Sugar Bowl: A sweet road trip |

Sugar Bowl: A sweet road trip

Ryan Slabaugh
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Ryan Slabaugh/Sierra Sun

TRUCKEE, Calif. – There is no, “Sugar Bowl, California,” but there should be. Located on top of Donner Pass outside of Truckee and a few hundred yards from Interstate 80, the ski area stands alone but isn’t on the map. Those who do know the area can tell you about the home of Daron Rahlves, who can be scene skiing the Alaska-like spines just out of bounds on a good day, and the fact that the resort was started and originally operated by Walt Disney in 1938.

But it’s not as harmless as it sounds. Disney found steep terrain, tons of drops and chutes, and spectacular access to Donner Lake Memorial Park – why do I feel like I shouldn’t be telling all of you this? – and the base area reminds of you of what skiing was 30 years ago. The lifts are a bit slow, the terrain is not as neatly groomed as Colorado, but it’s where I’ve had my deepest days skiing in my life – and one of the best crashes of my life – so for that, I will always be a fan.

Just this week, the same storm that painted our town white also dumped more than two feet of snow on top of Sugar Bowl. When I saw this week’s post from Rahlves, where he pushes his pole down to the grip and then says, “It’s going to be deep. You just have to know where to go,” I had instant flashbacks to those days showing up at Sugar Bowl, when you could barely drive into the parking lot there was so much snow, and getting to the lifts was an exercise in itself.

One Christmas day a few years ago, I found myself having to work in the newsroom. I took the chance to come in late, and so to prepare for the day at my desk, I got to Sugar Bowl early and was on the first chair. In fact, I think I had beaten a few of the lifties to their stations, as they looked a little haggard and more than annoyed when they looked at me, sans an eggnog hangover, ready to go up.

When I got to the top, the temperature was close to zero, but the silence and stillness were plentiful. I had packed a small breakfast into my backpack, and when I got to the top of the Disney lift, I found a steep, glazed trail that ran close to 1,200 vertical feet. A 3-foot cornice at the top was fairly easy to manage, and once I snuck under it, I found a strange sight – a cave.

I stuck my head in, and to my delight, found evidence of civilization. A small wooden bench had been installed, and for a moment, I thought I might just move in. Unfolding my backpack, I pulled out my burrito and small jug of coffee and had a picnic. Out the cave door, I could see the Sierra Nevada stretching far into the distance.

It ended up being a perfect spot to celebrate Christmas alone. I figured, if I’m going to be without company, I might as well be on top of the world.

Oh yeah, and one side note. If you’re going and driving in from Reno airport, take Old Highway 40 all the way to Sugar Bowl from Truckee, and avoid the interstate. If it’s open, it is one of the best drives out there, and you can stop at the small market on the way for a cup of coffee and a donut.

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