A Brief History of the Downhill Ski Resort

A Brief History of the Downhill Ski Resort

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By Ali Dickson

The association’s very first amenity, now known as the Tahoe Donner Downhill Ski Resort, started spinning its chairlift in January of 1972. What started as a vision only two years earlier by Jack Kirby, entrepreneur and developer, quickly sprung to life with hard work and a dream to create a family resort community enjoyed in the sun and the snow.

Jack Kirby held many titles throughout his life. Beginning as a newspaper boy in Los Angeles during the Great Depression, Kirby later completed college, served in the Navy, played for the Green Bay Packers and ventured into real estate development. Partnering with Wayne Valley, Oakland Raiders founder and owner, the two began Lakeworld Properties, which would later be known as Dart Industries.

Kirby’s vision of a family-friendly community with amenities readily available throughout the seasons was an undertaking that required no small effort and no average parcel of land. Having recently created a community in the Grass Valley area, Kirby was ready to bring his home-resort vision to life.

The Truckee fire of 1960 ravaged a large portion of the now-Tahoe Donner area, decimating the vast tree coverage our Sierra home is known for. Kirby, scouting land for his next project in 1970, laid eyes on this bare area and quickly realized its potential. In the barren and open char, he imagined the laughter and rosy cheeks of a family ski resort. With agreement from an Austrian ski consultant, Tahoe Donner and its first amenity quickly sprang to life.

In one of Tahoe Donner’s earliest ads (seen to the right), “We said the 200- acre ski bowl with two double chairlifts, along with the restaurant and clubhouse, would be completed by January, 1972. By mid-January, it was in operation and hailed as ‘the new place’ to ski.” This hill, along with the Donner Christy Inn day lodge building, became Truckee’s new winter hot spot. Add in a bustling hotel (seen today as the condominiums near the ski hill), and you’ve got yourself a full-fledged place for family fun.

While the ski hill became a seasonal hub, the newly created subdivision still needed to sell its lots. Dart Industries’ real estate office was housed in Tahoe Donner’s first building, which we use today as the ski lodge. As the appeal of living in Tahoe Donner grew, the real estate business grew with the ski resort. It was soon apparent that a battle between the real estate office and ski service areas would be the ski area’s biggest challenge. Dart Industries moved to Northwoods Clubhouse in the late 1970s, and the now-full-time ski lodge was expanded, remodeled and utilized over the decades as the popularity of skiing grew.

An exterior mountain operation building was established in 2008 to house expanding needs. Conveyor belts and ski school yurts were also added in the early 2000s for ski and snowboard lessons of all ages. Snowmaking technology was installed in 2015 to ensure families had a perfect snowpack, especially during the early season holiday period. The Snowbird Triple Chairlift was installed in 2018 to create an even better ski experience for beginners. And the smiles and adventures shared on the slopes are timeless.

The Downhill Ski Resort over the decades has transformed into Tahoe’s best place to begin a ski or snowboard adventure. Today, our little ski resort holds some mighty offerings, including:

• 3 conveyor lifts
• 1 triple chair
• 1 quad chair
• 17 total runs
• 120 skiable acres
• Certified and professional ski school
• Rental + repair shop
• Retail shop
• Downhill Ski Grill + Bar

The original amenity building still stands and operates as our ski lodge today. Looking forward, with member input and a special task force to determine the best course of action, the effort to update the ski lodge is moving along. In December 2019 after extensive review, the board of directors voted to replace, not remodel, the facility due to the challenges associated with its unique snowflake design and extensive building requirements that would be needed to comply with current ADA and California Building code regulations, making a remodel cost-prohibitive. As the process continues, we encourage you to stay up to date by visiting tahoedonner.com/downhill-ski-resortlodge-replacement-project.

As generations of Tahoe Donner members know, our ski hill can be a wonderful place to enjoy first runs and unforgettable winters. For many families, Tahoe Donner ski days have become family traditions, and we look forward to many happy generations to come. If you haven’t experienced Tahoe Donner Downhill Ski Resort, we invite you to discover what you’ve been missing. Private lessons are offered daily, and weekend group lesson packages are an awesome value. Even if you’ve never been on skis, our professional and certified instructors will get you enjoying this very special amenity.

To learn more about the history of Tahoe Donner, including the Downhill Ski Resort, check out tahoedonner.com/50years.