Sugar Bowl Resort, CA: The Way Skiing and Snowboarding Should Be

Ryan Foster | | Featured ArticleFeatured Article
Bluebird powder day at Sugar Bowl
Holiday weekends don’t need to be conflicting

Brought to you by Sugar Bowl Resort

As skiers and snowboarders, is there anything more conflicting than holiday weekends? We love a good reason to celebrate or take an extra day off work, but navigating holiday traffic and crowds can put a damper on any weekend in the mountains to the point where skiing and riding become peripheral to our overall experience.

It’s 10:00 am the Sunday of Martin Luther King, Jr weekend as we pull away from my neighborhood on Donner Lake in Truckee, California. The temperature reads 34°F with just a slight breeze, and there isn’t a cloud in sight. Despite the traffic and crowds typically associated with the holiday weekend in ski towns across the country, especially on such a beautiful day as this, we had decided to let the snow soften up in the morning sun for a while and get a late start to the mountain.

We must be insane, right? Under almost any other circumstances, probably. But today, we’re heading to Sugar Bowl Resort, CA. 

Cliff drop under chair lift
Some treasures are hidden in plain sight.

As we ascend Old 40, I catch a glimpse of Eastbound traffic on I-80 across the canyon. I wonder where they’re all going? My thoughts of brutal traffic and long lines are quickly interrupted as I approach my turn onto Sugar Bowl Road… just 15 minutes after I had walked out the front door. Expecting to be greeted by flocks of skiers and riders parallel parked on the side of the road a mile from the base area, I was pleasantly surprised to see we didn’t need to park that far out at all – in fact, there was still plenty of parking in the main Judah lot. We pulled into a spot with no cars parked on either side so we could set up our camp chairs for some après later that afternoon, booted up, and walked to the nearby Jerome Express chair. Jerome is a popular chair among families; accessing mellow groomers, as well as a few lesser-known tree runs where you can still score fresh turns days after a storm. Today though, we’re just riding Jerome to get over to the other side of the mountain. Despite the lift’s popularity, there’s not much of a line, and we’re quickly on our way.

Skiing groomers with palisades looming in background
Small mountain vibe, big mountain terrain

Our first run takes us to the bottom of Mt. Lincoln, Sugar Bowl’s highest peak at 8,383’. Lincoln is home to some of my favorite steeps, cliffs, and chutes in all of Tahoe, as well as some nice long groomers descending 1,500’ to mid-mountain. We jumped on Mt. Lincoln Express after a wait that was so short, we assumed we lucked out and hit a lull in traffic. But after a relatively uncrowded run, we returned to a line similar in length again and again. Each run was more fun than the last as the snow continued to soften up into some excellent spring-like corn that was a blast to slash around, find side hits, and some more unique features on.

Skier carves unique feature on perfect corduroy
Sugar Bowl’s groomers are masters of their craft.

Sugar Bowl’s grooming team does a fantastic job of complementing the natural undulations of the mountain rather than flattening out its terrain. Henderson’s Bowl is a shining example of this, with a massive bowl, almost a quarterpipe running about the length of a football field down the fall line. The team at Sugar Bowl has a way of taking a relatively mundane run or traverse and turning it into something fun that you want to ride again and again. Some of the most fun turns you’ll get in Tahoe, barring a powder day, can be found right here. And it’s not just Henderson’s Bowl – you’ll find features like this all over the mountain. Later on, we shot over to Disney, where the groomers left us pump track of about a dozen rollers, reminiscent of an old boardercross course to play around on. Further down the run, we found some lofty side hits that put you up and over a couple of saplings or twenty feet downhill onto a groomer below.

Snowboarder carves empty groomers
Go ahead, really lay into that turn.

As the day went on, it struck me as bizarre how short the lines were, how much room I had to lay out my widest carves, and just how many runs we were squeezing in on a holiday weekend. Here we are, on what’s always one of the busiest days of the entire season, with beautiful conditions, and after an effortless commute, we’re hot lapping our favorite runs with wait times maxing out at… get this… five minutes and twenty-two seconds.

In the age of endless traffic jams, parking lots that are full by 8:00 am, and overcrowded megaresorts where you’ll spend more time standing in line than you will skiing or riding, how is this even possible?

We did our homework and found Sugar Bowl limits the number of season passes they sell in a given season, as well as the number of lift tickets they sell on any given day. Limited pass and ticket sales mean less traffic getting to and leaving the resort, ample parking, shorter lift lines, and less crowded slopes. Essentially, the good folks at Sugar Bowl manage the crowds, so you don’t have to. 

Why? Since 1939, Sugar Bowl has prioritized an authentic alpine experience – over market share, stockholder dividends, and faux Swiss villages with waffle stands on every corner. It’s truly a monument to days gone by when ski resorts valued the on-mountain experience above all else – and what an experience it is. Sugar Bowl boasts 103 trails, 1,650 skiable acres across its four peaks, and quite often the most snow in Tahoe with a yearly average of about 500”. It’s no mystery how expansive terrain, more snow, and fewer crowds add up to a fantastic day on the mountain – but Sugar Bowl stands among very few resorts that go to the same lengths to pull it off.

Sugar Bowl is and always has been an entirely independent resort; you won’t find them on any four-lettered mega pass, so they have complete autonomy in striking the right balance between turning a profit and maintaining a tremendous on-mountain experience for their guests. They seem to have that recipe figured out quite well. Despite the limited quantities available, you’ll find that Sugar Bowl lift tickets are still more affordable than many other resorts in the Tahoe area. You can save even more money by buying in advance or by taking advantage of their monthly 96-hour sales.

Suppose you returned from your holiday weekend ski trip to friends, family, and coworkers asking about your time in the mountains. In that case, some of you might have begun with “the traffic was terrible,” “parking was impossible,” “the lines were a mile long,” or “the slopes were so crowded.” Doesn’t it seem like something’s wrong with that? Shouldn’t our initial reaction be one of delight and gratitude for time well-spent?

At one independent resort atop Donner Summit in California, the essence of our sport is still alive and well. For us lucky few skiing and riding at Sugar Bowl, our story begins and ends with the snow, the weather, that one fantastic feature we found, and our favorite run – and that’s the way it should be.

Skiing down a steep groomer
Authentic alpine experience above all else

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4 thoughts on “Sugar Bowl Resort, CA: The Way Skiing and Snowboarding Should Be

  1. Alpine who cares! Biggest skier snobs ever and no way can ski like real deal moguls n steeps at that ‘other’ mountain bwahahahah
    Oh and how many olmpic atheletes has AM ever produced?
    Ski yah later wannabe

  2. Alpine Meadows used to be like this til some stupid real estate investment firm took over…. SMH

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