My friend was turning 40 years old. I made conversation with the other guests at the party as we awaited word that my friend had arrived. Then, quiet would ensue as we awaited the big moment when we all yelled “SURPRISE!” Until that moment, it was the usual party small talk. Our family had just returned home from a stay in the Village at Sugar Bowl, so when the person next to me asked what I’d been up to, naturally, that’s what I talked about.
Only I didn’t know what to say.
I found myself searching for the words to explain what my family had just experienced. “I’ve been to the Village at Northstar,” the person volunteered. “How does it compare to that?”
Actually, there is no comparison. I’ve been to lots of ski villages and Sugar Bowl doesn’t compare to any of them. What our family experienced in the Village at Sugar Bowl is different than anything I’ve ever experienced.
Sugar Bowl Resort, located atop Donner Summit three hours from San Francisco and just minutes from Lake Tahoe, is home to America’s only snowbound village. During the winter months, there’s not a car to be found. The Village at Sugar Bowl is only accessed by gondola, or, by skiing there from another chairlift at the resort.
To get a feeling for what the Village at Sugar Bowl is like you need to know something about its’ history.
Sugar Bowl has always been about skiing with friends.
What do I mean by this?
Well, in contrast, take Squaw Valley. Squaw was developed by Alex Cushing as a ski resort. There’s nothing wrong with this approach and it is the way most ski areas have been developed. And that is what makes Sugar Bowl unique. That’s not what happened at Sugar Bowl.
Sugar Bowl was founded by a group of friends who essentially said, “What if we all went in together and bought a mountain we could ski at together?” In 1938, Bill Klein and Hannes Schroll purchased the original acreage for Sugar Bowl Resort for $7,000 and began selling homesites to fund improvements.
Today, Sugar Bowl is still owned by the homeowners who are shareholders in Sugar Bowl Resort. The goals of the shareholders remain the same that they did when the resort was founded 75 years ago: dividends are paid not in dollars but in experience. All profits go right back into improving the experience of Sugar Bowl Resort.
Our family arrived at Sugar Bowl Resort while it was snowing, not unusual since Sugar Bowl receives more average annual snowfall than any other resort in the Tahoe area. Attendants helped us unload our luggage and we then parked our car in the assigned parking spot in the garage. Our luggage was then loaded in one gondola and our family in another and we were on our way. Once we arrived in the Village, attendants loaded our luggage into a Snowcat. We hopped in as well, and went on a ride to our townhouse. Maybe it’s a minor detail, but our kids LOVED the Snowcat ride! What a way to arrive at your accommodations!
We settled in, started a fire, and began our Village at Sugar Bowl vacation. Our townhouse was amazing. Four bedrooms, three and a half baths with lots of public spaces, a great big kitchen and a dining area big enough for lots of large family gatherings. The townhouse was on three levels, with patios on each level, perfect for standing out with a cup of coffee in the morning to assess the snow conditions. And a final important detail at a ski-in/ski-out destination: closets on the front porch to store your skis and a great big entry area just inside the townhouse for your boots and all your other gear.
The next morning there was another Snowcat ride, this time over to Judah Lodge where our kids were in private ski school lessons for the day. With the kids taken care of, my wife and I were ready to explore the mountain.
As a skier, all the wonderful amenities and that feeling you get being in the Village would be diminished if the mountain terrain wasn’t up to snuff. That’s no problem at Sugar Bowl. 4 peaks accessed by 13 chairlifts. 103 trails and 1,650 skiable acres. After spending most of the afternoon skiing the black diamonds off of Disney Chair (by the way, we had 11 inches of new snow) my wife and I likened Sugar Bowl to a choose your own adventure novel. There was so much terrain, so many ways down the mountain, that each run was a choose your own adventure run.
We’d had an amazing day, but it wasn’t until the lifts closed at 4 o’clock that we really felt the magic of the Village at Sugar Bowl. All the skiers who’d visited the resort during the day were gone, and the only people left were the homeowners and those like us who were playing homeowners for a few days. We skied from Judah Lodge back to the Village at Sugar Bowl, with lots of distractions and stops for snow-play along the way. Back at our townhouse, the kids piled onto a sled, I tied a rope around my waste, and I clipped into my skis. I pulled them around the Village, passing other kids who were out playing in the snow and we got lots of smiles from the people sitting out on their decks as we passed by.
To me, that was the moment. The skiing at Sugar Bowl is great, but this community, this feeling of being in a snow-bound village… it’s like nothing else I’ve ever experienced.
Our last morning in our townhouse we were out of coffee. I clipped into my skis while my daughter hopped on the sled with the rope tied around me and I skated up — about 100 yards — to the Village Lodge. I ordered two coffees to go, walked outside and clipped into my skis, and headed back to the townhouse.
Think about that for a minute.
Where else can you do that?
We were staying in the Village at Sugar Bowl as a part of the resorts efforts to showcase the experience the feeling of living in a snowbound village — the best way it knows how to sell 18 currently available homesites. Let me tell you, after four days, we were ready to buy. As Sugar Bowl’s marketing states, “Well beyond title papers, ownership here means belonging to something extraordinary.”
At the beginning of the 2011-12 season, 25 newly released homesites hit the market. The homesites give you easy access to the lifts at Sugar Bowl Resort, but they come with an added bonus in that they’re right on the private cross-country trail system of Royal Gorge, the largest cross-country resort in North America, which is owned by Sugar Bowl.
The 18 remaining homesites range in price from $425,000 to $795,000. If I could live anywhere in the world, I’d live in Tahoe. If I could live anywhere in Tahoe, I’d live in the Village at Sugar Bowl. These new homesites at Sugar Bowl — coined Summit Crossing — gives you that opportunity. Buyers can bring in their own designers and building crews or work with Sugar Bowl’s Construction and Contract Administration for a turn-key experience.
That feeling of family — the whole idea of a ski area started on the premise of skiing with friends — was impressed on us our last night in the Village at Sugar Bowl. We had dinner in the Village Lodge. The dinner, by the way, was amazing. Beforehand, we sat out in private area that’s reserved during the day for homeowners and overnight guests of the Lodge at Sugar Bowl. It feels like an old country club, not pretentious at all. Nice, but not flashy. It just is what it is.
At dinner I overheard the conversation at the table next to us and the person commenting about the new light fixtures. It was like he was at home. He’d been coming here for years, he was an owner I’d guess, and he noticed the change. Later, the staff came out and sang happy birthday to one of the diners. When the song ended, one of the waitresses said to the person, “Thanks for all you do for Sugar Bowl.” Another owner I presume.
It was like these people were home.
They were home.
They’ve taken their dividends in a lifestyle and the experience of a slope-side home. That’s why these shareholders are currently spending $20 million in improvements to Sugar Bowl, which included the opening of the new Crow’s Peak Chairlift this season. The new SpotHaus aquatic center, with indoor and outdoor swimming, hot-tubs, yoga rooms, and training center is opening in June with the pool coming by Labor Day. The Sugar Bowl Academy may not get your kid to the Olympics but it may get your kid s scholarship to Dartmouth.
75 years later the experience just keeps getting better.
I love Sugar Bowl.
— Clark Vandeventer
You may also be interested in my post “What’s Sugar Bowl Like” or in checking out the Current Listings in the Village at Sugar Bowl. My wife Monica also wrote about our time at Sugar Bowl. Check out her post, “Sugar Bowl is Magical.” And, when we aren’t skiing or writing about skiing, my wife and I also publish a family travel and lifestyle design blog called “Family Trek.” Check out our photo gallery from Sugar Bowl published over there: “Our best ski trip ever at Sugar Bowl.”