Sugar Bowl Ski Resort was founded in 1938, making it one of the oldest Lake Tahoe ski areas. It was also the first chairlift-serviced ski resort in Lake Tahoe. Skiing in the Lake Tahoe region of California was made popular by the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, but some resorts were attracting visitors well before Olympic athletes came to stay.
The group of investors who got together money to open Sugar Bowl Ski Area included famous cartoonist Walt Disney. Disney is remembered in the name of one of the resorts three main peaks: Mt. Disney. The name of the Sugar Bowl ski gondola — the Magic Carpet —also invokes scenes from a Disney movie.
Disney and his fellow investors chose a place
close to Donner Pass, a high mountain pass through
the Sierra Nevada. (Today, the area is also home
to another delightful small mountain, Donner
Ski Ranch.) The site of Sugar Bowl Ski Resort
had everything skiers could want: wide open bowls,
lots of snow, and some challenging chutes. As
publicity for the mountain puts it, “We
were the first ones up here, so naturally we picked
the best location.”
In the 1940s and 1950s, Sugar Bowl Ski Area
was the place to be for Hollywood Stars, and even
those who didn’t ski could be seen enjoying
Bloody Marys in the base lodge. As skiing became
a more democratic sport in the 1960s and 1970s,
Sugar Bowl switched its focus to become a family
friendly resort with runs to excite any level
of skier or snowboarder.
Sugar Bowl’s long history is evident as you approach the mountain — it has a different feel to other Lake Tahoe ski areas. Uniquely, you take the gondola down from the main lodge.
There is a great variety of terrain at Sugar Bowl Ski Resort, with over 1,500 ski-able acres and a 1,500 vertical drop serviced by a dozen lifts and a gondola. Experts should head to ridge runs off Mt. Disney or the steep cliff area off the Silver Belt chairlift. Intermediates will find plenty of easier blacks and blue runs on Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Judah. The Crow’s Nest lift on Mt. Disney also has some good intermediate slopes. There is a large beginners area at Mt. Judah and some lovely gentle slopes from the top of the Christmas Tree chairlift.
Snowboarders will find some great natural lips, jumps, and quarter pipes and should enjoy the ample snow. There are also several terrain parks, so this is a good ski resort in Lake Tahoe for boarders too.
Sugar Bowl Ski Area is less of a “destination” resort than many Lake Tahoe ski areas, like Heavenly Mountain or Squaw Valley. It retains a laid-back atmosphere and makes a good break if you are staying at a larger ski resort in Lake Tahoe
Situated near Interstate 80, Sugar Bowl Ski Area is closer to Sacramento and San Francisco than other Lake Tahoe ski areas, so despite its sleepier pace, it can get somewhat crowded on weekends. If you are on a longer ski vacation, it’s best to head here mid-week. The tickets are cheaper (around $40 instead of $60) and the lift lines are quiet.
If you are staying longer and are in need of a lodge at Sugar Bowl Ski Resort, there is some great slopeside accommodation. The Village at Sugar Bowl Ski Area has greatly expanded in recent years too and plans are on for more growth. Sugar Bowl already justifies a day trip from the Bay Area or one of the Lake Tahoe ski areas; increasingly, it’s becoming a major destination itself.