Royal Gorge XC


Sugar Bowl Resort on storied Donner Pass in the California High Sierra signed an agreement Oct. 1 to lease and operate neighboring and expansive Royal Gorge Cross Country Ski Area, which is being purchased by the Tahoe Donner Land Trust.


The lease-operate agreement was signed as the land trust posted a $500,000 non-refundable deposit on the property Monday. The trust’s stewardship director John Svahn confirmed to Tuesday morning that the deposit had indeed been made. The trust plans to complete the purchase Dec. 20, 2012.


Purchase price is $11.25 million with funds being raised by the Trust for Public Land, Northern Sierra Partnership, and the Truckee Donner Land Trust, the latter of which will own the property and oversee a long-term stewardship plan. Sugar Bowl will manage and improve on the XC area under a lease agreement. The conservation groups are attempting to raise $2.25 beyond the purchase price by Dec. 20 to maintain the property.


Sugar Bowl’s John Monson says the resort plans to make its own $500,000 investment into Royal Gorge this season, including upgrades and renovations to Summit Station, purchasing two new grooming vehicles, enhanced wayfinding signage, and a new website. 


Interconnect In Place


Summit Station lodge is the center of the XC resort and there are eight warming huts along the trail system. An “interconnect” trail already ties Royal Gorge and Sugar Bowl and plans are in the works, Monson said, for two additional beginner-friendly routes.


Royal Gorge, at 6,000 acres, is the largest cross country ski resort in the country and is located in Soda Springs, off Interstate 80. There are more than 200 kilometers of ski trails on terrain that rolls from mountain meadows to high peaks. The ski area has a remote wilderness feel about it that is nicely complemented by its easy access. Much of the resort sits above 7,000 feet generally ensuring reliable snow coverage. Ice Lake Lodge, Rainbow Lodge, and Long Lake are not included in the deal. The XC ski area opened in 1971.


The XC area was purchased in 2005 for $30 million by Kirk Syme who intended to develop a large portion of it into a 950-unit luxury resort and vacation home subdivision. He defaulted on a $16.7 million loan in June 2011 and, following other court decisions, ended the project. The ski area has continued to operate.


“Royal Gorge has incredible potential and we’re excited about the opportunity to return such an iconic resort to its once and former glory,” says Sugar Bowl CEO Rob Kautz. “It’s a perfect complement to the authentic alpine adventure brand that we’ve built here at Sugar Bowl, and we’re committed to investing in Royal Gorge as a world-class destination for years to come.”


'Near Perfect Project'


Perry Norris, Truckee Donner Land Trust executive director, recently told the Sierra Sun newspaper that, from a conservation standpoint, “This is a near perfect project. In our business, size matters, and this is an awful lot of land to set aside.”


The purchase also opens the way to year-round recreation and the plans include a network of trails for visitors to explore, including the Pacific Crest Trail, Donner Lake Rim Trail, Western States Trail, and Emigrant Trail, among others.


Norris is not worried over the fundraising. “Normally, I would lose sleep over a fundraising goal like that,” he told the Sun, “but the response from the community has been exceptional.”


Royal Gorge reportedly generates about $1 million in gross revenues and employs up to 75 people. The agreement assures the ski area will remain in business.


Sugar Bowl, aside from its investment in Royal Gorge improvements, is helping to raise $3 million from its homeowners. The resort is offering two ski passes for 10 years to any donor contributing $250,000 or more.

Dual Passes Available

Monson said a season pass will be available that allows holders to downhill ski at Sugar Bowl and cross-country ski at Royal Gorge on one affordable pass for $149 (adults). Sugar Bowl passholders can add on an unrestricted Royal Gorge pass for $149 (adults), and can purchase an unrestricted, standalone Royal Gorge pass for $299.

Donner Summit, as history buffs know, is rife with American frontier lore. The Truckee Donner Land Trust website describes it like this: “Donner Summit is the cultural crossroads of the American West. It’s home to a stunning history – from the spear points and rock art of the Martis Indians and wheel ruts of the first wagon trains, to the snow sheds of the transcontinental railway and the paved contours of Interstate 80.” The summit is also home to Boreal Ski Area and Donner Ski Ranch.

Here is the donor form for those wishing to contribute or pledge to the Campaign To Conserve Royal Gorge. Donations are 100 percent tax deductible to the full extent of the law.

What It Means: This is a significant, important project involving conservation groups and a private ski resort all working toward a winning end that protects a large and spectacular swatch of the High Sierra for recreational uses.

Photo: Great Gorge Cross Country Ski Area.