Like other Tahoe resorts, Sugar Bowl is reveling in fresh snow aftermath from a storm. But this is no ordinary start to the ski season. This year marks the 75th anniversary for the ski resort that made in-roads into the business of getting skiers up mountains. To celebrate anniversary week, a storm delivered two feet of snow in the resort’s upper elevations. That snow is what Sugar Bowl is all about.
“Sugar Bowl has, for the past 75 years, strived to provide all of our guests an authentic alpine adventure,” says CEO Rob Kautz. “We are for families who are about serious skiing and riding; we are not about shopping and villages.”
Sugar Bowl has always been about the snow. The ski resort launched skiing in mid-December 1939 with a chairlift—the first in chairlift in California. The single-seat lift with a 6.5-minute ride ran up to the summit of Mt. Disney, which acquired its name from Walt Disney who invested in the resort’s startup. That connection led to Sugar Bowl attracting Hollywood stars in its early years.
Anderl Molterer demonstrates jumping in the early decades at Sugar Bowl.
Copyright: Sugar Bowl Resort
To get to Sugar Bowl, visitors rode the “Snowball Special” trains from Oakland to the Norden snowsheds and then boarded sleds or grabbed knotted ropes to be pulled by tractors up the 1.25 miles to the resort. Lift tickets were priced at $2. With the exception of a three-year closure during World War II, the resort has operated continuously since its inception.
Sugar Bowl gained its second recognition in 1953 when it built the first gondola on the West Coast to replace the slow tractor pull to the village. With the gondola in place, visitors parked on Old Highway 40 to ride to the village. Since it’s original installation, the gondola has been reconstructed twice.
Today, the resort has 13 lifts, which include five high-speed quads and the gondola. Skiers and riders can explore 104 named runs spread across 1,650 acres on four peaks. The longest run—Crowley’s—descends three miles from Mt. Lincoln. The resort also accesses extensive backcountry terrain. In 2012, Sugar Bowl took over operation of Royal Gorge, the biggest cross-country ski resort in the nation.
“We are very proud that we have been true to our roots and that we are providing skiing and riding to the fifth generation of Sugar Bowl skiers,” adds Kautz.
An early-day ski racer at Sugar Bowl.
Copyright: Sugar Bowl Resort
The resort’s first winter of operation also inaugurated the Silver Belt ski race, which attracted notable European and American racers as a forerunner to World Cup competitions that started in 1966. The course took a giant slalom plunge from the 8,383-foot summit of Mt. Lincoln through the steep cliffs, chutes and bumps of Silver Belt Gully. The competition drew big names of ski racing until its last run in 1970, with the record for the most wins is held by a woman—Sun Valley racer Jannette Burr, who won it three times.
In 2004, the resort revived the race with a few changes. It retitled the race as the Silver Belt Banzai, changed the format from a GS to a ski- and snowboard-cross, and partnered with Kirkwood and Alpine Meadows for a multi-stage event. This year, the Rahlves’ Banzai Tour race has its finale March 14 and 15 at Sugar Bowl.
While Dec. 15 was Sugar Bowl’s actual anniversary, the resort plans to extend the 75th celebrations. Among the events, on Feb. 14, a 75th anniversary celebration will take place at Judah Lodge with live music, swag and drink specials.
Shane Reide launches off a powder pillow at Sugar Bowl.
Copyright: Sky Emerson
As an anniversary present this past week, Sugar Bowl benefitted from a strong mid-December wet storm. Two feet of snow fell in the upper elevations, allowing the resort to knock open more lifts and terrain. The resort annually averages around 500 inches of snow due to its location above Donner Summit on the Sierra Crest. More snow is expected this week.
“Historically, we have a deep snowpack by Christmas,” says Kautz. “The past three seasons certainly have not been our typical winters; it’s great to get back to our ‘normal’ winter, especially for our 75th year.”