We all dream of that epic powder day, when the stars line up and everything comes together perfectly. When there is an abundance of snow and a lack of crowds, when our pass isn’t blacked out and our equipment is dialed. For some the dream is having a full season pass and a job that allows and enables the dream to transpire. For others, such as Troy Caldwell, living the dream means building your own ski lift.
Caldwell has been living the dream for some time. In 1974 Caldwell appeared in his first ski movie called ‘Children of the Morning.’ Back-scratchers and Mobius-flips were the hot tricks then. This was before the movie ‘Hot Dog’ inspired people to move to Tahoe to ski. Before snowboarding, before shaped skis, before jibs, when a ‘360’ was still a helicopter. Caldwell was boosting triple jump lines in competition, taken care of by his film crew that toured with him and sponsored by K2, Salomon and his neighbor Alpine Meadows. He was living the dream and eventually began to dream about other things.
In 1990, he purchased 460 acres nestled in between Alpine and Squaw, in 2005 he installed lift towers thus establishing the beginnings of his own ski resort, White Wolf.
The name comes from a rare meeting. One day during construction of the towers, Caldwell heard howling. The howling continued and eventually he investigated. It seems the white wolf had been chasing something and in the heat of the chase had become stuck on one of the many cliffs on the property. Caldwell plucked the wolf from its predicament and it sleeked off into the mist, but only after lingering and observing his human savior from the edge of the fog. The image was striking, leaving an indelible impression on Caldwell.
The expert terrain at White Wolf makes some established resorts look like parking lots. With precipices galore, it would not be hard to get cliffed-out, like its namesake. In case you are unfamiliar with the location, Five Lakes trail leads to the top of White Wolf from Alpine Meadows road. During summertime approximately 40,000 hikers visit annually, making it the second most used trail in Northern California. While the lift at White Wolf is currently only permitted to cater to a select group of avalanche-safety certified (25 skiers per day) and the cable and chairs aren’t even up yet, White Wolf is already a legend. Caldwell built a lift in his backyard, a new realm of expert skiing may be opening up, and it will be the first exclusive ski resort in Tahoe. Not only that, it could link two of Tahoe’s best resorts – Squaw and Alpine.
When Caldwell purchased the property, from Southern Pacific Railroad, he also inherited a rental agreement with Squaw Valley USA; today his property still includes the top of KT-22. Plus Caldwell maintains a good relationship with Alpine Meadows.
‘It’s physically possible,’ says Caldwell of connection. He is excited at the possibility, but in his journey to build White Wolf, he has faced animosity from many. Alpine Meadows and the Bear Creek Neighborhood Association both showed animosity to the existence of White Wolf. He currently is fighting a breech of contract lawsuit filed by Squaw. More and more though, people are accepting White wolf, if not being excited about it.
‘It’s like David and Goliath, it’s an uphill battle to just be a part of the ski industry,’ Caldwell says. ‘It was like everybody was taking a shot at the little guy on the block and then they realized that I was here to stay.’
The recent purchase of Alpine by the owners of Homewood, JMA Ventures, is also stirring up rumors of further tantalizing resort connections. Whispers can be heard of North Tahoe expanding into a European-like resort, with interconnected terrain and mind-boggling acreage, from Homewood’s Quail face to Squaw’s Granite Peak. But for now, there are complications and intertwining institutional objectives that may or may not lead to a 10,000-plus acre ultra-resort in the future.
All the excitement of possible dreams should not cloud the fact that Caldwell put a lift in his backyard to follow his dream, simply to ski. Living the dream in Tahoe is an uphill battle at times, but it can be so rewarding on the way down.
‘We can share, I just want to ski,’ he says.