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  • Writer's pictureMichael Kennedy

The Dark Side of Paradise

Updated: Jul 16, 2022

Base-to-Base Gondola at Palisades Tahoe

The $65 million base-to-base gondola connecting two Lake Tahoe, CA ski resorts, Palisades Tahoe and Alpine Meadows, is expected to be completed by next year, for the 2022-23 ski season. When connected, Alterra Mountain Company, (the company which owns Palisades Tahoe), said Palisades Tahoe will become the third largest ski area in North America.

The gondola will carry up to 1,400 skiers per hour in eight-passenger cabins. The ride will take around 16-minutes from base-to-base, traveling nearly 2,000 vertical feet (609 meters) over the ridge separating the ski areas. And according to Alterra, the gondola is expected to eliminate about 100 vehicle trips per day on California Highway 89, the access road between the two resorts.

The Problem

The 2.2-mile-long (3.5-kilometer-long) gondola path between the two ski resorts travels near the edge of federally protected wilderness on national forest land above Lake Tahoe. This led to legal battles between conservationists and Alterra, which were settled over two years ago in exchange for neighboring land purchases and other wildlife protection measures.

What About the Trees?

In all the hoopla and excitement to connect the two ski resorts it’s easy to overlook the one thing that makes Olympic Valley beautiful and peaceful: the trees. And to carve a 2.2-mile-long path, means the felling of a lot of those magnificent trees.

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way,” wrote William Blake. Hermann Hesse saw them as the wisest of teachers, “the most penetrating of preachers.”

Pine Trees in Olympic Valley can live 400 to 500 years and grow from 80 to 160 feet tall, with trunk diameters reaching 4 to 6 feet. Red firs can grow up to 230 feet tall.

According to Alterra, “at least 75 percent of the trees being taken down are categorized as diseased or unhealthy, and the project will improve forest health in that area.”

Nevertheless, if you live in the area, as I do, and you like running and hiking on the dirt paths winding around the mountains, it’s not easy looking at the remains of these dignified trees in the path for progress. Hundreds of trunks, sawn apart, still wet with sap, scar the mountain near Red Dog like rubble from ancient columns.

These trees represent hundreds of years of surviving the harsh elements, only to be felled in a few minutes by a saw.

These are the same trees that spread beauty, peace, and a certain kind of magic in Olympic Valley. But these trees don’t have much of a say in the matter.

While they might not be able to defend themselves or have much say regarding their fate in Olympic Valley, the depth of what trees say is more than metaphorical. According to German forester Peter Wohlleben, in his book The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, trees speak a sophisticated silent language, communicating complex information via smell, taste, and electrical impulses. We can only imagine what the trees standing near this path would say if they could talk.

(All photos taken in Olympic Valley, CA on June 11th, 2022, on or near Red Dog.)

“Forgiveness Is the Fragrance the Violet Sheds on the Heel That Has Crushed It.”

~ Mark Twain

What You Can Do

You can keep an eye on things, speak up and make a ruckus if something doesn’t look - or smell - right. Or you can search the web, and plant a tree. How? The Carbon Almanac, a book of facts about climate change, teamed up with Ecosia, the search engine that plants trees, to make your online searches more powerful. Visit to install a simple extension that plants a tree every time you do web searches. It’s free. Just as fast and even easier than Google, but it makes a difference, every day. More than 154,000,000 trees planted as of July 2022.

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