This past week, I attended a meeting with some key players from the Donner Summit community to discuss the need for a brand.  A Donner Summit brand, that would help convey our attributes in an effective and compelling fashion.  As with any brand platform session, the fun part was choosing a tagline.  How to neatly wrap-up, in a clever & concise three or four words, all the great skiing, XC, biking, rock climbing, geology and history that we have to offer up here.  Of particular interest to me was weighing the pros and cons of using “Gateway to Tahoe”.  Does “gateway” imply that people simply drive through on their way to somewhere else?   Or does connecting ourselves to such a strong brand in “Tahoe” trump that concern?  Ultimately, it’s strong, just like Donner Summit itself. 

And if people have in fact been driving past Donner Summit on all their trips to Tahoe, it’s worth having another look.  Even if you don’t make a stop at one of the numerous resorts or take in the 20 Mile Museum, hopping off I-80 for a bit to enjoy the stunning views down Old Highway 40 from Sugar Bowl to Donner Lake definitely makes it worth your while.  That mountain drive is up there with the best I’ve done, including any I’ve made while living in the high country of Colorado, or commuting back and forth fromVancouverto Whistler.  And very recently, there’s yet another reason that should make you want to stop and check out the Gateway to Tahoe this winter, as the iconic Royal Gorge Cross Country Resort is being restored to its once and former glory, by new resort operators Sugar Bowl Resort.

America’s largest cross country resort, Royal Gorgeboasts 200km of groomed skiing and skating trails on an expansive 6,000 acres of pristine land atop majestic Donner Summit.  The Truckee Donner Land Trust, in conjunction with the Trust for Public Land and the Northern Sierra Partnership, recently placed a successful bid of $11.25 million for the 3,000 acre parcel that makes up the core of the Royal Gorge footprint, offered to the bank holding the note, after prior owners defaulted on the loan, having been unable to move forward their grandiose development plans.  Not being resort operators themselves, the conservation groups looked to neighboring Sugar Bowl Resort to run the endeavor, being accomplished operators themselves for 73 years, and having consistently put out a well-respected product year in and year out, in one of the more harsh – read, deep – winter environments in ski country.  This past Monday, as the TDLT, TPLand SNP wrote a $500,000 check to the bank and essentially securing their intent to write the remainder come closing date December 20th, management at Sugar Bowl Resort essentially also wrote a $500,000 check, for a budget intent on restoring the operation to its fullest potential.  Projects include restoration at the Summit Station Day Lodge, a new grooming fleet, enhanced wayfinding signage, new XC trails connecting the two resorts, a totally new website with state of the art trail & conditions reporting, public transportation stops at the resort, a calendar of special events including high-level races (wait’ll you see the dogsledding race this March) and more. 

Complementing an enhanced resort experience are improved season pass and trail pass options, not to mention attractive price points.  Eager to “show it all off again for the very first time”, Sugar Bowl is setting many prices lower than last season.  Furthermore, Sugar Bowl passholders can add-on an unrestricted Royal Gorge XC pass for just $149, while standaloneRoyal Gorgepasses are just $299.  Kids 12 and under and super seniors ski for free, while day tickets for all other ages are certainly attractive. 

The Sugar Bowl andRoyal Gorgebrands complement each other nicely, too.  Sugar Bowl offers a high-alpine experience across 4 distinct peaks under the most snow in Tahoe, with plenty of backcountry access beyond the ropes. Royal Gorgeis a recognized name in the world of XC for having pioneered the notion that an XC resort can also be a destination tourism draw, offering ski-to overnight excursions to the legendary Wilderness Lodge.  Royal Gorge loyalists can expect the attention to detail and focus on guest service that Sugar Bowl is known for, a dedication to the community, and a recognition that we’ve now got an obligation to deliver upon this fortuitous opportunity in not letting something so special slip away.

Plans are in the works, work is underway, and now it’s time to work the plan.  Because, really, after last season, I’m sure we’d all agree that we’re due for an early, snowy and celebratory start to the 2012/13 ski – and skate – season ahead.

And regardless of whether or not there are more positive connotations than negative, as the closest major downhill and XC resorts to Sacramento and the Bay Area, exploring the “Gateway to Tahoe” simply means that you get a whole lot more time enjoying authentic alpine adventure atop majestic Donner Summit, and a whole lot less time driving the extra 50 miles to where everyone else is.  

Look for more information and updates as they become available on the (soon-to-be-launched) all new websites of sugarbowl.com and royalgorge.com.

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