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Do roller coaster-like rides belong on Sierra slopes?

The Alpine Coaster at Park City Mountain Resort in Utah winds through more than a mile of loops, curves and hairpin turns at speeds of up to 30 mph. Park City Mountain Resort
The Alpine Coaster at Park City Mountain Resort in Utah winds through more than a mile of loops, curves and hairpin turns at speeds of up to 30 mph. Park City Mountain Resort Park City Mountain Resort

A Lake Tahoe ski resort’s proposal to construct a year-round mountain ride has rankled an environmental group that says the area doesn’t need more “man-made” attractions.

The gravity-powered ride – dubbed the “Timberline Twister” – would “round out” the range of activities available to summer and winter guests, Squaw Valley officials said in a release issued Wednesday.

“Our guests have told us loud and clear that they want more activity options when they come to visit,” said Andy Wirth, president and CEO of Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows.

The environmental group Sierra Watch plans to fight the proposal. The Nevada City organization has also filed a legal challenge to Squaw Valley’s $1 billion expansion plan.

“KSL is hellbent on turning a Tahoe ski mountain into an urban amusement park,” Tom Mooers, the group’s executive director, said in a phone interview. “This is an issue of location, location, location.”

He said the influx of active and indoor recreation is a threat to the region’s values.

“Tahoe is a place where we share a respect for the great outdoors,” Mooers said.

While Mooers calls the ride a “roller coaster,” Squaw’s parent company avoids that word, instead describing its proposed attraction as a gravity-powered bobsled-like ride in its approval application.

After mounting individual carts or “sleds” on metal tracks, riders would be pulled to the high point of the track by a cable system. Once the cable is released, riders would glide down a number of turns, dips and rolls while controlling their speed (up to 25 mph) with a hand-break.

The ride would be situated within a stand of trees between the lower Far East and lower Red Dog chairlifts. The top of the track would be at 6,645 feet with a 440-foot drop to 6,205 feet.

It would not be the first such attraction in the region. In 2016, Heavenly Mountain Resort opened a similar coaster ride on Lake Tahoe’s south shore. Snow damage left it out of commission in 2017. There are 24 similar rides in operation at ski resorts across the U.S., said Liesl Hepburn, a spokeswoman for Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows.

Squaw Valley’s planned expansion – approved by Placer County in 2016 – would add up to 850 residential units with a new hotel, retail space, restaurants and bars. It would also have a “Mountain Adventure Center,” an indoor and outdoor recreation facility.

The Denver-based owners were able to sway county officials in part by including funds for utility upgrades, land for a fire station and a transit center, and $2.5 million for a regional planning effort.

Mooers said the group’s challenge to the environmental review process may be heard in March.

The Timberline ride proposal would proceed through the approval process independently of the larger development, Hepburn said. The ride would require the approval from several agencies, including Placer County. No opening or groundbreaking date has been set. Squaw proposed building a mountain coaster in 2012, but scrapped that plan citing “business considerations.”

Hepburn said Lake Tahoe is dependent on tourism and Squaw – and other resorts – need to adjust to the changing market with more amenities. She said the ride is not a destination attraction that would bring additional visitors to the resort, but would help Squaw Valley retain visitors longer – which is good for the entire community.

Plus, she added: “At the end of the day, these things are fun.”

Ed Fletcher: 916-321-1269, @NewsFletch

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