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Donner Summit's historic lodges.

THERE WAS A TIME, before interstates, 4-by-4s, and condominiums, when a ski outing from the Bay Area was a true communal adventure. Transportation options were limited to winding two-lane highways and the train. And once ensconced in a lodge, skiers shared accommodations, meals, and conviviality.

Donner Summit retains much of the old-fashioned charm of those days. The trip is faster now; on I-80, it usually takes less than 3 hours from almost anywhere in the Bay Area. Once you leave the interstate for old State Highway 40, through, the pace slows to much the same speed as 50 years ago.

Historic lodges encourage camaraderie among skiers of either nordic or alpine persuasion, with family-style meals and sequestered settings that let you ski out the front door. Accommodations range from inexpensive dormitories to pricey private rooms.

Unless noted otherwise, all addresses are Norden, California 95724; area code 916.



Three rustic lodges with mostly dormitory accommodations suit skiers on tight budgets who care more about friendliness than frills.

Clair Tappaan Lodge, Box 36; 426-3632. Sierra Club members and other skiers have been schlepping ski gear and sleeping bags up the short but steep hill to this massive-timbered building every winter since it was erected by club volunteers in 1934. Volunteerism still plays a key role at the lodge; guests are expected to perform tasks ranging from chopping vegetables to mopping hallways.

Life there isn't all hard work, however. For starters, there's skiing: 12 kilometers of groomed cross-country trails lead from the lodge through forest and open meadows between downhill ski areas Donner Ski Ranch and Boreal. The lodge offers lessons and rentals.

In the evening, guests socialize around a large stone fireplace in the lounge, or in a hot tub that opens to the elements and views of trees and snow drifts. Or they retire with a book to the library, where talking is verboten.

Hearty breakfast and dinners are served family-style; guests make up their own sack lunches for the trail. Bunks are divided among men's and women's dorms, two-person "cubicles," and family rooms sleeping 5 to 12 people. Nightly rates of $31 for Sierra Club members and $36 for nonmembers ($22.50 ages 12 and under) include three meals and use of trails.

Cal Lodge, Box 35; 426-3392. Next door to Clair Tappaan is the ski lodge of another venerable Bay Area-based institution, Associated Students of the University of California. Built just a few years later, it has similar rustic charm, though on a smaller scale (it sleeps 64, Clair Tappaan sleeps 140).

Most guests cook their own meals in a large kitchen. (You can opt to pay extra for breakfast or dinners cooked by the lodge staff.) Guests sleep in men's, women's, or co-ed dorms; a small family room with private bath is also available ($50 a night).

Weekends in January and February are often booked solid by Cal students, but space is usually available midweek, or weekends in November, December, and March. Rates are $15 a night for UC Berkeley students, $17 for other UC students, $18 for alumni and university staff, $20 for other guests.

Donner Spitz Hutte, Box 8; 426-9108. Bela and Mimi Vadasz converted a former highway maintenance station on the brink of Donner Pass into this "bunk & breakfast." It's also headquarters for Alpine Skills International, their mountaineering school and guide service.

Guests here tend to be telemarkers and backcountry skiers who eschew groomed trails. Mapped routes behind the lodge lead to the summits of Mount Judah and Mount Lincoln, or north to a string of lakes. ASI offers telemark lessons at nearby Donner Ski Ranch, and operates a shop that rents nordic equipment.

The lodge has a cozy living room with fireplace, and a dining area where guests congregate for family-style breakfasts and dinners. Bunks are grouped in rooms that sleep six to eight; some private rooms with double beds (one has a remarkable view of Donner Lake) are available. Bunk and breakfast go for $19 a night, private rooms with breakfast $60. Dinners cost $11 more person.


At these lodges at the summit's two largest resorts, you literally leave your car behind when you arrive; neither is accessible by plowed road. Both are a cut above the dorm lodges in amenities, as reflected by their prices.

Sugar Bowl Lodge, Box 5; 426-3651. Your name might languish for years on a waiting list to buy a chalet in the Tyrolean-style village at the base of the ski lifts, a longtime enclave of Bay Area blue bloods. Fortunately, it's much easier to book a spot at the 30-room lodge. It dates back to the area's opening in 1939 as the first chair lift-served resort in California.

Sugar Bowl is a place redolent of tradition, as suggested by the motto posted over the entrance to the lodge's dining room: "I love everything that's old: friends, time, books, and wine." One tradition still loosely enforced is a coat and tie requirement for male guests at dinner.

Another tradition at Sugar Bowl is Ski Week, a five-day program combining lessons, lift tickets, lodging, and meals (cost starts at $560). Dinners and evening clinics with instructors add to the enjoyment of a shared enterprise.

Lodge room rates range from $88 to $195 per night, depending on type of room and date. If you can afford the extra cost, it's worth asking for one of the recently renovated rooms facing the ski slopes. Discount packages that include breakfast and lift tickets are available for certain midweek dates.

Royal Gorge's Wilderness Lodge, Box 1100, Soda Springs, Calif. 95728; 426-3871. An out-of-the-way hunting lodge built in the 1920s is now the nucleus of an on-track refuge for guests enjoying the far-reaching trails of Royal Gorge Cross Country Ski Resort.

The lodge recently expanded to double its former size. Dormitory rooms were replaced by 32 private "roomettes" with bunk beds or double beds. Bathrooms are down the hall.

When guests arrive at the resort, they are transported by snowcat-pulled sleigh to the lodge, where they settle in with mulled wine and fondue. Breakfasts and lunches consist of bountiful buffets, while dinners are elaborate French provincial affairs. Aching muscles loosen in the heat from a large stone fireplace or the hot tub and sauna.

Stays at the lodge are offered only as packages that include all meals, lessons and clinics, and trail passes. Per-person costs range from $220 for a low-season weekend to $540 for Christmas week (five days).
COPYRIGHT 1991 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Norden, CA ski area
Date:Dec 1, 1991
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