The Royal Treatment
A visitor could argue that Royal Gorge is named after more than the 4,400-foot canyon adjacent to the ski resort near Soda Springs.
Located off U.S. Highway 80 off Donner Summit, North America’s largest cross country ski resort holds the esteemed reputation of feeding its ski-in and ski-out Wilderness Lodge guests so well, they actually gain weight in between skiing jaunts.
“You come to Royal Gorge, and you need a royal gorge (of meals),” said Geoffrey Lee, one of 52 guests who stayed at the pine-lined Wilderness Lodge on a weekend package over Jan. 6-7. “The idea of balance is important. If you ski a lot you need to eat a lot.”
A guest can do both at the 30-year-old ski resort, with more than 360 kilometers of trails groomed with tracks set to occupy the ambitious Nordic skier. The trails wind through canyons to ski huts and out to panoramic lookouts like Point Mariah, located on the edge of the Royal Gorge canyon.
Since the recent snowstorm that blanketed the Sierra Nevada, Royal Gorge touts 310 kilometers of trails open, with a 54- to 62-inch snowbase.
Longtime employees said they’ve seen it snow more than 6 feet in a 24-hour period.
About 275 kilometers were open for the first weekend in January. But even with limited cover by Royal Gorge standards, the guests enjoyed themselves on and off the trails.
After a long day of skiing, Lee, 50, was ready to dig in to consume some carbohydrates in one of the gourmet spreads lodge managers John and Linda Stoddart put before him three times a day.
The Livermore resident, a computer programmer and Tai Chi teacher by trade, has looked forward to the Royal Gorge experience for 17 years.
He grew up in Wisconsin but didn’t cross country ski, until a friend coaxed him into going to the resort in 1983. It took a while to learn to glide on skis, not walk. These days, he cross trains for skiing by rollerblading to work – a much more daring feat.
Lee comes out to the wilderness to unwind from the hustle and bustle of the San Francisco Bay Area.
“The thing I like about cross country skiing is that it doesn’t really take much to get away from the crowd,” Lee said. “And coming out here has just been great. Besides the great food, they take good care of you.”
He’s not alone in his dedication.
Judy Coleman of San Jose has frequented the resort for seven consecutive years.
“(Guests) come here from all over the United States, and most people come back,” she said, addressing her lunchmates. The consensus from the table was that Royal Gorge gives congeniality classes.
On any given weekend, breakfast may range from oatmeal, yogurt and cantaloupe to eggs, scones and an extraordinary bran muffin. Lunch features soup, sandwich makings and fruit laid out like the Greeks were expected to feast.
An elegant dinner is not only served. It’s preceded by a flick of the lights and classical music, as the serving staff bursts into the dining room from the kitchen wielding the evening’s meal – white fish with vegetables. Dessert – a frozen chocolate orange parfait – turned out to be as much fun to eat as it was tasty.
For guests who can’t get enough of the Royal Gorge menu, the resort sells its creations in a recently released cookbook written by chefs Toni Paton and Letitia Tarr and named after the 30-year-old lodge.
The Wilderness Lodge, tucked away in the 9,172 acres of skiing terrain between the Emigrant and Palisade trails, has attracted a multitude of personalities.
Some come in theme-based groups like the Flamingos, who imitate the mannerisms of the birds all weekend. A clan who wear boxer shorts on the outside of their ski outfits also grace the resort on occasion.
Guests known to walk around the lodge in slippers leave their mark long after their departure.
Royal Gorge employees come from such far-flung places in the world as Austria, New Zealand, South Africa and France.
John and Linda Stoddart are Australian natives who taught shop and home economics, respectively. They started running the lodge a dozen years ago.
For continuity sake, the Stoddarts have posted a daily schedule for guests who want a more guided experience at the Wilderness Lodge.
The day starts with an early-morning ski at 8 a.m. At 8:30 a.m., breakfast is served and followed by a 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. ski school. Lunch is timed at 12:30 p.m., while 4 p.m. provides constructive criticism for those brave enough to be videotaped.
Tea time is at 4:30 p.m., while hors d’oeuvres are served at 6 p.m. Dinner time is an hour later. At 8 p.m., it’s ladies night in the hot tub and sauna room in a cabin about 30 steps away from the lodge. Guests are invited to take a moonlight ski at 9 p.m.
In between, guests are known to partake in a rousing game of Scrabble at the lodge, until a wooden sleigh carts the visitors out of the wilderness from the self-contained lodge to the Royal Gorge Summit Station, which serves as a staging area for both day and overnight skiers.
Overnight packages at the Wilderness Lodge offer individual cabins outside the lodge for $239 per person, including accommodations, meals, trail passes, lessons, guided tours, sauna and hot tub. Inside, the private rooms are small and cozy, with common bathrooms down the hall. Adding to the charm, pads cover the A-frame beams that line the hallway, so the guests avoid hitting their heads. Private room rates range from $139 to $169.
Accommodations are also available at the Rainbow Lodge, a bed and breakfast situated on the perimeter of the ski resort along a bend in the Yuba River.
Special holiday packages are provided at Royal Gorge, which was founded as a cross country ski tour business by John Slouber.
Upcoming events at Royal Gorge:
nGuided Snowshoe Tour on Jan. 28 which stops at the Wilderness Lodge for soup and snack at the lodge’s cafe.
–“Take Your Daughter to the Slopes” day, in conjunction with the national workweek event slated for Feb. 4.
–Also on Feb. 4, ski orienteering tests a skier’s skill at navigation at a beginning or advanced level.
–Skate clinic on Feb. 11 is designed to refine techniques with a morning of snow coaching.
–Kid’s Cookie Race set for Feb. 17 invites young skiers, ages 4 to 12, to ski for treats.
–Ski the Huts Tour challenges skiers to tap at least eight of Royal Gorge’s warming huts on March 4.
–Silver Streak Week gives seniors breaks on trail passes and group lessons from March 5 to 9.
–Ski Joring Clinic shows how to pull off a waterski experience on snow March 11.
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