Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows Renamed “Palisades Tahoe”

Promised renaming retires “squaw,” considered a slur by Native Americans, from masthead at top U.S. ski resort

Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, one of the largest and busiest ski resorts in the United States and a crown jewel of Alterra Mountain Company, the second-largest ski resort company in the country, today changed its name to Palisades Tahoe. Both the former Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows – once separate ski resorts that were combined a decade ago under KSL Capital Partners and then rolled into Alterra in 2017 – will assume the Palisades Tahoe name.

The name change, promised more than a year ago, acknowledges that many Native Americans consider the word “squaw” to be a racist and sexist slur.

“Anyone who spends time at these mountains can feel the passion of our dedicated skiers and riders,” said Ron Cohen, former president and COO of Palisades Tahoe, who moved into the same position at Alterra’s Mammoth Mountain in June. “It’s electric, exciting, reverential, and incredibly motivating. However, no matter how deep, meaningful, and positive these feelings are and no matter how much our guests don’t intend to offend anyone, it is not enough to justify continuing to operate under a name that is deeply offensive to indigenous people across North America.”

The former resort name was perhaps the most prominent modern use of the word “squaw” in America, skiing’s equivalent to the Cleveland Indians or Washington Redskins, two professional sports teams that are also in the process of replacing their names (Cleveland will become the Guardians, while Washington will announce its new name early next year). The update broadcasts a powerful signal to an American mainstream that still largely regards the word “squaw” as an innocuous synonym for a Native American woman.

“We know the founders of our resort had no intention of causing offense in choosing this name for the resort, nor have any of our patrons who have spoken this word over the last seven decades,” said Cohen. “But as our society evolves, we must acknowledge the need for change when we are confronted with harsh realities. Having our name be associated with pain and dehumanization is contrary to our goal of making the outdoors a welcoming space for all people. I feel strongly that we have been given the rare opportunity to effect lasting, positive change; to find a new name that reflects our core values, storied past and respect for all those who have enjoyed this land.”

The new name will also no doubt be polarizing, another hand grenade tossed into an American electorate increasingly primed to distill nearly any issue into stark partisan terms. The resort – host of the 1960 Winter Olympics and the unofficial freeskiing capital of the United States – inspires fierce loyalty and attachment from a broad community of skiers, many of whom are likely to find the change jarring.

Here’s a bit more about how the change came about and what it means for Palisades Tahoe, skiers, and the culture as a whole.

At the top of skiing’s food chain is a mountain too glorious to be believed

Even in Tahoe, the place stands out. Of the dozen or so ski areas towering off the lake, it is the baddest and the burliest, the only one that stands alongside Jackson Hole and Snowbird and Whistler in the Real Toughguy Mountain Rankings. The breathless opening of this 1994 Skiing magazine profile, written by the legendary Kristen Ulmer, distilled the essence of the place:

Nothing is random. You live, die, pay taxes, move to Squaw. It’s the place you see in all the ski flicks, with the groovy attitudes, toasty-warm days, wild lines, and that enormous lake. It’s California! Squallywood! It’s the one place where every born-to-ski skier, at some point or other, wants to move to; where people will crawl a thousand miles over broken glass for the chance to ski freezer burn. The one place to make it as a “professional” skier.

Squaw Valley was also, for a long time, something of a secret of American skiing, a place so creaky and retro that it only bothered naming one run on the trail map. In that same 1994 issue of Skiing, Eric Hanson wrote:

Locals seem proud that there’s so little development here. The faithful will say it’s because everything that matters is up on the mountain itself: bottomless steeps, vast acreage, 33 lifts and no waiting, America’s answer to the wide-open ski circuses of Europe. After all these years the mountain is still uncrowded, except on weekends when people pile in from the San Francisco Bay area in droves. Squaw is unflashy, underbuilt, and seems entirely indifferent to success. The opposite of what you would expect one of America’s premier resorts to be.

Now, it is what you expect it to be: Big, busy, frantic. A powder day at Palisades Tahoe resembles a less-organized version of the running of the bulls. The place, along with Mammoth, Steamboat, and Winter Park, is one of Alterra’s alpha resorts, a global draw that moves thousands of Ikon Passes, both as the mountain’s default season pass and as a tourist draw.

Palisades Tahoe has everything skiers or a ski resort could want: rambling, diverse terrain; 400 inches of average annual snowfall; a modern, efficient lift network; access to capital via a well-financed parent company; easy access via nearby highways and airports. It had exactly one thing working against it: an outmoded name, drawn in and from another era, which no longer suited its image as a welcoming place in a rapidly diversifying nation. The world has changed, and Squaw Valley needed to as well.

“It is inspiring that after seven decades in operation, a company as storied and established as this resort can still reflect and adjust when it is the necessary and right thing to do,” said recently appointed Palisades Tahoe President and COO Dee Byrne. “This name change reflects who we are as a ski resort and community—we have a reputation for being progressive and boundary-breaking when it comes to feats of skiing and snowboarding. We have proven that those values go beyond the snow for us.”

Palisades Tahoe is born

Palisades Tahoe describes an extensive process to generate the new name:

The renaming process began last year with an in-depth research and discovery process that would be the first step in informing the new name. At the outset, the resort team dissected what elements of these neighboring valleys, from the mountains to the people, truly set them apart. They looked at the history of the Washoe Tribe, whose ancestral lands were in Olympic Valley, to extreme ski movies that featured the resort, to the spectrum of feedback on the name-change decision. Next, the team carefully conducted numerous surveys—collecting more than 3,000 responses—and held focus groups in order to consult with a wide range of individuals in the community, including local residents, longtime pass holders, athletes who grew up on these slopes, employees of the resort, and members of the local Washoe tribe.

The central themes that emerged from the discovery process included the unique geography and one-of-a-kind terrain of these mountains, the deep Olympic and ski culture histories across both valleys, the resort’s ability to challenge all levels of skiers and riders, and the incredible strength and loyalty of the community. With the name Palisades Tahoe, the resort honors the past—the arena that put Olympic Valley on the map, inspired countless skiers to push the limits, and created a culture unlike any other—and looks towards a new chapter.

It was, in other words, a thoughtful, deliberate process. No one should expect the full name change to be immediate. While the website URL and social handles (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook) were updated immediately, two chairlifts still carry the word “squaw” in their names. The ski area will need to update building, road, and shop names; logo gear of all kinds; more than 32,000 uniforms; trailmaps; 5,000 pieces of signage plated everywhere from bathroom stalls to trash cans. Byrne could not estimate how much all this change will cost, but guessed that it would take at least three years.

And the resort’s imprint on the valley is huge. Many independent local businesses are named after the resort – Palisades Tahoe said it was assisting those businesses but would not specify how. Nearby Squaw Peak and Squaw Creek are geographical features that will have to be renamed in separate efforts between local tribes and government officials. Squaw Peak, in fact, appears on the resort’s trailmap, and will continue to do so indefinitely, Byrne confirmed.

“We'll move away as soon as the new name is available,” she said. “I don't think that takes away from our decision [to change the resort name], and these things take time. We're going to have to ask for tolerance on that.”

Still, announcing the new name is a powerful symbolic step, one that signals the resort’s intentions and trajectory, a dismissal of a relic that no longer suits the present. The Squaw Valley name stood for 72 years, and that fact will not be erased. While the resort has not articulated how it will grapple with its history, it has promised to do so. Palisades Tahoe is also building a partnership with the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California “to continue to give the tribe a platform to educate the public about their culture and the valleys’ origins…” and exploring programs to make skiing more accessible to tribe members.

YES BUT WOKE CULTURE IS RUINING AMERICA, screamed everyone on the internet at once

None of which is likely to soothe the righteous anger of all-caps Outrage Bro, whose immediate reaction will be some jumble of WOKE SOCIALISM PC LIBERALS ARE ORCHESTRATING A TYRANICAL TAKOVER OF THIS COUNTRY. Because: “squaw” is not offensive and it just means “Native American” woman and why don’t we know that??? Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

But that word does not mean what many of us think it means. Merriam-Webster:

1 offensive : an Indigenous woman of North America

2 dated, disparaging + offensive : WOMAN, WIFE

Dictionary.com:

Older Use: Disparaging and Offensive. a contemptuous term used to refer to a North American Indian woman, especially a wife.

Slang: Disparaging and Offensive.

a contemptuous term used to refer to a wife.

a contemptuous term used to refer to any woman or girl.

I realize that many of us learned something different in grade school. I am one of them. Until last year, I did not know that Native Americans considered this word to be offensive. But the resort, after extensive research and consultation with the local Washoe Tribe, made a good case that the name was an anachronism.

Cohen came on my podcast to further elaborate. The arguments made sense. What I had learned in grade-school was wrong. “Squaw” was not a word that belonged on the masthead of a major ski resort.

The immediate reaction that this is some PC move is flimsy and hardly worth addressing, but OK: this is not a redefining of history to cast a harmless thing as nefarious. Rather, it is an example of a long-ostracized group finding its voice and saying, “Hey, this is what this actually means – can you rethink how you’re using this word?”

If you want to scream into the wind about this, be my guest. The name change is final. The place will still have plenty of skiers. If you don’t want to be one of them, there are plenty of other places to ski, around Tahoe and elsewhere. But what this means for the ski terrain is exactly nothing at all. The resort, flush with capital from Alterra, is only getting bigger and better. Sitting out that evolution for what is a petty protest is anyone’s mistake to make.

“We want to be on the right side of history on this,” said Byrne. “While this may take some getting used to, our name change was an important initiative for our company and community. At the end of the day, ‘squaw’ is a hurtful word, and we are not hurtful people. We have a well-earned reputation as a progressive resort at the forefront of ski culture, and progress cannot happen without change.”

Now let’s all celebrate the fact that it’s not named “Olympic Valley”

Looming over this year-long process has been the drab possibility that the resort would be rebranded as Olympic Valley, as the area surrounding it has long been dubbed. While this would have been an understandable nod to the ski area’s Olympic legacy, it would have somewhat diminished its overall contributions to the skiing zeitgeist. It also would have been a little corny. The Olympics are a brand, as much as Toyota or FedEx or Apple. And while I would have accepted Mountain Dew Mountain or perhaps The Realm of Shane’s Extreme Ski Resort, Olympic Valley would have hit like a Honda Civic at a Corvette convention: bland and more than a little boring. The selection committee considered this name and, according to Byrne, came to much the same conclusion.

“It didn't really speak to the entire community and the different demographics within it,” she said. “I would say specifically the free-skiing movement that we're known for. We determined that it was probably best to move away from it to something that was more expansive, more representative. We picked Palisades Tahoe because we thought it was the best representation of these iconic mountains.”

Palisades Tahoe is a good name. It’s not predictable or dull. It’s evocative both of the shimmering lake to the east and of the rugged Palisades hike-to terrain off the top of the Siberia Express, one of the most hallowed segments of the resort. The inclusion of “Tahoe” in the name also acknowledges the corny regional habit of commandeering the area’s center of gravity for marketing purposes. It wouldn’t work everywhere, but it works in California, and Palisades Tahoe joins Sierra-at-Tahoe and Tahoe Donner in this endearing collective. Now if only Vail would resurrect the Northstar at Tahoe name, we’d really have something special happening.

It’s worth noting that, according to Byrne, the resort also considered simply naming the entire operation Alpine Meadows, or even, as a combination, “Alpine Valley.” They thankfully chose neither (we already have three Alpine Valleys too many).

One megaresort, at last

While the two ski areas had been awkwardly combined under the unwieldy Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows name for a decade, most people still thought of them as the separate and distinct resorts that they had been for decades. There is no sanctioned way to ski between them, and a congested, seven-mile drive connects the two base areas.

Not for long. In April, Alterra announced a $60 million investment in a 2.2-mile, 16-minute base-to-base gondola that will materially combine the 6,000 acres and three dozen-plus lifts into a unified ski circus, the third-largest in North America behind Whistler and Park City – both of which are also combinations of formerly separate side-by-side resorts (Whistler absorbed Blackcomb in 1997, and Vail folded the former Canyons into Park City after buying the latter resort in 2014).

Uniting the resorts under a single name seems like a logical endpoint of the gondola project. It was, however, surprising to see the Alpine Meadows’ name retired so abruptly today, as there had been no indication in any of the resort’s communications that this was under consideration. The base area on the Alpine Meadows side will continue to carry that name, however, while the former Squaw Valley base area will become The Village at Palisades Tahoe.

Byrne did not have an update on the gondola timeline today, noting that while they still hoped to see the lift spinning for the 2021-22 ski season, everything from supply- chain shortages to helicopter availability scrambled by wildfires have slowed the process.

“We're going to keep pushing, and if it doesn't happen this year, it's going to happen next year for sure,” she said.

For now, we’ll settle for having a combined logo, which I really like:

The eagle, the side-by-side mountain silhouettes, the unusual-for-a-ski-resort color scheme - it’s all quite a lovely amalgam. Per the resort:

The Palisades Tahoe name captures and honors two of the resort’s most legendary arenas, one on the Olympic Valley side and one on the Alpine Meadows side, where granite walls rise all around and where generations of freeskiers made their mark. Capturing this spirit of freedom, the new logo aligns the two unique mountains that make up Palisades Tahoe with the outline of a majestic eagle—a nod to the sacred Washoe symbol used to communicate with the heavens, the powerful bird that calls Tahoe home, and to the resort’s freeskiing roots. The bold colors and interwoven design pay homage to these majestic mountains—past, present, and future—and the fierce allegiance and individuality of the Palisades Tahoe community.

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