It’s difficult to ride a bike around Lake Tahoe, especially when you head north along the Truckee River to Squaw Valley. It’s not the dips or distance along the seven-mile trek that make it a challenge, but the astonishing natural beauty of the Alpine landscape that literally stops you in your tracks about every 50 yards (usually to take a picture) and makes progress achingly slow.
Hang a left on Squaw Valley road and ride to the end to find the Village at Squaw Valley, a vast complex of lodgings, restaurants, cafes, and built in the early 2000s on the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, transforming the once sleepy area into a bustling village of 2,000 people at peak capacity. Usually, this is during winter, for the Olympic-quality skiing across 170 trails, but there’s plenty to keep visitors busy in summer, as well, perhaps even more.
Step through the wooden chalet-style arch into the main village area and enter a world unto itself that does indeed feel like a real town at times, albeit more than a bit fabricated. Knock on the walls of the buildings, however, and they are most definitely solid. Plus, all the town amenities you could want are within—shops for gear, clothing, groceries (Patagonia, North Face, Lather & Fizz), and more than a dozen restaurants, cafes (yes, there’s a Starbucks), and pubs to replenish your belly and spirits after a long day of activity (hit Rocker for cocktails and munchies, Auld Dubliner for beer, and PlumpJack for haute cuisine). If it’s warm enough, take your night cap around one of several outdoor fire pits around the village.
When sleep does finally overtake you, there’s 185 condominiums to choose from, ranging from standard rooms (starting at $79 per night) to three-bedroom suites (starting at $279) and just about everything in between. But the word “standard” doesn’t mean the same here as at regular hotels. Rooms and suites at the Village are not owned by the resort, but by individuals, slightly more than half of whom rent them out (in partnership with the Village) when not using the them themselves. So although each follows more or less a similar chalet design that blends stone, wood, black-top counters, and usually grayish tones in upholstery and carpeting, each owner has added a personal touch, often in the wall art, be it mounted vintage skis and posters, photography (often from the Village’s own Gallery Keoki), or sculptural pieces.
What also sets apart the rooms is the full kitchen with refrigerators included (except standard rooms), which no doubt can save you some money at the restaurants if you stock up on groceries in Tahoe before arriving. But chances are if you can afford to stay at Squaw Valley, you can probably afford the restaurants for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Larger rooms often come with balconies (better than Starbucks for a morning tea, in my opinion), the best of which look out to the mountains and the least to the parking lot. If it’s too cold to sit outside, warm up in front of the gas fireplace inside most rooms, which can also add some romantic ambiance.
But the village at Squaw Valley is not really made for resting, but for activity. In Winter, skiing is the obvious choice, but in summer, start the day with a morning stretch at the Wanderlust Yoga studio followed by a bike ride along the Truckee River, disc golf or real golf on the 18-hole course, a climb up a 25-foot wall, stroll through the Olympic museum, or zipline across the ropes course. But the real highlight of any visit to the Village at Squaw Valley is a trip up the mountain on the aerial tram, which takes about 20 minutes. If fearful of heights, it may be best to close your eyes during the 2,000 foot climb to the high camp, but you’d be missing out on some incredible views (the ride down is a bit scarier).
Nonetheless, the view from the top, at 8,000 feet, is nothing short of stunning, and on clearer days extends to Lake Tahoe and beyond. Better yet, dozens of hiking trails of all levels weave through the landscape for miles, past waterfalls, lakes, granite boulders, and through rugged wilderness. Several treks are guided (if you get Dave “the wave”, consider yourself lucky) and recommended for first-timers, as are a good pair of hiking shoes. Keep in mind the air is thin and can be challenging even for those of decent fitness.
Indeed, no matter how much fun you have down in the Village at Squaw Valley, chances are it’ll be what you do on the mountain that makes a lifetime memory. As good as anything built by man or woman is in the area, it doesn’t hold a candle to what nature provides in this truly majestic landscape. The Village at Squaw Valley merely gets you further into it, with its close proximity, range of activities, and passionate staff. For that alone, it’s worth the stay. If you fill your belly with fun as well, so much the better.
Mike Dunphy stayed as a guest of the Village at Squaw Valley
Lead photo by the Village at Squaw Valley, all others by Mike Dunphy