Matthew Renda

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July 15, 2013
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Sugar Bowl to expand into Royal Gorge

One of Nevada County’s largest employers remains bullish in attempting to expand and offer its customers more options in a fiercely competitive market.

Sugar Bowl Ski Resort, the oldest resort in the Sierra Nevada and the closest major resort to western Nevada County, recently participated in the conservation of the Royal Gorge property near Donner Summit and has begun to run one of the world’s foremost cross country ski resorts on a portion of the property.

Nancy Bechtle, president of the Sugar Bowl Corporation since 1998, recently told a gathering at the Royal Gorge dedication that Sugar Bowl’s ability to offer customers the opportunity to pursue a passion for cross county skiing along with downhill terrain allows Sugar Bowl to distinguish itself from the competition.

“During all of these years … it has been a heroic struggle to keep Sugar Bowl in business,” Bechtle said. “Royal Gorge is going to make a huge difference because it makes us so completely other than the ones over the hill.”

The Tahoe ski industry has seen dramatic shifts in powers, as Vail Associates, based in Colorado, purchased Northstar-At-Tahoe in 2010. Vail also owns Heavenly Ski Resort on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe and added Kirkwood Mountain Resort, which is in proximity to Lake Tahoe’s South Shore, to its portfolio in 2012.

Meanwhile, a private equity firm called KSL Capital Partners — based in Denver, Colo., and co-founded by Michael Shannon, a former president of Vail Associates — bought Squaw Valley in 2010.

In 2012, KSL Capital bought neighboring Alpine Meadows with plans to merge both resorts and offer customers access to about 6,000 acres, 43 chair lifts and more than 270 downhill runs.

Vail Associates and KSL have been locked in an escalating arms race since, with each trying to outmaneuver and out-market the other, touting access, lift placement, quality of terrain, annual snowfall measurements, snow making ability, celebrity skier cache and other factors.

Sugar Bowl, which does not boast the same village retail amenities or hotel accommodations as their competitors, can offer a unique experience, Bechtle said.

“There is this battle royale — we call it ‘The Battle of the Giants’ — between Vail and KSL,” Bechtle said. “They don’t really want to hurt us, they don’t want to take our skiers away, but we’re like collateral damage. “They are doing more and more and more for their skiers. But we have now the opportunity to do more and more for our skiers, and that can happen out here on Royal Gorge.”

Cross County terrain is not the only improvement the resort has in the offing; it will also install a new chair lift on the west side of its property that will open up advanced and expert terrain.

“The Crow’s Peak chair lift, a fixed-grip Dopplemayer triple, will provide lift-serviced skiing and riding in the Strawberry Fields area of the mountain, just below the Crow’s Nest Peak,” the resort announced in a recent news release.

The $3 million project is underway with an eye toward completion in time for the upcoming season.

“At nearly 1,000 vertical feet, the new lift will run to the top of Crow’s Nest Peak, with the top terminal located just to the looker’s left of the peak itself,” the release states.

“The terrain enhancements will include two new groomed runs, excellent tree skiing through glades, chutes and cliffs, and also provide a wind-protected area on those inclement weather days.”

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email or call 530-477-4239.

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The Union Updated Dec 8, 2014 08:41PM Published Jul 16, 2013 11:39PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.