NORDEN, Calif. - Sugar Bowl Ski Resort has inked a deal making it the operator of the Royal Gorge Cross Country Resort, America's largest cross-country operation.
In early August, a consortium of conservation nonprofits -including the Trust for Public Land, the Truckee Donner Land Trust and the Northern Sierra Partnership - purchased the 3,000-acre property nestled atop Donner Summit, after the previous owner, Kirk Syme, defaulted on his $16.7 million loan in June 2011.
On Monday, Oct. 1, the conservation groups placed a $500,000 deposit on the property and will need to raise a total of $11.25 million by Dec. 20, 2012, when the purchase is scheduled to be finalized.
In the meantime, Sugar Bowl will take out a mini-lease with the bank that technically still holds the property - San Diego-based Armed Forces Bank - as to begin operating the resort for the upcoming season, said John Monson, spokesman for Sugar Bowl.
If and when the land consortium assumes ownership on Dec. 21, the resort will negotiate a lease with the conservation groups with an eye toward eventually purchasing the cross-country resort.
"Royal Gorge has incredible potential, and we're excited about the opportunity to return such an iconic resort to its once and former glory," said Sugar Bowl CEO Rob Kautz. "It's a perfect complement to the authentic alpine adventure brand that we've built here at Sugar Bowl, and we're committed to investing in Royal Gorge as a world-class destination for years to come."
Sugar Bowl and Royal Gorge are already connected by an "interconnect trail" that allows skiers to ski back and forth between the Donner Summit resorts, and plans are in the works to further enhance the connection with two additional beginner-friendly routes, according to news release issued by Sugar Bowl.
Sugar Bowl is now offering a season pass that allows holders to downhill ski at Sugar Bowl and cross-country ski at Royal Gorge for one affordable rate. Sugar Bowl passholders can add on an unrestricted Royal Gorge pass for $149 (adult price), and can purchase an unrestricted, standalone Royal Gorge pass for $299, the release states.
Despite many ski corporations owning both downhill and cross-country ski operations, Sugar Bowl is unique in offering a season pass that allows access to both platforms, Monson said.
The increasing popularity of alpine-touring or backcountry skiing, where skiers forgo lifts and opt to ski uphill before turning around to ski back down, means that more and more outdoor athletes are looking to train at cross-country ski resorts, Monson said.
The Truckee-based resort is currently undertaking expansion on the Sugar Bowl Academy and believes the addition of Royal Gorge will help attract new cross-country athletes to the institution, Monson said.
"I am confident (the demand will be there)," Monson said.
Sugar Bowl plans to invest $500,000 into Royal Gorge this season, including upgrades and renovations to Summit Station, the purchase of two new grooming machines, enhanced wayfinding signage, a new website with comprehensive daily grooming report and more, Monson said.
"Royal Gorge is back and it's an iconic brand," Monson said.
Perry Norris, executive director of the Truckee Donner Land Trust, declined to provide specific numbers regarding the progress toward the established $13.5 million fundraising goal, but said the support the organization has received bolsters his belief the goal will be accomplished.
"The support has been overwhelming," Norris said. "Not a doubt in my mind we will prevail."
The $2.25 million gap between the purchase price and the fundraising goal will be used for management of the property, which is in need of fuels management and the implementation and maintenance of recreational trails, Norris said.