Elevation: 8,383 feet
Vertical Drop: 1,500 feet
Snowfall: 465 inches (at 7,000 feet)
Getting There: Sugar Bowl is 180 miles from San Francisco. Take I-80 east to Norden, then follow Highway 40 east to the base village. Info: 530-426-9000, sugarbowl.com
Beta: Just 'cause you're heading to Tahoe doesn't mean you have to wear a beanie and join the freeskiing rat pack. Sugar Bowl is a hype-free zone. And it has the goods: The granite chutes of the Palisades bisect the Bowl like a row of shark fins, and the resort recently cleared diseased trees in the runouts, so after tight hop-turns up high, you can open 'er up and let 'er rip. One peak over, Mount Disney has wide powder fields and access to out-of-bounds runs that blend seamlessly back into the resort. And while Sugar Bowl's runs are short compared to those at Alpine Meadows and Squaw, perched as they are on Donner Summit, clouds dump their loads here first. Which means you'll be getting fresh turns while the film stars and wannabes down the road are still polishing the Red Bull stickers on their helmets.
Lap buttery smooth, sparsely treed Nancy's Couloir till it's tracked, then traverse to the right above the Disney lift and hike to the highest point before hitting Strawberry Fields, a secluded doublefall line slope.
3 Days Later
Follow the boot pack above Judah lift for 15 minutes before dropping back into the resort through Judah Bowl, arcing GS turns down the wide-open portions and tightening them up through the chutes. To skip the hike and still find fresh, drop into East Face.
Hucksters love the feathery landings off Mount Judah and Mount Lincoln.
Marquee route: As soon as patrol opens the Palisades, drop the steep and narrow Middle Palisade. There's room for turns at the top, but you'll probably have to straight run the choke. Off-Broadway: More technical than the Middle Palisade and hidden farther down the ridge is 23-Foot Gully (named for a huge '70s slide). Carve down one of the steep, narrow spines and air a few feet into the apron below. Or keep your skis on the ground by poking through the trees for an open chute.[pagebreak]
The 2,480-foot descent to Donner Lake is classic. Grab a partner and your avy gear before veering north off the Lincoln traverse and hitting the knolls and a steep couloir. Wrapping around the east face of Donner Peak, descend the northeast face to the lake. Current avy info: fs.fed.us/r5/tahoe.
"A lot of snow blows into the Palisades, so the conditions are pretty predictable for an area that steep," explains pro skier and Sugar Bowl local, Eric DesLauriers. "But when it's not skiable, it's really not skiable."
Averaging 300 days of sunshine per year, the Bowl is darn nice even in January. But to maximize both sun and snow, plan on skiing more in March and April when a big base has piled up.
The American Freeski Tour on February 14 and 15, featuring Tanner Hall and other new schoolers in the pipe.
Suck down a Sierra Nevada while surrounded by large black-and-white photos of racer legends at the Belt Room in the Village Base.
The best on-mountain meals are in the Dining Room at the base: blackened prime rib sandwich for lunch; cavitappi pasta for dinner.
Up All Night
In Truckee, Moody's Bistro & Lounge has live jazz and serves tasty mojitos. For an all-nighter in Crystal Bay, catch the Lake Tahoe Brewing Company's Keep Tahoe Deep bash on the last Saturday of each month.
For the best value, try the Inn at Truckee for hot tubs and Fido-friendly rooms ($90$133; innattruckee.com). For the besst location, try The Inn at Sugar Bowl, 10 steps from the mountain ($130$450; 530-426-9000).
The red mirrored lens of the Smith Fuse Regulator ($85; smithsports.com) blocks out the blazing California sun without compromise.