Squaw Valley
Top CA ski resort turns into summer playground

California is blessed with several top-notch ski resorts and, so often, we just don't think about them once we get past ski season. But for those who love alpine scenery and the fragrance of a summertime forest, ski areas are even more appealing in warm weather.

A case in point is Squaw Valley, a former Olympics ski venue known for heavy snows throughout the winter months and seemingly endless terrain to challenge every kind of skier or boarder. But in summer, those same mountainsides turn into lush green meadows and colorful flower fields where scenic trails take vacationers just about as far away from everyday city life as they'll ever get.

It's almost a shock to the senses to visit Squaw Valley in the dead of winter and then return on a glorious summer day. The buildings look about the same but everything else has changed. What, in winter, is covered in a blanket of deep snow has now emerged to offer a vibrant mountain panorama that is painting-perfect.

The cross-country ski area at the Resort at Squaw Creek, in summer, is transformed into a world-class golf course. No ice skating rink this time of year - just swimming pools and hot tubs to rival the best resort on the Mexican Riviera. And behind it all, the scenic splendor of the mountain that Squaw Valley skiers have come to know and love.

For our summer visit, we chose the Resort at Squaw Creek, a high-end but reasonably priced resort hotel wit 405 completely updated guest rooms.

TDhis place has a luxury condo feel with amenities like large flat screen televisions and fireplaces are included along with fully furnished modern kitchens with granite counter-tops. Our condo was stylishly decorated in brown and beige tones with everything in it brand-new. And, like many of the units at the resort, ours included a stunning view of the mountains that are part of the Squaw Valley ski area.

That view provided all the temptation we needed to leave the condo and head for the pool and other recreation facilities that are part of the resort, and part of the Squaw Valley summer program. With its mountain location, the Resort at Squaw Creek offers a wide array of recreational activities ranging from biking to horseback riding to fly-fishing to whitewater rafting. Swimming, tennis, golf - even a luxury spa -- are all available right at the resort. Special note to parents: the resort's water slide will be a sure hit with your kids.

The Squaw Valley ski area is just a five-minute free shuttle ride from the resort and we took some time to explore the many resort-style shops in the area, all decidedly less busy in summer than they were during a visit just a few months earlier. Several restaurants are available, all with that trendy ski resort feel and prices to match.

During summer, Squaw Valley operates its famous cable car, which will take you to the High Camp area and the jumping off point for hikers who want to explore many of the area's trails. Visitors can hike on their own or take part in one of the many guided hikes offered by the ski area. You can even bring your dog if you're on a day trip to the area - it will cost you $20 to ride the cable car, but there is no charge for Fido.

The trails from High Camp (elevation 8200 feet) are varied. For example, you can take the High Camp Loop, which is a one-mile gentle slope that, in winter, is used as the area�s beginner ski and snowboard slopes. Great views of Lake Tahoe are the reward for a one-mile hike from High Camp to the top of Gold Coast Chairlift. A little more difficult hike would be the trail from High Camp to Emigrant Chairlift, about a 1.5-mile trip with a 500-foot elevation gain. At trail's end, though, it will all be worth it: a 360-degree view of the Lake Tahoe area and you'll also see the historic Watson Monument.

Surprisingly, there's a lot of civilization up at High Camp. The High Camp Bath and Tennis Club offers three different restaurants to enjoy a meal on the mountain while enjoying the spectacular views. The Olympic Museum at High Camp offers a look at memorabilia from the 1960 Winter Olympics and, if you've brought your swimming suit, you can even indulge yourself in a swimming lagoon that features lap lanes, waterfalls and a 25-foot diameter spa heated to 102 degrees.

Keep in mind that Squaw Valley is just minutes from Lake Tahoe, where another set of recreational opportunities are just waiting. Many resort guests spend time down on the lake boating or just enjoying California's most scenic lake resort area. The drive around the lake will make you want to stop often to take pictures.

On this particular trip we were content to spend our time in Squaw Valley. One trip to Squaw in summer and it becomes very obvious you don't need skis or a snowboard to get a lot out of this scenic recreation area.

AT A GLANCE

WHERE: Squaw Valley is just northwest of Lake Tahoe, close to Tahoe City and Truckee. It's easily accessible via Interstate 80 and California Highway 89.

WHAT: A historic, yet modern ski resort that pulls out all the stops in the summer to welcome hikers and other outdoors people who enjoy the trails and views of the valley.

WHEN: The summer season at Squaw runs from mid-June into September.

WHY: Squaw Valley represents one of California's best and largest ski areas and was home to the 1960 Winter Olympics. In summer, the resort is an excellent access point to the Sierra Nevada wilderness.

HOW: For more information on the Resort at Squaw Creek, please go to www.squawcreek.com or phone 1-800-327-3353. Rooms start at $149 and, during summer, the resort offers special packages events, including Summer Magical Memories in July and August.

Photos: View from Resort at Squaw Creek, resort's location at the edge of the tree line, view of Lake Tahoe, family biking in the Village at Squaw Valley USA.

Photo credits: Cary Ordway, Sandi Ordway

(Editor's note: CaliforniaWeekend.com is California's leading source of information on getaway travel in the Golden State. Visit the site often to find the latest getaway specials, a comprehensive list of resorts and lodgings and to use the Getaway Machine travel calculator to match up your needs and preferences with exactly the right lodgings and location.)

OTHER DESTINATIONS: If you're looking for other California vacation ideas, be sure to check out other California Weekend articles on June Lake, Idyllwild, Julian and Kernville.

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