Explore the Sierra’s High-County Heritage

THE SIERRA NEVADA WAS recently named one of the world’s most beautiful mountain ranges, joining the Himalayas, Andes and others by UnofficialNetworks.com, a skiing website. “The Sierra is home to three national parks, 20 wilderness areas and two national monuments,” it observed.

The Sierra offers world-class winter activities, not to mention spectacular views from Lake Tahoe, Donner Summit and other notable places.

“We ski in the sunshine” says Julie Mancuso in a Visit California video. Julie will compete at the Sochi Winter Olympics in February. The views at Tahoe are “jaw dropping,” adds actor Rob Lowe, who could ski anywhere in the world but loves Tahoe. (Watch the video at our website, SierraCulture.com).

The region offers a wide range of winter sports: skiing, snowboarding, backcountry skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, tubing and sledding, snowmobiling, sleigh rides, sled dog tours, even snow-kiting, where enthusiasts use kite power to glide on snow.

Besides the scenic beauty, the region is steeped in winter sports history. Truckee was established as a winter sports destination from 1890-1920. Visitors arrived from the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento on the Southern Pacific Railroad’s “Snowball Express” for winter carnivals.

Auburn was instrumental in the growth of our winter sports industry. The Auburn Ski Club was formed in 1928 by resident Wendell Robie. “The club succeeded in convincing the state to keep Hwy. 40 open year-round,” says the Donner Summit Historical Society, paving the way for the ski industry.

Hollywood played a role too. In the late ‘30s, Walt Disney helped his friend, Hannes Schroll, open the Sugar Bowl ski area. “To honor Walt’s support, Schroll changed the name of Hemlock Peak to Mount Disney,” writes Disney historian Jeff Pepper.

Sugar Bowl drew the Hollywood crowd when it opened, including Greta Garbo, Errol Flynn and Claudette Colbert.

The VIII Winter Olympic Games took place in 1960 at Squaw Valley and Tahoe’s West Shore. Though the region supposedly didn’t have a “snowball’s chance” of landing the Olympics, it managed to pull off a wildly successful Games, as David Antonucci writes in Snowball’s Chance: The Story of the 1960 Olympic Games. The opening and closing ceremonies were produced by Disney.

Mark McLaughlin writes in Skiing at Lake Tahoe, “Over the past 50 years, more than 15 resorts have been established in the area, with more than 22,000 acres available for lift-served skiing and snowboarding.”

Here are some unique winter activities that celebrate heritage, as well as recreation:
The biathlon and cross-country events of the VIII Winter Olympics were held at what is now Ed Z’Berg Sugar Pine Point State Park. Ranger-led programs are available throughout the winter.

Join a full moon snowshoe hike or ski to the 1960 Olympic Biathlon site, or go on your own, following the interpretative panels along the route.

West Shore Sports on Tahoe’s West Shore rents snowshoes and XC skis for a trip to the Nordic trail. It also rents Alpine skis and snowboards. It has three locations, in Homewood, Sugar Pine Point State Park and Sunnyside-Tahoe Park. WestShoreSports.com

American mountaineer Melissa Arnot—the only woman to summit Mount Everest (29,035 feet) five times—speaks at The Center for the Arts in Grass Valley on February 6. She also has climbed Aconcagua (22,841 ft.), Kilimanjaro (19,341 ft.) and Mt. McKinley (20,320 ft.). For more information visit TheCenterfortheArts.org.

Sierra Milestones
Mammoth Mountain, on the eastern slope of the Sierra, celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. It was founded by Dave McCoy, a hydrographer for the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, who noticed that Mammoth Mountain consistently held more snow than other mountains.

Yosemite National Park celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant, signed by Lincoln and a precursor to the modern National Park System.

(Photo: IA Valenzuela)

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