Sugar Bowl, CA Report: Still Winter on Donner Summit

Mike Bartholow | | Conditions ReportConditions Report

Vintage Film Footage (1930) of backcountry skiing on Donner Summit, pre-Sugar Bowl | YouTube – Bela Vadasz

Report from March 22, 2021

Brought to you by Sugar Bowl Resort

The Spring Equinox was over the weekend, but it sure felt like winter at Sugar Bowl on Monday. After a weekend of instructor training with an AIARE Level 1 Avalanche Course out of Squaw Valley for Alpenglow Expeditions, I was looking forward to making some turns at Sugar Bowl on Monday. Like Homewood, I hadn’t been to Sugar Bowl in a few years. Thanks to working with SnowBrains and some kind and generous friends helping me out with lift tickets, it’s been cool to reconnect with some of my favorite places in and around Tahoe this winter.

I used to ski Sugar Bowl and the surrounding backcountry quite a bit when I lived in Truckee because it’s easy to get to, has great terrain, and has a cool, mellow vibe. With an NOAA weather forecast of clearing skies on Monday, I’d planned to spend some time skiing the ski area, as well as take a tour out of bounds to refamiliarize myself with the terrain. Unfortunately, poor visibility, flat light, and time constraints meant I just spent the day in bounds and poking around the boundaries. Those factors along with the lack of a ski partner also contributed to poor photographic conditions.

Spring Conditions at Sugar Bowl – March 22, 2021 | Photo: Mike Bartholow

Sugar Bowl had gotten a few inches of new snow overnight, and almost two feet in the week prior. Although things had been skied pretty hard by the weekend crowd, there were still soft turns to be found in the chopped-up-in-bounds tree glades and OB side-country. The groomers were fast and fun, which made for a fun day cruising around checking out a place I’d grown up skiing as a kid, and where I developed as a backcountry skier when I first moved to Truckee in my mid-20’s. Over 25 years later, I still find Sugar Bowl to be one of the coolest places in the area to ski. It’s got everything: reasonably priced lift tickets and season passes, smaller crowds, a family-friendly vibe, good grooming, rowdy terrain, and great backcountry access.

Sherpa Dad Ferrying Loads For Little Rippers | Photo: Mike Bartholow
Little Rippers Hiking Mt Judah Through In-Bounds Gate | Photo: Mike Bartholow

As detailed in a 2019 SnowBrains article, Sugar Bowl has been in operation since 1939. It’s expanded and grown over the years but still maintains a cool old-school feel. They’ve gone out of their way this season to limit the number of skiers on the mountain and to make the ski area feel COVID safe for visitors. This focus on safety is forward-looking, with Sugar Bowl pausing 2021-2022 Season Pass sales earlier this week. Sugar Bowl explained their decision in a social media post, stating:

We’ve reached the limit on the number of 2021/22 season passes that we’re comfortable selling at this early stage and our 2021/22 season pass sale is now on pause.
Our strategy was to offer our existing passholders the first opportunity to renew a pass for next winter. After a two week exclusive period that began February 26, we opened up sales to our 2019/20 passholders on March 12. We were prepared to release passes to the general public starting March 19 if availability remained, but that release is postponed since so many of our current and former passholders have decided to renew.
We have a strong desire to release more 2021/22 season passes. Our hopes and expectations are that we will be able to do so later this year. Whether it happens in the spring, summer or fall depends on the trajectory of the pandemic. Once we get some clarity about next winter’s operations and the restrictions that may or may not be involved, we can proceed with releasing additional passes.
We know you have a choice of where to ski or snowboard and we’re grateful for your interest in Sugar Bowl. We invite you to sign up for an email notification when we release additional season passes for sale []. In the meantime, thank you for your patience and we look forward to when we can host you again. — Sugar Bowl
Donner Lake from Sugar Bowl | Photo: Mike Bartholow

In cooperation with the Tahoe National Forest, Sugar Bowl maintains a system of backcountry access gates that offers a wide variety of touring and turns. The Sugar Bowl to Squaw Valley Traverse and the Donner Lake Run are just a couple of the many options available through the gates. The Lake Run has grown in popularity recently, and access has been threatened by illegal parking in the adjacent neighborhood. The Tahoe Backcountry Alliance and Truckee Donner Land Trust have been working with the Town of Truckee and the Donner Lake Woods Homeowners Association in order to find a permanent parking solution that will accommodate backcountry users and avoid conflicts with neighborhood homeowners.

Backcountry Access Gate at Sugar Bowl to Lake Run | Photo: Mike Bartholow
Lake Run Map | Tahoe Backcountry Alliance

This coming weekend promises to have better visibility and calmer weather for touring the Sugar Bowl backcountry. With clear days and cold nights in the upcoming forecast, Spring corn should be on the plate. Advance purchase of tickets is currently required at Sugar Bowl. Visit for information and to purchase tickets. And if you’re planning to ski outside of the ski area, please check the avalanche forecast from the Sierra Avalanche Center.

Snow Numbers

Sugar Bowl Conditions March 25, 2021


Sugar Bowl NOAA Weather Forecast

Trail Map

Sugar Bowl Trail Map

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