, these can be conducted remotely over the phone.
You are also able to attend the Job Fair at Squaw Valley in early November at the Olympic Village Lodge.
Minimum wage in California is $10 an hour. Most seasonal jobs pay around $10 an hour though some jobs may get a bit more than based on experience that such as instructing. See Jobs Available at Mountain Resorts for a description of ski resort jobs.
For an explanation of the working visas to the US, see Work a Season in the USA.
Squaw / Alpine is one of a minority of resorts in the US that hires H2B applicants to fill up the extra spots. Each season they may look to fill ski and snowboard instructors and lift operations. Instructors must be certified level 1 or level and willing to work in the Children’s Ski and Snowboard Schools. Lift operations must have at least 3 months experience in lift operations or equivalent.
For J-1 applicants, Squaw / Alpine hires a limited number of students through the CCUSA job fairs in South America only.
Working as an Instructor
Squaw / Alpine offers an instructing program where you can apply for an instructing job without already having your certificate. No prior teaching experience is needed, and you just need to be an intermediate skier wiling to work with kids and commit to at least 21 working days including holidays and weekend.
You won’t get a PSIA or AASI certificate out of it, but you are supported during the season if you want to go for that certificate.
Free Tahoe Super Pass (season pass) to Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, Sierra at Tahoe and Sugarbowl. Dependents of employees also receive free Tahoe Super Pass. Free ski and snowboard rentals for all team members (Monday-Thursday). Free group ski and snowboard lessons. Free bus pass to get to and from work. Ride breaks during the lunch hour depending on the hours you work.
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Finding Accommodation for the Winter Season
Squaw and Alpine do not offer staff accommodation. Staff live in a number of towns surrounding the two ski resorts. The T.A.R.T. bus service operates along the North Shore of Lake Tahoe, including Olympic Valley, Tahoe City and Truckee. All staff get a free bus pass.
The North Shore of Lake Tahoe is about 10-15 minutes from Squaw and Alpine and is one of the best places to live if working at Squaw or Alpine. Many employees live on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe, which comprises several towns nestled in the Tahoe woods around Lake Tahoe.
The North Shore includes Tahoe City (7.7 miles), Dollar Point (10.8 miles), Kings Beach (17 miles), Carnelian Bay (11.9 miles), Tahoe Vista (15.6 miles) and Incline Village (22.4 miles). Kings Beach is the biggest of these with the most going on at night.
Homewood (13.6 miles also a ski resort) and Tahoma (7.7 miles) are down the road on the west side of the lake and are a little quieter.
Also about 15 minutes from the resorts but down the mountain, Truckee is a small, historic town that offers a lively, local atmosphere along a single main street with ample seasonal housing. It is a little cheaper and a little away from the tourists at Tahoe and has a decent nightlife, though not as big as the North Shore of Lake Tahoe.
For those looking to walk to work, housing in Olympic Valley is just a stone’s throw from Aerial Tram and chairlifts at Squaw Valley. It is a little more expensive to rent and to buy groceries but that is traded off for convenience of getting to work. It is also quieter than North Lake Tahoe with only a few bars.
Expect to pay around $400-500 (up to $800) per month per room depending on location and housing type. Remember that you’ll need to pay utilities on top of that as well as sort out your own internet. Landlords in the area are quite strict on keeping properties clean and in good order before giving you back your security deposit at the end of the season and seasonal workers in the past have lost their security deposit.
To look for a place try
- Tahoe Real Estate Group
- Agate Bay Realty Lake Tahoe
If you’ve just arrived in town and need to look for a place to stay, Hostel Tahoe in Kings Beach is an option. Another option is the Tahoe City Inn, located in Tahoe City.
Nightlife and Bars
Squaw’s open air village has a few bars which have après-ski options after a hard day on the hill or at work. Les Chamois is the perfect way to cap off a day of work with a Budweiser and some of the best pizza in The Valley.
Ask for a “shifter” at The Cornice Cantina and receive your first PBR for only $1. High Camp also has the Ice Bar for those wanting a beer up high. Other bars at the base include Rocker@Squaw, The Auld Dubliner and KT Base Bar.
However, the nightlife is much bigger around North Lake Tahoe and staff often take a short drive or bus ride to North Lake Tahoe or Truckee to check out other bars and bands.
North Lake Tahoe has a lively nightlife consisting of numerous restaurants, live music, and low-key to energetic bars and drinking establishments. Kings Beach and Tahoe City are the area’s largest nightlife spots.
Reno is a 45 minute drive away and is the second largest metropolis in Nevada after Las Vegas. There are a ton of bars, clubs and gambling spots. However, you won’t get the ski community vibe in Reno.
There are also staff parties throughout the season.
Events During the Season
Squaw and Alpine have a jam-packed calendar of events throughout the winter season for locals in the community to enjoy. Some of the bigger festivals for seasonal workers to look forward to include:
- Pain McShlonkey
- Squaw Valley Prom
- Spring Music Series at Alpine Meadows
- WonderGrass Tahoe – a bluegrass music festival