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History of Sugar Bowl, California

excepted from http://www.firsttracksonline.com

Sugar Bowl, California holds title to many of California’s skiing “firsts,” including the state’s first chairlift and first gondola, the latter built to shuttle guests to the resort’s pedestrian-only village.

Bill Klein and his brother, Fred were Austrian transplants teaching skiing at the Sierra Club Lodge on Donner Summit in the mid-1930’s, when Bill was offerred 700 acres at the site of Sugar Bowl for $2,000. Lacking the money to both purchase the land and develop the ski area, he turned to fellow Austrian Hannes Schroll, who had dreamed of developing a European-style resort after creating Yosemite’s Badger Pass.

Schroll, however, developed financial difficulties of his own when Hitler confiscated Austria’s financial deposits. Schroll turned to some of his wealthy students, including film producer Walt Disney, and the Sugar Bowl Corporation was formed on October 13, 1938.

Gradually, the pieces for the fledgling ski area fell into place. The Southern Pacific Railroad agreed to build a “ski hut” for 600 people inside their Norden snowsheds, providing ready access to scores of potential Southern Californian skiers. Henry Howard, an ore mining engineer, was retained to design the state’s first chairlift, built by Riblet Tramway Company. In honor of their financial backer, the lift was christened the Disney Chair when the resort opened for business on December 15, 1939.

In the 1940’s, Sugar Bowl developed a reputation as the place to be seen for Hollywood moguls and the business elite alike. The guest register included entries from Errol Flynn, Norma Shearer, Levi Strauss, King Vidor, Robert Stack, Margaret Sullivan, Jean Arthur, James B. Conan and Doris Duke. Of course, stockholder Walt Disney skied at Sugar Bowl on occasion. He even tended bar incognito one night for two hours.

During these war years, Bill Klein was among the instructors training Tenth Mountain Division troops at Camp Hale, Colorado.

The Disney Lift has been replaced several times over the years, but always in the same line. In 1952 it was rebuilt as a double chair, and in 2000, skiers rode a brand-new CTEC Garaventa high-speed detachable quad.

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