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Is Sugar Bowl the Best Ski Area in the USA?

sugar bowl skier 0139

Sugar Bowl is not as well known as other resorts around Lake Tahoe, like Squaw Valley, Northstar, and Heavenly, but that may be to its advantage. Personally, I’ve found throughout this tour that usually I enjoy visiting small resorts more than large ones because the atmosphere tends to be more friendly and homey and fresh tracks are easier to find.

I know that many other people feel the same way that I do. If the majority of skiers and snowboarders agree with me, then Sugar Bowl is a good contender for the title, Best in the West.

If here’s one thing that Sugar Bowl does well, it’s maintain an excellent on-hill experience. Sugar Bowl is a bit out-of-the-way. It’s a longer drive to reach Sugar Bowl than Squaw Valley or Northstar from the nearest airport and cities. So, the crowds at Sugar Bowl tend to be thinner and lift lines shorter than at other nearby ski areas. In fact, Marketing Director John Monsens even told me that Sugar Bowl keeps their lift ticket prices intentionally high to prevent the resort from ever getting too crowded and to maintain a top-tier experience for those who visit the hill.

This may sound like a strange strategy from a business point of view, but I was very happy with it.

Our first day in Sugar Bowl was two days after the last snow, yet we easily found a great steep run right beside the Mt. Lincoln Express that was basically untracked. Brian and I rode that run all day with out crossing another person’s tracks.  That kind of experience is virtually unheard of at larger, more accessible resorts.

Sugar Bowl is not without it’s drawbacks. It’s not as accessible as other hills in the area. Unless you stay in their on-mountain accommodations (which happen to be the only snowbound lodge in North America (there is no way in or out except for a gondola) you’re looking at a minimum 20-minute drive to get there. It’s also not as inexpensive as some other resorts, though it’s far from the most expensive I’ve been to.

But, are those drawbacks balanced by the on-hill experience that so many skiers and snowboarders visit Sugar Bowl for?

A lot of unpredictable factors have to come together to make a great ski trip. You have to have snow, meet the right people, and find the right spots on the mountain. You can’t predict those things, and nobody can guarantee them.

That being said, my experience at Sugar Bowl was among the best that I’ve had on the trip so far.

What do you think? Could Sugar Bowl be the best resort in the USA? Vote for your favourite ski area now!

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9 Responses to Is Sugar Bowl the Best Ski Area in the USA?

  1. Matthew Karsten February 20, 2013 at 11:50 pm #

    The strategy makes sense to me! You are paying a premium for a less crowded experience is all. I agree that my favorite hills are the ones with fewer, and friendlier people.

  2. Matt Gibson February 21, 2013 at 12:47 pm #

    Then you’d also really like Grand Targhee. It’s an amazing little place! But, I suspect it’s going to be a while before you get your ass out of Thailand 😉

  3. The Time-Crunched Traveler (Ellen) February 21, 2013 at 11:09 pm #

    This place looks beautiful. Of course, I’m sure it’s hard to find a place at Tahoe that isn’t gorgeous. I’m not much of a skier, but I’d definitely be willing to pay higher prices for fewer people … fewer people for me to crash into!

  4. lettuce84 May 10, 2013 at 11:47 am #

    Sugar Bowl is actually more convenient to all cities west of the summit on hwy 80 (sac, sf etc.) by up to 30 minutes on some days (busy weekends or stormy days) and only less convenient than the other resorts you mentioned from Reno. That’s one of sugar bowl’s big selling points. Also, the gondola is not the only option (it’s only an 8 min ride) as you can park at Judah lodge and walk onto the lifts. Northstar, on the other hand, there’s no choice but to ride the gondola.

    Everything else was spot on. I’ve been riding there for over 20 years and its definitely my favorite resort in the Tahoe area.

  5. Matt Gibson May 10, 2013 at 11:53 am #

    Good point Lettuce. I was only thinking of fly-in traffic when I said that. Thx for pointing that out. I’ll try to update the info when I get a chance.

  6. Steve May 10, 2013 at 12:12 pm #

    Having skied every resort at Tahoe except Kirkwood and Sierra at Tahoe, I agree. If I was the hot young, cliff jumpin, take all the insane lines type skier,so I could show off to my friends, I’d probabaly want the Squaw experience, but Sugar Bowl, like Targhee is perfect for me.

  7. Matt Gibson May 10, 2013 at 12:47 pm #

    Agreed Steve. Sugar Bowl and Targhee are like sister resorts and I love them both. Have you seen my review of Targhee? It’s equally loving.

  8. Steve May 10, 2013 at 2:34 pm #

    By the way, nice shots. Now I realize your more than just a writer but a excellent photog. I keep trying to recognize some of the spots but I guess I’m usually headed downhill and never look back or I ‘m never hangin around the cliffs much. I did find the Targhee guided tour and would like to add The Brakeman(awesome burgers), Emporium(huckelberry shakes) and the Knotty Pine(barbque), as eateries, all in Victor. You might guess I’m not into healthy food.

  9. Matt Gibson May 19, 2013 at 4:52 pm #

    Thanks Steve! I’ll definitely check those spots out when I go back next year.

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