Gold Rush towns: Pairing food and wine with winter sports

THOUGH MOUNTAIN RESORTS ARE appealing, some people would rather stay out of the deep snow and take easy day-trips to the slopes. In Colorado, Après Ski Denver now has a following.

Here’s a locals’ secret in the Sierra foothills—historic towns such as Nevada City, Grass Valley, Auburn, Sutter Creek and Plymouth are all less congested escapes—but only about a one-hour drive to top-notch ski resorts.

Though absent of “ski-in, ski-out” privileges, the eclectic Gold Rush towns offer a wide range of dining, wine tasting, lodging, nightlife, day spas, performing arts and other après ski activities. One example: Ski for the day on March 26 and return to your basecamp in Grass Valley to hear legendary singer-songwriter Graham Nash, thanks to The Center for the Arts. The lovingly restored Del Oro Theatre is ideal for viewing first-run movies.

Grass Valley, Nevada City and Auburn are about an hour from Sugar Bowl and Royal Gorge XC skiing on Donner Summit—offering among the deepest power in the Sierra.

Boreal Mountain Resort also is an easy day-trip from the historic towns. Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows and Northstar also are within reach for a day-long outing.

Kirkwood Mountain Resort is easily accessible on Hwy. 88 from the Gold Rush towns of Sutter Creek, Volcano and Plymouth in Amador County. The ski area is only 15 minutes away from Sorensen’s Resort and Café.

Amador County’s lodging options include deluxe hotels, charming inns and B&Bs. Sutter Creek is home to the restored Hotel Sutter, Volcano has the Union Inn and Pub, and Plymouth has a new boutique hotel called Rest. All have superb “sister” restaurants.

Some of the Gold Country hotels offer discounted ski packages, such as the Holiday Inn in Auburn. In Grass Valley, the Gold Miners Inn/Holiday Inn Express offers a complimentary hot breakfast bar and free cocktails for après ski. Grass Valley Courtyard Suites offers a day spa and a swimming pool.

Nevada City is home to the Goldtown Hideaway, which features cozy accommodations only two blocks from downtown.

The Gold Creek Inn B&B is a newly renovated 1861 Victorian 5 room gem, standing aside the confluence of Deer Creek and Gold Run Creek in the heart of Nevada City. The A-Zen Loft has a clawfoot tub in its bathroom overlooking the historic flume and waterfall of the creek. The foothill towns have eclectic dining options. Carpe Vino in Auburn and the New Moon Café in Nevada City offer four-star dining experiences; Monkey Cat in Auburn is a fine dining restaurant owned by the longtime restaurateur of the iconic Fior d’Italia in San Francisco.

Bistro 103 in Auburn serves farm fresh local fare; Friar Tuck’s in Nevada City serves delicious fondue for a wintry night; Matteo’s Public in Nevada City offers live music in a pub atmosphere; and Kaido in Grass Valley serves fresh sushi.

The foothills offer superb wine and craft beer tasting experiences, including ol’ Republic Brewery and Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Co. in Nevada City; Nevada City Winery and Szabo Vineyards in Nevada City; and Avanguardia, Lucchesi, Sierra Starr, Smith, and Bent Metal in Grass Valley. Sip in Auburn is a popular tasting room.

WINTER TRAIN

In Denver, skiers and ‘boarders can ride a train from the city to the slopes of Winter Park via the iconic Winter Park Express by Amtrak. This historic route—the only slope-side rail service in the country— dates back to 1940.

In the 1930s, visitors traveled from the Bay Area and Sacramento to Truckee on Southern Pacific railroad’s “Snowball Express.” Though not branded as a “ski train,” Amtrak’s California Zephyr now can transport skiers from Emeryville, Davis, and Sacramento to downtown Truckee and back—a more romantic and scenic route than Interstate 80. “The Zephyr offers an ideal change of pace for getting to Tahoe,” said one passenger.

To be sure, the ride is more about the journey, not just the destination—and winter weather can lead to unpredictable schedules. The trip also is best suited for a long weekend, not a day trip. The Amtrak train station is in the heart of downtown Truckee, on Donner Pass Road. A Truckee trolley serves Northstar from the train depot, and TART goes to Squaw from the depot. Visit Amtrak.com.

(Photo: Keith Sutter)

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