This most recent van/ski/road trip wasn’t simply about skiing and driving around in a van. I also wanted to explore a bit of local history, specifically the history surrounding the Donner-Reed party, for whom Donner Pass and Donner Lake (below) are named.
If you come to the Truckee/North Lake Tahoe area, you’ll run into the Donner name all over the place. In addition to the above, there’s also the Donner Memorial State Park, Tahoe Donner Ski Area, and Donner Ski Ranch, to name a few. I visited all of these places, enthusiastically, but I enjoyed Donner Ski Ranch the most. Donner Ski Ranch boasts of six ski lifts and a whopping 505 acres of terrain. When I arrived, only four lifts were running.
The smallness of this place might deter some, but hear me out. My home resort (Vail, Colorado) has more than TEN times the terrain of Donner Ski Ranch. What I realized is that when terrain is limited, the mind works overtime to pick out that next superstar line.
From the lifts, I eyed out every little runnel, every possible variation on the slopes I’d already skied. In this way, I didn’t get bored, and I didn’t find myself longing for Sugar Bowl instead (twice as large, and just across the street):
Besides, when I went into the the Donner Ski Ranch bar for a beer at lunch, I met some great locals. Freddog offered to let me camp behind the Donner Lake Gift Shop, which he owns and runs with his wife. By the time I showed up to take him up on his offer, he and his wife decided me to have me over for a barbeque at their house, which overlooks Donner Lake.
Freddog has a beautiful old split-window VW van in his garage, and he runs a graphic design business, in addition to the gift shop…and his other work in snowboarding event management. Already overwhelmed by the hospitality of these people, I was surprised when Freddog ran upstairs and printed out a little gift for me.
We walked right outside and put it on the window to commemorate the Old Lady, my slow-steady traveling companion, who chugged up the mountain passes and started faithfully as I skied along Donner Trail.