Sugar Bowl Academy is located in one of the richest areas of modern western history. The early wagon parties attempting to settle in the California Valley faced the final challenge of crossing the Sierra Crest. The tragedy of the Donner Party is well documented, but hundreds of other pioneers successfully hauled their wagons and oxen over the mountain passes around Donner Summit. The Sugar Bowl ski run "Roller Pass" is named after the one of the two passes used by emigrants as they crossed over the Sierra Crest. They used roller logs to help pull their wagons up the grade.
Central Pacific Railroad engineer Theodore Judah (for whom the nearby Sugar Bowl peak is named) chose Donner Pass as the site to route the first transcontinental railroad over the Sierra. The original railroad tunnel was completed in 1868, and Sugar Bowl Academy sits almost directly over this tunnel.
In the 20th century, the Lincoln Highway, built in 1913, was the first transcontinental road in the United States. Like the railroad a half century earlier, "Old 40" was routed through Donner Pass as well. The steep twisty road that takes you up to SBA from Donner Lake crosses over the famous Rainbow Bridge.
With convenient access by road or rail (and abundant winter snowfall), Sugar Bowl ski area was founded in 1938. The resort was the home of the first chairlift in California and the first Gondola in the United States.
From wagons to trains to cars, ski runs, and hiking trails, Sugar Bowl Academy and Donner Summit lie at the crossroads of western transportation history.
Important dates in Donner Summit History:
- 1500-4000 years ago - Indigenous peoples carve petroglyphs on the rocks below Donner Summit
- 1844 - Stephens-Townsend-Murphy Party pioneered the first wagon route over the Sierra Nevada mountains at or near Donner Pass
- 1846 - Infamous Donner Party becomes stranded by snow at and around Donner Lake
- 1868 - 1,659 ft long Great Sierra Train Tunnel completed to traverse the Sierra Nevada mountains
- 1913 - Lincoln Highway (now Donner Pass Road or "Old 40") becomes the first road across America
- 1920s - Sugar Bowl Academy's main building constructed. It was originally used as a housing and maintenance station for CalTrans workers
- 1938 - Sugar Bowl Resort founded by a group of investors that included Walt Disney
- 1968 - Pacific Crest Trail (which runs through SBA's campus) designated a National Scenic Trail
- 1999 - Sugar Bowl Academy founded by Tricia Hellman Gibbs former US Ski Team Member