How sweet is it? A beginner’s take on Sugar Bowl Ski Resort |

How sweet is it? A beginner’s take on Sugar Bowl Ski Resort

It’s got four peaks streaked with expert runs bearing names like “Avalanche,” “Hari-Kari Gully,” and “Shin-Splinter Spin Cycle.”

OK, so I made that last one up. But the point is, Sugar Bowl Ski Resort has built a reputation in the Sierra as a playground for the powder gods, the skiers who say things like, “I only wore both skis on that last run because the lift guy made me.”

But what about the rest of us? While our more-advanced friends head off for the double-diamond runs in the Sugar Bowl stratosphere, can we of limited balance still get our money’s worth out of the $56 lift ticket?

The answer, in short, is “sure.” This popular Donner-area resort gives beginners plenty to keep them busy for a full day of skiing, though that’s about as long as chronic amateurs will probably want to spend until they’re feeling ready for some fast-paced intermediate terrain.

Detention memories

Beyond the traditional color coding – green for beginners, black for experts – there are few easy ways to describe ski runs.

So, to better help you understand the types of intro-terrain at Sugar Bowl, I’ve developed a revolutionary new system that tells you everything you need to know by comparing runs to kids you used to get stuck with in middle school detention.

First, there’s Marty, the geek. He’s not a troublemaker; he’s just waiting for his mom to bring him asthma medication. You don’t have to fight a crowd to talk to him, but he can catch you up on homework like a champ.

Well, in this case, Marty is the section of Sugar Bowl served by the White Pine ski lift.

White Pine takes you on a brief trip to three super-short beginner runs, not counting the side route to the parking lot (a good reason to watch the signs). The Black Bear, Marmot and Pine Marten runs give you a lot of variety in a pretty small space.

They’re not intimidating, and they offer a nice chance for first-timers to have some fun while getting those inaugural spills out of the way at a pretty low velocity.

On the other side of the resort, at the Village Lodge, there’s a smaller set of similar runs served by the Nob Hill lift. These runs, Nob Hill and Union Street, are a bit of a step up from those at White Pine, but they lack the diversity of routes you can take in the learning area.

Movin’ on up

Back in detention for a second, you’ve caught up on your math and social studies, and you’re starting to get a bit tired of conversations that start out, “You know what else the rhinoceros beetle eats?”

So, you look around and find Robbie, a well-meaning but dimwitted kid who’s itching for a game of paper football. Robbie doesn’t teach you much, but he helps pass the time and get your mind off scholastics.

Robbie pretty much sums up the majority of longer green runs at Sugar Bowl.

They’re generally a breeze to get on and down, with little in the way of intellectual stimulation. What they lack in variety they almost make up in length, though each tends to get a bit too obnoxious as you near the lodges and merge into oncoming traffic on surprisingly steep terrain.

You’ll likely spend most of your time on Pioneer Trail and Sleigh Ride, the longest and most accessible of the moderate-difficulty greens. They can be relatively challenging, but they don’t invigorate you about your new-found sport.

These routes aren’t much of a shock, as green runs often seem to be like wide sidewalks along a dangerous freeway. They get you there, but when was the last time you heard someone say, “I just hoofed the most righteous sidewalk!” Yeah.

The ideal run

So, you’ve spent most of your detention hour learning stuff and putzing around. But there’s still some time left, and that’s when you notice Alyssa.

She’s mysterious, aloof and seems to be cute, though it’s hard to tell under her purple sweatshirt hood and those black gloves with silver rivets.

While the other kids are studying or goofing off, she’s scratching Dead Kennedys lyrics into a weathered notebook. Though intimidated, you manage to strike up a conversation and find her to be fun, smart and still enigmatic enough to keep your interest indefinitely.

Alyssa is the middle-school manifestation of the one truly amazing green run at Sugar Bowl: Harriet’s Hollow. It slices a curving trail through the mid-mountain woods and lets you enjoy your scenic surroundings without fearing for your life.

This is the kind of run you picture in your dreams of advanced skiing, though you get all the joys here without the high probability of tree collision. Any falls, any frustrations from the day are more than made up for by this excellent path.

Well, that’s more information than I’m sure you needed for a beginner’s sojourn to Sugar Bowl. Hope I didn’t remind you too much of the times you had to stay after school, filling the chalkboard with, “I will not say my teacher’s bottom looks like an Erlenmeyer flask.”

Rookie report card: Sugar Bowl

Category Grade Notes

Parking A – Get to the Mount Judah lot before 9 a.m. and you’re set.

Lines/crowds B – Packed but relatively well managed.

Green run variety B – About 10 green runs diverse enough to keep you busy.

Green run quality B+ -Great intro terrain. Longer runs are a bit steep for true beginners.

Price C -$56 lift ticket on weekend. Try for the limited $39 tickets at Safeway.

Lodge B -Expensive and bland lodges, but bonus points for outdoor barbecues.

Overall B – It’s an expert skiers’ paradise, but beginners aren’t left out of the fun.


David Griner is city editor for The Union and a 100 percent novice skier. Got questions, advice or ideas for future columns? E-mail or call 477-4230.

– On the Net

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Grass Valley and Nevada County make The Union’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User