Dine, stay and play at some of Lake Tahoe’s Alps-inspired locales
Special to the Sun
This story has been corrected to reflect that Sugar Bowl opened in 1939 with a chairlift providing access up Mount Disney.
An earlier reported incorrectly indicated the lift provided access to the top of Mount Lincoln. The Sun regrets the error.
TAHOE-TRUCKEE, Calif. — The early years of Tahoe’s winter sports history are riddled with the names of ski luminaries from the European Alps who called California home.
From international downhill champions and decorated war heroes to the world’s top ski instructors of the time, our region’s winter landscape was transformed by skiers from Austria, France, Germany and Switzerland who brought a piece of their Alpine legacy to Tahoe — where it remains today.
Hannes Schroll, Émile Allais and Jo Marillac were three of Europe’s ski legends who made their homes in North Lake Tahoe prior to the 1960 Olympic Winter Games.
A lucky thing they did, as it is unlikely the region would have secured the Games without them.
Schroll was 28 when he was invited by fellow Austrian Bill Klein to look at a future ski area on Donner Summit in 1937, and he was named president of the new Sugar Bowl Corporation the following year.
The resort opened as the region’s first major ski area in 1939 with a chairlift carrying skiers up Mount Disney and to a Bavarian-style base lodge.
“Sugar Bowl is, and always will be, about people who love skiing. Hannes Schroll understood that when he first stood at the base of Mount Lincoln one summer weekend in 1937, envisioning an alpine village not unlike his parents’ home in the Austrian Tyrol,” said Peter Avedschmidt, Sugar Bowl Resort’s marketing and sales manager. “Four generations of skiers have called Hannes Schroll’s place in the Sierra Nevada their winter home.”
’60 Winter Olympics
A decade after Sugar Bowl’s first lift started spinning, Squaw Valley co-founder Alex Cushing hired French skiing luminary Émile Allais to open and operate the new resort’s ski school.
When Émile left the region a few years later to coach the French National Ski Team, he handed the ski school’s reigns over to his longtime friend Jo Marillac, who would prove instrumental in securing the bid for the 1960 Winter Olympics, forever changing winter sports in California.
A respected war hero with the French Resistance, Marillac used his contacts in the French government to win the support of the International Federation of Skiing and the International Olympic Committee delegates, ultimately turning Cushing’s pipe dream of hosting the Winter Olympic Games into a reality.
The post-Olympic boom brought to town a new wave of European skiers, who, with marked tenacity and dedication, helped build and expand Tahoe’s ski areas.
Hans Burkhart grew up in Germany, and first came to North America to work on Canada’s first gondola.
Burkhart was hired by Squaw Valley in 1962 and went on to supervise the installation of the resort’s Garaventa cable car and many of the chairlifts spinning today as Squaw Valley’s mountain manager and later as president.
“Cushing needed someone to oversee maintenance of that first gondola, and when he asked for a recommendation of a man for the job, the manufacturer pointed uphill to Burkhart, who was hanging upside down over a cliff with a drill in his hand,” wrote Nancy Cushing, Alex Cushing’s wife, in a publication celebrating Squaw Valley’s fiftieth anniversary.
Tactical and Operational Visonaries
“People like Alex Cushing, Dave McCoy and John Riley were the strategic visionaries who conceived and built Squaw Valley, Mammoth and Alpine Meadows,” said Mike Livak, executive vice president at Squaw Valley Ski Holdings. “Guys like Hans Burkhart, Hardy Herger, Dick Reuter, Norm Saylor and Luggi Foeger were a few of the tactical and operational visionaries who actually built and operated the stuff of dreams in early California skiing.”
Hardy Herger, born in Urnerboden, Switzerland, a village with a then-population of 250 in the Swiss Alps, came to Squaw Valley in 1968 to serve as the lead electrician on the Aerial Tram.
Herger remained part of the Squaw Valley team until his death in 2012 and was responsible for implementing innovative hydronic systems such as the one designed to take the heat out of the ice rink at High Camp and use it warm the swimming pool.
Austrian Luggi Foeger was an acclaimed international competitor and 10th Mountain Division veteran who went on to head the ski schools at Badger Pass, Sugar Bowl and Alpine Meadows.
Foeger also helped design Northstar California and Diamond Peak, where as general manager he installed the first naming system in the Sierra Nevada.
His award-winning ski slope layout for Diamond Peak, known then as Ski Incline, was designed to protect the natural environment while also creating terrain that catered to those new to the sport.
The list of Europeans who built our mountain resorts and inspired the Tahoe lifestyle goes on, including many legends still in our community today.
Today’s Alpine Legacy
The legacy of the European skiers who made their homes in Tahoe lives on in the region’s restaurants and recreation. Experience a taste of Tahoe’s Alpine history this winter with these Alps-inspired experiences.
No list of European dining in the Tahoe area would be complete without mention of the Pfeifer House, located a quarter mile north of Tahoe City.
One of the region’s oldest restaurants, the Pfeifer House features a cozy, fireside atmosphere with old world charm. Friendly, dirndl-clad waitresses serve menu favorites including escargots Bourguignon, Hungarian beef goulash and a variety of delectable schnitzel dishes.
Locals flock to the restaurant’s Happy Hour Wednesday through Sunday from 5-7 p.m. Mains from $19-$40. Learn more: pfeiferhouse.com.
Moonlit Snowshoe Tour & Dinner
As the moon rises over the mountains, diners can experience a snowshoe tour to Alpine Meadows’ mid-mountain Chalet.
The evening consists of an intimate seated dinner with an Alps-inspired menu, including potato cheese soup, chicken cordon bleu and apple strudel.
Alpine Meadows’ Moonlit Snowshoe Tour and Dinners are held on select dates throughout the winter, with the next on Jan. 16.
The resort will also host two Valentine’s Day dates on February 13 and 14. $69 for adults, $35 for children under nine. Learn more: squawalpine.com.
South Lake Tahoe’s Himmel Haus is a festive German restaurant and bierhaus offering over 30 imported German and Belgian beers, area-sourced Bavarian dishes and live music.
Diners recommend the Schweins-Haxe or the sausage plate, which comes with mashed potatoes, pickles and sauerkraut for $10. The restaurant hosts open mic nights on Monday evenings and trivia nights on Wednesdays. Mains from $11 to $24. Learn more: himmelhaustahoe.com
Swiss Lakewood Lodge
Homewood’s Swiss Lakewood Lodge offers a cozy, log cabin atmosphere with Swiss décor on Tahoe’s West Shore. Diners rave about the restaurant’s filet mignon with Gorgonzola, veal wiener schnitzel and oysters Rockefeller.
According to their voicemail, the restaurant is closed for the remainder of the winter season and slated to reopen in May. Call 530-525-5211 for hours and pricing.
Clair Tappaan Lodge
Nestled in the woods on historic Donner Pass, Clair Tappaan Lodge offers a rustic mountain retreat for snow enthusiasts. Accommodations are bunk-style with twin-sized beds and communal bathrooms, and guests choose from single-gender dorms, private twin rooms, or larger family rooms.
The lodge serves hearty, family-style meals every day, as well as a sandwich bar where guests prepare bag lunches before embarking on the day’s adventures. Dorm beds starting at $35 per night. Learn more: clairtappaanlodge.com.
The Clair Tappaan Lodge also serves as a great starting point for a multi-day trek to one of the region’s four backcountry warming huts operated by the lodge. Nightly rates for the Benson, Bradley, Ludlow and Peter Grub Huts are $20 per person, reservations required. Learn more: clairtappaanlodge.com/backcountry-huts
Lost Trail Lodge
More plush than Clair Tappaan Lodge, but still off the beaten path, Lost Trail Lodge offers a winter escape like few others. In the winter, guests cross-country ski, snowshoe or skin the four miles from the trailhead to the lodge’s front door, where the cozy chalet awaits.
Without the distraction of wifi or televisions, guests spend the days skiing, snowboarding or snowshoeing in a winter wonderland or nestled inside in the lodge’s warmth playing music or board games. $220 per night for double occupancy, $99 per night for additional guests. Entire lodge rentals also available. Learn more: losttraillodge.com
High-Alpine Skiing & Riding
Unlike the tree-lined runs most often associated with American ski areas, Lake Tahoe offers stunning, high-alpine terrain reminiscent of the slopes found in the Alps.
Squaw Valley | Alpine Meadows, Sugar Bowl and Kirkwood are each known for their expansive terrain where, unbeholden to trails, skiers and riders can explore open bowls and natural features. Learn more: skilaketahoe.com.
Recreation at Two Elevations
As a result of Alex Cushing’s desire to model his resort after those of Europe, Squaw Valley | Alpine Meadows offers recreation at two elevations, including one of the nation’s highest open-air ice rinks and an outdoor swimming pool at 8,200 feet.
The ice rink is open now, while the pool will open in March for spring skiing. Learn more: squawalpine.com
Guided Backcountry Skiing
Backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering, long popular in Europe, are rapidly growing sports here at home. For those seeing to explore Tahoe’s terrain beyond resort boundaries, Alpine Skills International (ASI) and Alpenglow Expeditions are two outfitters currently offering backcountry ski tours, avalanche safety, and introduction to backcountry skiing courses. Learn more: alpineskills.com.
Also, in partnership with Sugar Bowl Resort, ASI is leading an upcoming two-day trip to Lost Trail Lodge January 10-11, including two days of backcountry skiing off the Anderson Crest and a night at the lodge complete with hors d’oeuvres, dinner and a hearty breakfast. Additional information about available ski tours and overnight trips is available on ASI’s website. Learn more: alpenglowexpeditions.com.
Amelia Richmond is a North Lake Tahoe-based freelancer writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.