Sweetening Sugar Bowl

| December 2, 2013 | 0 Comments

Sugar Bowl’s updated resort map shows off the new Crow’s Peak chairlift, which will allow skiers and riders to access terrain previously only available via hiking.

Written by Sylas Wright

The last time Sugar Bowl Resort unveiled a new chairlift—December  2009—skiers and snowboarders enjoyed consecutive years of copious snow that went down in Sierra Nevada lore.

If only it could happen all over again.

The historic Donner Summit resort fulfilled its end of the bargain over the summer. Sugar Bowl added its second chairlift in the past four years, opening up some 150 new acres of quality, wind-protected terrain down Crow’s Nest Peak’s fall line.

Time will tell if Mother Nature follows through on the deal after two subpar snow years that left Tahoe skiers thirsting for powder.

“There are a lot of pinecones in the trees this fall. I think that’s a good sign for a big winter,” says an optimistic Daron Rahlves, one of the fastest downhill skiers in U.S. history and Sugar Bowl’s longtime ski ambassador.

The Crow’s Peak chairlift is a fixed-grip Doppelmayr triple accessing the far western reaches of the resort, above the double-diamond Crow’s Face and Strawberry Fields. Sugar Bowl’s fourth lift-serviced peak, the area was formerly reached by way of a short boot pack from Crow’s Traverse. It drew mostly powder hounds sniffing out fresh tracks. They were rewarded with some of the best turns the mountain has to offer, down steep, playful terrain protected by thick stands of mountain hemlock, much of which remained untouched days after a storm.

Problem was, those turns were limited to the upper portion of the mountain. Returning to the closest chair, Disney Express, required a hard cut right. And even then, after ditching the tantalizing stashes below, a long traverse followed.

“One good thing is it will allow you to ski a lot farther down—more vertical,” says Rahlves, who’s explored every nook and cranny of the resort, including summer hikes to scout out the best Crow’s Nest lines. “The top part is the most inverted with the best pitch, but you always end up turning out early so you don’t have to walk out.”

At nearly 1,000 vertical feet, the chair’s top terminal is located slightly looker’s left of Crow’s Nest Peak. The bottom terminal almost connects the mountain with the nation’s largest Nordic operation, Royal Gorge Cross Country Resort, which Sugar Bowl purchased in 2012.

“While this doesn’t bridge the gap between downhill and cross-country, it does physically bring the two resorts a little bit closer together. The bottom terminal will actually be right above one of the cross-country trails in the Van Norden Meadows,” says John Monson, Sugar Bowl’s director of sales and marketing.

The resort opted for a fixed-grip triple instead of a high-speed detachable quad because the quad terminals require more space, and the narrow top of Crow’s Nest Peak did not accommodate it, Monson says. He notes that fixed-grip chairlifts are also heavier than high-speed quads, which will allow the resort to run the new lift in windy conditions. Combined with the natural wind-protected aspect of the area, it “should be able to run on some pretty nasty days,” he says.

Once atop Crow’s Nest Peak, options abound—trees, cliff lines or the smooth comfort of corduroy—as Sugar Bowl received the go-ahead from the U.S. Forest Service to log two new groomed runs from top to bottom. “The lift line is going to be a fun run itself,” Rahlves says. “That’ll be the first thing hit by the guys who want to find little cliff drops and be seen.”

While the resort has not locked down an operations plan, Monson expects the speedy chair—which runs at a maximum of 520 feet per minute, on par with a high-speed quad, he says—to run in close alignment with Disney.

“I think it’s going to ease up the traffic on Disney and Lincoln,” says Rahlves. “Disney is usually open earlier, and everyone hits that hard and then waits for Lincoln to open up. I think this will spread those people out. So there will just be more fresh tracks to be had.”

Not everyone is happy with the addition. As was the case when the Summit Chair was installed, which allowed lift access to the backside of Mount Judah and the Donner Lake Run, the resort has caught a small amount of flak from some of its patrons.

Rahlves has heard the selective grumbles. He says they overlook one key factor: Hike-to terrain will remain, just farther west.

“There are some people who would rather work for it and keep the riffraff out of there,” Rahlves says. “But there’s so much accessible backcountry terrain at Sugar Bowl, off the resort. It’s cool. It might make it easier to open up another zone, like off the west or south side—the backside—of Crow’s Nest, depending on where they set the gates. The best part about Sugar Bowl is the open-boundary access. It’s the best backcountry terrain accessible by a ski resort around Tahoe.”

Sugar Bowl, which expands to 1,650 acres with the addition of the Crow’s Peak chair, finds itself in a competitive market dominated by a couple of giants in the ski resort industry—Vail Resorts (Northstar California, Heavenly, Kirkwood) and KSL Capital Partners (Squaw Valley USA, Alpine Meadows).

It’s part of the reason the resort has shelled out millions in improvements in recent years, including $12 million on a new campus for its Sugar Bowl Academy and $3 million on the new Crow’s Peak chairlift. Sugar Bowl also is building a full-service fitness and aquatic center for $4.5 million, among other improvements.

“Like any business, in order to remain competitive, you have to be constantly improving your product. With the major operators now dominant at Tahoe, it is imperative that we provide a compelling experience,” says Sugar Bowl CEO Rob Kautz. “We are excited and positive about the improvements we have made in the past couple of years… a lot of compelling improvements for any sized resort.”


Category: Outdoors, Winter

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