This article, and distribution, was paid for by Visit California and produced in conjunction with POWDER.
Sugar Bowl has been a family-owned ski resort since 1939, when Austrian ski racer Hannes Schroll built the first chairlift in California here. The Disney Lift—named after Walt Disney for his investment in the ski area—was 3,200 feet long with 13 steel towers. It cost a quarter for a ride up, or $2 if you wanted to ski down. Today, the ski resort boasts 12 lifts, 1,650 acres, 1,500 vertical feet, and 500 inches of annual snowfall. But it still retains that old timey, Bavarian ski spirit that Schroll established here almost 80 years ago.
Situated at the top of Donner Summit, on the crest of the Sierra Nevada, Sugar Bowl gets more snow than most of the other ski areas in the Lake Tahoe region because it's the first to get hit by storms coming off of the Pacific Ocean. And even though it's the closest ski area to San Francisco, most people drive right past it on their way to the bigger resorts in the Lake Tahoe Basin. With more snow and less people, well, you can do the math.
Mount Judah is the first chairlift that picks skiers up from the parking lot, but the skiing on this side of the resort is low-angle. For something steep and fun, head to the Lincoln Express, which drops skiers at an elevation of 8,383 feet and a steep ridge line with exposed fingers.
For big Tahoe trees, head to the Crow's Peak Chair. This three-person lift is ideal for afternoon laps on a north-facing gladed slope. It's a zone where you can't help but take another lap, and then another, and then another, until the liftie announces last chair.
The best spot for lunch—the proof is in the crowds of ski team kids who rule the place between noon and 1 p.m.—is the Bavarian-style lodge at the bottom of the Lincoln Express. If it's sunny, grab one of the picnic tables on the deck, or get cozy by the oversized wood-burning fire indoors on storm days. This lodge looks rustic, but the menu is not, serving up seared salmon, elk tenderloin, or vegetarian pasta.
On the other end of the ski resort, the Sierra Vista Bar & Grill is a cafeteria-style joint that dishes up pizza, salads, and soups. Beers are poured from a tap on the deck.
The wind-down scene at Sugar Bowl is mellow, with maybe a beer shared on the Judah Deck before taking ski boots off in the parking lot. But a quick drive back to Truckee and the options grow exponentially. The historic row of businesses in downtown Truckee runs the gamut. The Tourist Club is a beloved local dive. Moody's offers live music, wood-fired pizza, and fine dining. Uncorked has a selection of craft wine from California vintners, while Alibi Ale Works and Fiftyfifty Brewing Co dominate the local craft brew scene.
Unless you have a family cabin at the bottom of Sugar Bowl, stay in Truckee, where there's a lot more going on. The Cedar House Sport Hotel blends modern design with mountain town sensibility.