The Best Ski Resorts in North America: 25. Sugar Bowl Resort

Donner, California

Sugar Bowl Resort.     Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Sugar Bowl is really all about skiing and nature. The historic resort scored pretty dismally in the realms of après and off-hill recreation offerings (there’s a spa, sleigh rides around Christmas, a few laid-back bars, and that’s it) but its powder conditions speak for themselves.

Annual snowfall here is 500 inches, and the rate of powder days is 14 percent. Though only 1,500 skiable acres descend 1,500 vertical feet, Sugar Bowl makes the most of its space with its 102 trails and 13 lifts. Runs are geared most toward intermediate-level skiers but for jibbers, five terrain parks do the trick.

Comparatively speaking, this is a reasonably priced place to ski with good value. Case in point: If you’re unsatisfied with the snow conditions, turn your lift ticket in within an hour of buying it to get full admission for another day. And, amazingly, your first ski or board lesson here is free: The price of an all-day lift ticket includes a free two-hour group lesson at any level on most weekdays. To really treat yourself, though, book a private session with boarder-cross Olympian X-Games medalist Jayson Hale.

Equipment rental won’t break the bank, either—a standard one-day gear package during peak season costs $46 (but if you only want the stuff for a half-day, it’s $38). Of the three gear shops on site, one is specifically for kids.

The one hotel here, the Lodge at Sugar Bowl, is ski-in/ski-out, low-key (though it does employ ski valets), and family-oriented. Walt Disney was an early investor in Sugar Bowl, and if this building looks familiar, that’s because it was featured in the 1941 Goofy classic The Art of Skiing.

Rental homes are scattered throughout this scenic area—but if you feel like staying in a fancier hotel, or dining or partying, for that matter, take the free shuttle to Truckee, 10 miles away, whose quaint downtown strip offers a variety of pleasantries.

Sugar Bowl is deeply invested in its environmental responsibilities (this seems to be a theme with the California resorts) and does more than can be listed here to make sure they’re bothering as little as possible. A conservation committee meets monthly to emplace programs that have so far preserved nearby wetlands, limited motorized vehicles in sensitive areas, cut energy consumption 10 percent over the last five years, and made the snowmobile fleet far more efficient. Most notably, Sugar Bowl buys wind energy to offset 100 percent of its electricity use. Now that’s sweet.

CONTACT: (530) 426-9000, sugarbowl.com
SEASON: Late November to late April
TICKETS: General: $77 (50% off for military personnel), children: $25, ages 70 and older: $65, age 4 and younger: free

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