Magazine article Sunset

Donner Summit's Historic Lodges

Magazine article Sunset

Donner Summit's Historic Lodges

Article excerpt

THERE WAS A TIME, before interstates, 4-by-4s, and condominiums, when a ski outing from the Bay Area was a true communal adventure. Transportation options were limited to winding two-lane highways and the train. And once ensconced in a lodge, skiers shared accommodations, meals, and conviviality.

Donner Summit retains much of the old-fashioned charm of those days. The trip is faster now; on I-80, it usually takes less than 3 hours from almost anywhere in the Bay Area. Once you leave the interstate for old State Highway 40, through, the pace slows to much the same speed as 50 years ago.

Historic lodges encourage camaraderie among skiers of either nordic or alpine persuasion, with family-style meals and sequestered settings that let you ski out the front door. Accommodations range from inexpensive dormitories to pricey private rooms.

Unless noted otherwise, all addresses are Norden, California 95724; area code 916.



Three rustic lodges with mostly dormitory accommodations suit skiers on tight budgets who care more about friendliness than frills.

Clair Tappaan Lodge, Box 36; 426-3632. Sierra Club members and other skiers have been schlepping ski gear and sleeping bags up the short but steep hill to this massive-timbered building every winter since it was erected by club volunteers in 1934. Volunteerism still plays a key role at the lodge; guests are expected to perform tasks ranging from chopping vegetables to mopping hallways.

Life there isn't all hard work, however. For starters, there's skiing: 12 kilometers of groomed cross-country trails lead from the lodge through forest and open meadows between downhill ski areas Donner Ski Ranch and Boreal. The lodge offers lessons and rentals.

In the evening, guests socialize around a large stone fireplace in the lounge, or in a hot tub that opens to the elements and views of trees and snow drifts. Or they retire with a book to the library, where talking is verboten.

Hearty breakfast and dinners are served family-style; guests make up their own sack lunches for the trail. Bunks are divided among men's and women's dorms, two-person "cubicles," and family rooms sleeping 5 to 12 people. Nightly rates of $31 for Sierra Club members and $36 for nonmembers ($22.50 ages 12 and under) include three meals and use of trails.

Cal Lodge, Box 35; 426-3392. Next door to Clair Tappaan is the ski lodge of another venerable Bay Area-based institution, Associated Students of the University of California. Built just a few years later, it has similar rustic charm, though on a smaller scale (it sleeps 64, Clair Tappaan sleeps 140).

Most guests cook their own meals in a large kitchen. (You can opt to pay extra for breakfast or dinners cooked by the lodge staff.) Guests sleep in men's, women's, or co-ed dorms; a small family room with private bath is also available ($50 a night).

Weekends in January and February are often booked solid by Cal students, but space is usually available midweek, or weekends in November, December, and March. Rates are $15 a night for UC Berkeley students, $17 for other UC students, $18 for alumni and university staff, $20 for other guests.

Donner Spitz Hutte, Box 8; 426-9108. Bela and Mimi Vadasz converted a former highway maintenance station on the brink of Donner Pass into this "bunk & breakfast. …

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