OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. — A longtime representative and former employee at Squaw Valley is speaking out against the process the mountain’s owners are taking to develop the famed Olympic ski resort.
“You can just tell when your intuition tells you that something just doesn’t sit right,” said Robb Gaffney, an avid skier and author of “Squallywood: A Guide to Squaw Valley’s Most Exposed Lines.” “I think when you allow yourself to trust that intuition, it gives you a lot of clarity, seeing the situation or the system for what it is.”
In recent years, Gaffney said he’s noticed “red flags” associated with the efforts by KSL Capital Partners and Squaw Valley Ski Holdings to expand the Village at Squaw Valley with more lodging and amenities.
“To me this is not an issue of pro-development or anti-development,” Gaffney said. “This is really an issue of a group process and the community process, and it doesn’t pass the sniff test for me.”
Gaffney’s comments come about a week after he announced through social media that he was resigning as a skiing ambassador of Squaw Valley.
When asked to comment on this story, Squaw’s communications team sent the following statement from Dee Byrne, managing director of Snowsports Schools and Teams for Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows:
“Contrary to his letter, Mr. Gaffney actually did not serve as an ambassador to Squaw Valley this year, though he was employed as a part-time, seasonal ski instructor, hired to exclusively assist with our specialty camps. Though he has represented the resort in the past, we have not considered Mr. Gaffney as one of our ambassadors since last fall when it became clear he did not share our vision for the best possible future for this valley and our community. We wish Mr. Gaffney the best in his future.”
‘A REALLY BIG RIFT’
In a recent opinion column in the Sierra Sun, several Olympic and regional athletes — including Squaw Valley’s Julia Mancuso and Travis Ganong — came out in favor of a scaled-back version of the project, which reduced the proposed bedrooms from 2,184 to 1,493, lodging units from 1,093 to 750 and the overall footprint from 101.5 acres to 94 acres.
“... Now we have a viable, logical and thoughtful redevelopment plan for the base of the ski area,” the column stated. “... We feel the leadership of the mountain is focused on the improvement of the mountain and that now, the redevelopment plans are very much in keeping with the soul and spirit of Squaw Valley.”
But not everyone agrees. Recently submitted resident and organization concerns to Placer County include potential noise impacts during and after construction, available water supply, increased traffic into the valley and on nearby roads, and impacts to mountain views, among others.
That polarization among community members is a red flag for Gaffney.
“Right now I think there’s a really big rift ... At this point it’s a battle.
“You’ve got a private equity company (KSL) who has come in here to make a profit, and you’ve got a community who has recreated here for decades because they love the place,” Gaffney continued. “Two completely different points of view, and to merge those is a difficult thing. Both parties believe they’re right.”
As the process moves forward, Gaffney said he would like to see the various parties work together.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Alice Calhoun, manager of Alice’s Mountain Market, located in the Village at Squaw Valley.
“It’s very important that both sides listen and hear,” she said. “... This isn’t just against KSL — KSL is getting the opinions from the public, but the public needs to also be open to the needs of the industry of the ski business.”
Gaffney added that while he understands the need for development, he doesn’t want the community’s soul to be lost in the process.
“Personally, I would love to have experienced this valley at its pristine condition 100 years ago, but at this time in its history, I realize realistically, development is needed,” he said.
Gaffney also said he supports the grassroots effort from residents to incorporate Olympic Valley into a California town.
“I believe when the decisions are being made by shareholders within a huge company that’s not here, or Placer County, which is down the hill, that you lose power,” he said. “You lose power in your own community, and your community becomes something you are not.”
Yet, the idea spearheaded by the group Incorporate Olympic Valley has faced serious questioning in recent weeks.
In an April 7 letter to Placer County’s Local Agency Formation Commission, Andy Wirth, president and CEO of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, urged the agency to carefully review the proposal.
Concerns include economic viability of the proposed town, future impacts to the valley and Truckee/Tahoe region, and if such an effort is representative of the community. His letter also proposes an idea of alternate town boundaries that exclude Squaw Valley.
“There’s been a really strong campaign by Squaw Valley Ski Holdings against the incorporation effort, and so for me, it’s one of those red flags when you see the developer actually fighting the community,” Gaffney said.
In an interview last week, Wirth said his letter represents a voice beyond just Squaw Valley.
“The voice is not ours — the voice is on behalf of the community,” he said.
For these reasons, Gaffney no longer felt comfortable representing Squaw Valley and said he resigned as an ambassador on April 7, ending a nearly 20-year relationship.
“It allows me to speak without having to cross-check my own words,” he said. “It allows me to represent the larger Tahoe, North Tahoe community.”
Many residents are praising his decision.
“My respect for Robb is that he was a brave man to take a stand, and he’s standing behind his words and his actions,” Calhoun said. “He is to be respected for it.”
Similar words of support and respect have been posted on Gaffney’s Facebook page after he revealed his reasoning for resigning on April 10.
“It means a lot and it feels good, but what I think it indicates is that what I’m feeling, what I’m seeing, everybody’s feeling and everybody’s seeing,” Gaffney said. “They know it just doesn’t quite sit well with them either.”
“There’s been a really strong campaign by Squaw Valley Ski Holdings against the incorporation effort, and so for me, it’s one of those red flags when you see the developer actually fighting the community.”