Change at the top: Andy Wirth retires from Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows | SierraSun.com

Change at the top: Andy Wirth retires from Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows

Justin Scacco jscacco@TruckeeSun.com

Word of Andy Wirth's retirement from atop Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows snapped the ski industry to attention and echoed across Olympic Valley and the Truckee-Tahoe region this week.

Wirth, president and chief operating officer, said he'll soon end his eight-year run after making "the right decision for our family and children."

"It is after careful consideration and reflection that I have made this decision," Wirth said in a statement. "My retirement will allow me to not only spend more time with my family, but focus on some of my passions, including the active support of wounded warriors and environmental causes — advocacy and action.

"I'm prideful in having worked with this tremendous team and take note of our many accomplishments over the past eight years."

Wirth replaced the retiring Nancy Cushing as CEO at Squaw Valley USA in July 2010, after working in various marketing positions for Steamboat Ski and Resort Corps for more than two decades, and serving as chief marketing officer and executive vice president of sales and marketing for parent company Intrawest in July 2007.

HIGHLIGHTS AT THE HELM

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Among the highlights of his years at the helm, Wirth said he takes pride in the "acquisition of Alpine Meadows, the deployment of nearly $100 million in truly transformative capital and advancing the California Express Gondola, a generations-old dream of so many."

"However," Wirth added, "above all and most importantly, I've enjoyed the time spent with our team at these truly remarkable and legendary mountains."

The merger of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows led to plans announced in October to connect two of Lake Tahoe's ski resorts with a 2.46-mile, base-to-base gondola between The Village at Squaw Valley and the base area at Alpine Meadows. "The California Express" gondola is scheduled to open ahead of the 2019-20 winter season, and would take passengers on a 13- to 16-minute ride between the two mountains, realizing a long-held dream of the early skiers who brought the Olympics to the area in 1960.

"With the connection of two of California's most iconic mountains via a gondola offering spectacular views of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding Sierra Nevada, we wanted a name that was fitting and had a clear association with California," Wirth said at the time. "Naming the gondola the 'California Express' was a natural choice — especially since California, more widely known for its beaches than mountains, also offers some of North America's most abundant snowfall, stunning scenery, and world-class ski and snowboard terrain."

Wirth's tenure also saw Squaw Valley named the best North American ski resort in a 2016 poll conducted by USA Today, among 20 downhill resorts nominated by a panel of pro skiers and snowboarders and USA Today readers.

Not all area residents will be sad to see Wirth go, after battles drawn over development plans had the Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows leader in the crosshairs of controversy. Plans to redevelop the Village at Squaw Valley include 850 hotel, condominium-hotel, and fractional ownership residential units, a 90,000-square-foot Mountain Adventure Camp, including a water park, an arcade, a bowling alley, a movie theatre and indoor skydiving.

Environmental group Sierra Watch, which launched a campaign "Keep Squaw True," has pursued legal action against Placer County for its November 2016 approval of the plan. In April 2017, a judge partially sustained Sierra Watch's allegation that the Placer County supervisors violated the Brown Act when it approved an amended development agreement for the redevelopment. Placer County officials said at the time the decision does not affect the project, and that Placer County stands by its actions.

MOVING FORWARD

Alterra Mountain Company, which operates Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, will announce new leadership for the resort in the near future, according to a statement from the company.

Ron Cohen, Alterra deputy general counsel, will serve as interim president and chief operating officer for Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows. Cohen has been working in the ski industry for 16 years, including eight years with Mammoth Mountain.

Wirth said he looks forward to spending time with his daughters and wants to be closer to the family's new home in San Juan Capistrano. He said he'll work with Alterra Mountain Company President and COO David Perry in the search for new leadership and transition.

"Ron is a terrific and talented executive and, along with all of us, is focused on a smooth transition for all of you and the company," Wirth said.

"On behalf of Alterra Mountain Company," Perry said in a statement, "I want to thank Andy for the dedication and commitment he has brought to Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows for the past eight years.

"His energy and innovative approach has helped set up this incredible mountain community for an even more vibrant future. We respect Andy's decision to retire and wish him the very best in his new endeavors."

Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Truckee Sun. Contact him at jscacco@truckeesun.com. Brian Hamilton is editor of the Truckee Sun. Contact him at bhamilton@truckeesun.com.