Riding the Mt. Lincoln Express to Sugar Bowl's summit, you need only look down on your right to see the run that evokes the Tahoe ski area's glory days. A steep, craggy chute, The Silver Belt blasts racers out like a cannon over a giant roller to a precipitous drop. A precursor to the World Cup, The Silver Belt race was where the top European skiers came to vie for the title while San Francisco and Hollywood high-rollers watched—and bet—from behind dark sunglasses. Its latest revival, as a freeskiing competition, testifies to the timeless allure of Sugar Bowl's naturally rugged terrain. Like the race, the resort too has been revived, yet maintains its classic appeal.
Home to Lake Tahoe's first ski lift—a single chair erected in 1939—Sugar Bowl claims a lively past. Financed by Walt Disney (his "Art of Skiing film featured Goofy on skis at Sugar Bowl), the resort claims breathtaking Donner Pass scenery, and thanks to recent upgrades, a new day lodge (Mt. Judah Lodge), high-speed quad (Mt. Lincoln Express) and a 7,000-square-foot Learning Center amp up its otherwise limited amenities. It's not a bastion of nightlife nor a shopping and dining mecca a la neighbors Heavenly and Squaw Valley, but when it comes to terrain (and isn't that why you're here?), everyone comes away happy.Whether you start your day just beneath Donner Summit at the Mt. Judah Lodge, or nestled to the west in gondola-accessed Sugar Bowl Village, the two base areas provide high-speed lift access to the resort's four peaks and 1,500 acres of terrain. From Sugar Bowl Village and the beginner slopes of Nob Hill, the Mt.
Disney Express serves up intermediate and expert groomers. To the east is a smorgasbord of sunny black-diamond bowls, chutes and forested terrain. From the Mt. Judah Lodge, skiers can hop the Mt. Judah Express to the terrain park, the glades and gentle ridges of its namesake mountain, or connect to the resort's core via the Jerome Hill Express. All trails eventually lead to the Mt. Lincoln Express, a high-speed quad that riseslike a tent pole straight up the back of the resort to its 8,383-foot summit. From there, the real fun begins: Crowley's Run descends the ridgeline toward intermediate avenues and powdery north-facing glades. Most of Sugar Bowl's black and double-black terrain lies between Lincoln and Disney peaks, on diving groomers such as Rahlves Run (named for hometown boy Daron) and in bomber bowls like Sugar Bowl—so called because the area's founder, Hannes Schroll, discovered that the snow there stays "like sugar, even into June. That's the one thing you can count on here. An average of 500 inches of the driest snow at any Tahoe resort make this the go-to place for early season. And in record-setting years like last winter, well, bring your snorkel.[NEXT "The Town"]
Overnight visitors board the Magic Carpet Gondola, a vintage affair that skims treetops and train tracks on its way to Sugar Bowl Village, set across a shallow valley from the parking lot on Highway 40. The village consists of the Sugar Bowl Lodge (home to the charming Inn at Sugar Bowl), a small community of private homes and a cluster of buildings for equipment rentals, ski school and childcare. Forget aimless strolling through cutesy shops and think cozy snowbound retreat. Once at the lodge, the 26-room Inn—rustic original on the outside, rustic elegance on the inside—is home base for candlelit gourmet dinners, fireside cocktails and, of course, first tracks. Alternatively, visitors can base their weekends in Truckee, by way of a 10-mile scenic drive that winds down Highway 40 past Donner Lake and into the easygoing town with its variety of lodging, restaurants and entertainment.
Where to Stay
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1,500 skiable acres; 1,500 vertical feet; 500 annual inches; 84 trails, two terrain parks, one superpipe and one kids park; 10 lifts including four high-speed and one gondola. Tickets: adults $59; youth (13—22) $45; kids (6—12) $15; seniors (60—69) $44; under 6 and over 69 ski free.
From Interstate 80, take the Soda Springs exit and follow Highway 40 for three miles to Sugar Bowl (for those staying in the village). For the Mt. Judah base (for those staying in Truckee), continue another half mile on Highway 40.
530-426-9000; sugarbowl.com. Snow phone: 530-426-1111.
Magic Kingdom The first ski lift in Lake Tahoe, the Disney Chair, began cranking in 1939. It was named for Walt Disney, who financed the resort and brought his family here on ski vacations.