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Looming over Donner Lake, Donner Peak is Truckee’s most accessible and most popular backcountry zone. With Sugar Bowl a stone’s throw away, and Old Highway 40 along its base, getting on top of this rowdy mountain couldn’t be easier. Donner Peak is most easily accessed through Sugar Bowl’s backcountry gate atop the Summit Chair, and single ride lift tickets are available. The Lake Run is the safest and most popular descent on Donner Peak. This run hugs the east flank of Donner’s northeast aspect, merging with the train tunnels halfway down. Walk east through this tunnel (headlamp recommended), and look for a person-sized opening with a mangled metal garage door about 10 minutes into the tunnel. This puts you onto Trestle Peak’s pillowed north face. A destination in its own right, Trestle has some of the best pillow stacks around. Aside from the Lake Run, there are numerous extreme descent options. As always, play it safe during periods of elevated avalanche risk. Aside from its east flank, Donner is nearly devoid of trees and sits right on the Sierra Crest, receiving some of the heaviest dumps in Tahoe. Trending left of the Lake Run, a zone called the Bubbles should be explored only by expert skiers in stable avalanche conditions. Trending left of fall line from the summit points you towards Heart Chute, another hair-raising descent. Above Sugar Bowl Acadamy is a short zone called A.S.I., named for the Alpine Skills International headquarters that used to be in the S.B.A. building. This zone is only about 200′ long, but packs in some fun, featured terrain. Usually I recommend against car shuttles, but Donner is likely the easiest location to do so. This car assisted option gets you a 1,000’ skin for a 2,000’ run. And with a 15 minute walk from the bottom back to the highway, hitchhiking rides up Old Highway 40 is a lot less work than staging and shuttling cars. The higher parking for Donner Peak is found near the summit of Old Highway 40 at Donner Ski Ranch. Do not park at Sugar Bowl Academy, as their 20 spaces are reserved and you will likely be towed. Donner Ski Ranch is located across the street from the Sugar Bowl road. For a more traditional earn-your-turns approach to Donner Peak, a parking space for about 10 cars is located in Donner Lake’s West End community on Tinker Court. From Donner Pass Road / Old Hwy 40, turn south onto South Shore Drive at Donner Lake’s West End. Turn right onto Pine St, left onto Fawn St, and left onto Tinker Ct.
Donner Peaks northeast face, as seen from Old Hwy 40.
Donner and Trestle Peaks, with the Lake Run highlighted in blue.
Fred Sproat soaking in Donner Peak.
Fred Sproat and Adam Willie connecting the Lake Runs two descent pitches.