For people living on Lake Tahoe’s western slopes, the possibility of a private, residential ski development has been around for several decades. Now, that idea might become a reality as the White Wolf Tahoe proposal, located between Alpine Meadows and Palisades Tahoe (formerly the Squaw Valley Resort), begins to move through the Placer County approval process.
The idea for White Wolf Tahoe began in 1989 when Troy and Sue Caldwell purchased five acres of undeveloped land along Alpine Meadows Road. Just a few years later, they bought another 455 acres.
“We originally wanted to create a kind of European feel, where you ski from village to village,” said Troy Caldwell. “But the neighborhood wanted to keep it a little less commercial, so we ended up going with a high-end residential community plan.”
According to the Notice of Preparation (NOP) released by Placer County in November of 2019, the proposal includes the construction of 38 single-family home lots, two ski lifts, new roads, and parking lots. The skiing would only be accessible to the people living at the development.
The project would be approximately 275 acres in size and would be located near undeveloped areas in Tahoe National Forest and the Granite Chief Wilderness. Five Lakes Trail, one of the most popular hiking trails in the Tahoe Basin, would cross through the site to the north and west.
While an Environmental Impact Review (EIR) has not yet been released, possible environmental impacts of the development listed in the NOP most notably included runoff of urban pollutants and sediments into Bear Creek, a tributary of the Truckee River; removal of trees; and disruption of habitat for several plant and animal species.
In a 2018 biological assessment of species in the area, it was found that the endangered Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog may use the drainages and wetlands near and on the Caldwell Property as a migration route between the Five Lakes area and Bear Creek Valley. Additionally, the rufous hummingbird – a bird of conservation concern – was observed in the area.
The assessment found that the possible impacts of the White Wolf development on these species and others were habitat loss and degradation, disturbance, and mortality. The assessment, which included an impact summary of several development proposals in the area, noted that “each project is unlikely to affect all wildlife and aquatic species considered, but would at least affect potential habitat for one or more species.”
Despite this, the White Wolf property considers itself to be a sustainable development, its design reflecting a “carefully constructed blueprint for the future by using eco-conscious materials and sustainable methods of operation,” according to the White Wolf Tahoe website. Central to this future-focused design is the construction of concrete fireproof homes.
“We realized we needed to take on that responsibility, living in a fire-prone area surrounded by trees,” said Caldwell. The goal of the fireproof design would be to allow people to shelter-in-place in the event of a fire.
People like Sierra Watch executive director Tom Mooers are less certain about the feasibility of this goal. “We haven’t seen any good evidence that shelter-in-place is actually a viable strategy for public safety,” said Mooers. “What it really looks like is an admission that there’s no way out.”
When the Caldor Fire threatened South Lake Tahoe in August of 2021, evacuation efforts led to hours-long logjams on the few roads that lead out of the Tahoe Basin. These perilous conditions have made people viscerally aware of the risk of adding more traffic to the roads, but Caldwell doesn’t believe the White Wolf development will add enough cars to be a risk.
“I don’t think our particular project will induce a large traffic flow with 38 homes. And most of these would be second homes, so they wouldn’t be generating a lot of traffic on the heaviest days when tourism is in full flow,” said Caldwell.
The full traffic impact will be laid out in the EIR, which Caldwell said will be released in the coming months. Once it’s out, multiple drafts of it will be circulated for public comment, after which a hearing will be held before the Planning Commission for them to make recommendations to the Placer County Board of Supervisors. The Board makes the final decision to approve or reject the proposal.
This decision won’t happen for at least six months, but community members against the proposal feel that it’s important to start paying attention now.
“The proposal is just too big in its current form,” said Daniel Heagerty, a longtime activist in the Sierra Nevada region. “If Troy [Caldwell] just scaled back the project, then this could be possible.”
The differing community opinions will remain a relevant part of the approval process, where public comments will be taken into consideration by the Planning Commission. To stay updated on the process and learn when a comment period opens up, visit the Placer County White Wolf Subdivision page here.
Claire Carlson writes about the environment for the Ally. Support her work.