Spectacular skiing at Sugar Pine Point

Just south of Tahoma on Tahoe’s West Shore is the location where the cross-country ski events were held at the 1960 Winter Olympics. While the stadium and the structures used at the games are long gone, some of the trails once used by the world’s best cross-country skiers still exist in Sugar Pine Point State Park, and are regularly groomed for cross-country skiing.

Freshly groomed trails at Sugar Pine Point State Park.

I picked the perfect time to try out the trails at Sugar Pine. The sky was a deep, dark blue. There had been nearly a foot of fresh, dry powder the night before. And the groomer was just finishing creating lanes of picture-perfect corduroy.

The Sugar Pine trails are groomed with two striding lanes and a small skating lane in the middle. While it is possible to skate, the trails are better designed for striding. The skiing was peaceful and spectacular. Other then a group of back-country skiers laden with heavy packs headed deep into the forest to visit a hut, we only encountered a few others skiers on a two-hour jaunt. The gentle, open terrain is perfect for beginning and intermediate classic skiing. The trail system truly is a hidden gem for visitors and residents of the West Shore.

The author at the location for the biathlon range during the 1960 Winter Olympics.

Use of the cross-country trails is free, and the fee to park is $5 (reduced from the $10 fee in the summer). Walking on the groomed trails is prohibited. There are about 8.5 miles of groomed trails through Sugar Pine Point State Park. A series of maps along the trail help guide you along the three trails.

The Blue Loop is an easy, level route that is perfect for beginners. It winds through the towering pines and firs of the campground. You will find a restroom on this section.

“The sky was a deep, dark blue. There had been
nearly a foot of fresh, dry powder the night before.
And the groomer was just finishing creating
lanes of picture-perfect corduroy.”

The Red Trail is the longest trail. It parallels General Creek, and is bordered by two bridges, which allow you to ski a loop on both sides of the creek. It is mostly gently rolling terrain with several open meadows dotted with humongous Jeffrey pines. There are several hills. The longest and steepest is on the north side of the creek so depending upon whether you would like to go up or down a hill, chose your direction accordingly. This trail was one of the Olympic race routes, so keep your eyes peeled for the interesting interpretative panels that describe its Olympic history.

Rob Weston enjoying the conditions on the Red Trail.

The Green Trail is on the south side of General Creek, and winds through the forest toward the lake. There are also skier-packed trails across Highway 89 that provide access to the Ehrman Mansion and the lakeshore. These trails are not groomed, so you might be breaking your own trail.

The main trails are machine groomed every Friday and Monday, so the best days to ski are Friday and Saturday, and perhaps Monday and Tuesday.

I skied the Blue and Red Trails with Rob Weston, who is a member of the Sierra State Parks Foundation board of directors. He volunteers to coordinate the grooming of the trails, often driving the grooming machine. The Foundation is a nonprofit that assists the California State Parks in the Tahoe region. It helps to create a better experience for the visitor by taking care of some of the important programs that the state does not have funding for, including the recently completed Donner Memorial Park Visitor Center. The Foundation pays for the maintenance of the grooming machine at Sugar Pine, as well as the labor to run it, while the state chips in for the cost of the fuel.

A replica of the display for the 1960 Winter Olympics at the entrance to Squaw Valley.

While providing a cross-country ski venue at the park is a prime goal for the state parks and the Foundation, there has also been a concentrated effort to memorialize the 1960 Olympic cross-country ski experience. The Olympic trails have been revitalized and markers and interpretative panels along the route tell the interesting Olympic history of the area. In addition to Weston, much of the credit for this effort goes to West Shore author and Olympic trails booster David Antonucci who wrote, “Snowball’s Chance: The Story of the 1960 Winter Games.”

The 1960 Olympics were a giant step forward in cross-country skiing. They were the first Olympics to hold a biathlon competition as an official sport, the first competition to use snow cats to groom the snow, and the first time powered tillers (now standard equipment on all grooming machines) were used to soften up icy snow and make it better for skiing.

For more information, visit sierrastateparks.org or parks.ca.gov.