New Study Indicates All Squaw-Alpine Gondola Alternatives Impact Granite Chief Wilderness Visitors

Last summer, a team of researchers from Presidio Graduate School struck out on a mission to determine if social media website data could be used to map visitation and use patterns in and around Granite Chief Wilderness. Some of these websites and phone applications allow users to share their location (logged as “geotags”) to improve the utility of phone applications like Facebook, Yelp, Instagram, and Snapchat. The researchers theorized that they could take these publicly available “tags” and use mapping software to provide a new way to analyze visitation and use. For their experiment, the researchers from Presidio Graduate School drew on information from Flickr, a photography website, and Strava, a hiking and bicycling application.

Strava allows its users to create “segments” from a starting point and ending point on a map. Once named, other users can attempt the segments at their own leisure. Each attempt on a segment is logged. Researchers accessed all available “running” segments and associated attempts within the boundary area for Granite Chief Wilderness for Strava. This method excluded ski routes and bike routes, which allows the influence of ski data to be separated from areas of interest like the Western States Trail.

These researchers found that the Northern and Western parts of Granite Chief are the most utilized areas of the wilderness. From their overview, it is clear that Squaw Valley and the Western States Trail are important with respect to event participants entering Granite Chief. The map below (Figure 1) illustrates that the Five Lakes Trail, the Western States Trail, and the Granite Chief Trail are the most popular gateways to the GCW for non-PCT and non-event hikers.

Figure 1: Zoomed extent of Strava segments in Granite Chief Wilderness after removing PCT and Event Segments. Source: Coast Range Consulting, 2017

In the Draft Environmental Impact Statement produced by the US Forest Service and Placer County, multiple alternative routes for the Squaw-Alpine Gondola were proposed. As seen in the map below (Figure 2), Alternative 2 still cuts through the legislatively designated wilderness area for Granite Chief. Squaw-Alpine Gondola Alternatives 3 and 4 narrowly avoid the legislatively designated wilderness but continue to border the boundary line of Granite Chief Wilderness.

Screen Shot 2018-05-21 at 11.32.47 AM
Figure 2: Gondola Alignments Associated with Each Alternative. Source: Squaw Valley|Alpine Meadows Base-to-Base Gondola Project Draft EIS/EIR.

By overlaying the USFS and Placer County Alternative routes for the Squaw-Alpine Gondola on top of the visitation and use map produced by the researchers at Presidio Graduate School (Figure 3), we can clearly see that every alternative will cause unavoidable harm to the Granite Chief Wilderness visitor experience.

Overlay of Alternatives
Figure 3:  Squaw-Alpine Gondola Alternatives overlayed on Coast Range Consulting Visitation and Use Study of Granite Chief Wilderness. Sources: USFS, Placer County, Coast Range Consulting. Edited by Granite Chief Wilderness Protection League. 

It’s time to stop a bad idea. We already knew this would have a negative impact on the experience in our wilderness area, but now we have documented quantifiable proof.

Send your comments on the Draft EIS/EIS before 5:00pm on June 11, 2018 to the following:

By email to

By fax to 530-745-3080

By USPS to:

Community Development Resource Agency

Environmental Coordination Services

3091 County Center Drive

Auburn, CA  95631



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