Sugar Bowl is a medium-sized family resort located near the top of Donner Pass in eastern California. Overshadowed by nearby big-name resorts like Squaw Valley and Northstar, Sugar Bowl is easily overlooked by people planning to visit the area. This very quality paradoxically enables Sugar Bowl to offer snowboarders one of the best on-hill experience in North Lake Tahoe.
The Biggest Small Hill Around
With 1500 acres of in-bounds terrain, Sugar Bowl is much smaller than it's neighbours Squaw Valley (3600 acres) and Northstar (3200 acres), but it rides much bigger.
The hill's 13 lifts serve terrain on three mountains ranging from the super extreme chutes of The Palisades to the cruisy groomers below the Christmas Tree Express, to the multiple terrain parks in the Switching Yard.
The expansive experience of riding across three mountains combined with the small number of people on the mountain at any given time gives one the feeling that they're riding a much bigger ski area.
Others' Loss is Your Gain
Sugar Bowl is farther away from Reno -- where the closest airport is located -- than both Northstar and Squaw Valley. It's also less known, harder to find, and, unless you stay on the mountain in America's "only snowbound village", is also farther from the nearest accommodations and restaurants.
All of these things make Sugar Bowl hard to visit and, paradoxically, help it to offer arguably the best on-hill experience in the area.
For obvious reasons Sugar Bowl is much less crowded than the other ski resorts in the area, but the snow and terrain are just as good, if not better. The result is a hidden gem of a hill with short lift lines, friendly locals, a rich history, and epic terrain.
The marketing manager even confided in us during our visit that he keeps ticket prices intentionally near the top of the normal range in order to keep way the crowds reward those who do drive the extra miles with an unrivalled mountain experience.
if you're the type of person who likes nonexistent lift lines and fresh tracks for days after a storm (and who isn't) it's perfect.
Snow for Days
During our visit to Sugar Bowl we were under the gun to get a good series of photos fast, so rather than exploring, we wanted to find a good run to shoot and spend the day on it. Twelve of the hill's 500 annual inches had fallen two days earlier so we were hoping to find some spots that hadn't been tracked up. We went to the Mt. Lincoln Express. From the chair it looked like little of the fresh snow had been ridden.
We scouted a run just to the left of the chairlift. It was perfect. There were some cliffs and steeps backed by a beautiful frozen waterfall as well as well-spaced glades and a narrow gully -- lots of interesting terrain to shoot on -- and barely anybody had been there. We stayed on that run all day long and never crossed a track that wasn't ours.
A Rich History
Donner Summit was first discovered by the Donner Expedition, but the area didn't become popular with outdoors lovers until 1926 when U.S. Highway 40, which crossed Donner Summit, was opened. The Sierra Club established 2 ski lodges there shortly afterward. Rope tows were installed and and ski schools were established.
The first ski area in the United States, Sun Valley, opened in 1936 and just three years later Mt. Sugar Bowl was founded with the construction of the Disney Chair, the first chairlift in California, which was named for it's benefactor, Walt Disney.
Some of the earliest races in the country were held at the resort, and it was further expanded when the Lincoln I double chair was installed in 1950. The hill was also home to the first gondola in the country, which was built in 1953.