A little rain and some snow on the mountain. We received a decent amount of rain Friday, although it did not amount to much. The ground is wet which puts off the fire season a few more days. This morning I could see snow on the ground and trees that were white above 7000 feet. At day break the sky was clear and views beautiful, but soon after the sky turned gray as if filled with clouds. It was cool and dreary most of the day. Not the kind of day that makes you want to jump on a bike without a jacket or head for the lake with water skis or a paddle board.
However, it was the kind of day to take a short drive and visit something I have wanted to see for a long time. We hopped in the car and drove to Soda Springs in hopes that the Donner Summit Historical Society Museum was open.
Photo by Andy Wertheim
This is a small building at the corner of old Hwy. 40 (Donner Pass Road) and Soda Springs Road (the road used to access Serene Lakes). This little museum is open on most weekends and is maned by Norm Sayler who has been living on the summit for many years. He owned Donner Ski Ranch for a long time. Norm is a real Tahoe character. Talking with him and listening to his infinite stories is worth the drive.
We spent a couple of hours looking through binders of photos and staring at walls covered with photos and other memorabilia. You could easily spend days discovering photos that depict the history of the Donner Summit area. Most of these photos deal with the area between Cisco Grove and Donner Lake. The historical society has a program to place plaques along of Hwy. 40 from Donner Lake to Cisco Grove. They have already installed over 40 of these plaques describing the history of the area.
Norm Sayler at the museum. Photo courtesy of the Colfax Record
Norm described a day in 1954 when he was at the old River Ranch Inn. He was asked to take John Riley and Byron Nishkian up the rough dirt road into Alpine Meadows so they could survey the mountain that would one day become Alpine Meadows.
He talked about the days when he owned Donner Ski Ranch and how he was the first owner to allow snowboarding on the mountain in the country. A great story he relayed to us had to do with mountain biking. He told us about 3 young men who approached him one summer day asking if they could drive up and ride down the ski area road which was private property. I think he said they wanted to drive up and then ride the bikes down. Norm indicated that the dirt road was very rough and not something he thought they could drive their vehicle on, but he offered to let them use the ski lift. He showed them how to start the lift and how to stop it at the top. “Just jump on the chair and hold onto your bikes” was what he told them to do. They spent the entire day racing down the road and riding up the lift. One of the riders was Gary Fisher who later became one of the founders of mountain biking.
We talked about the train tunnels and learned that some of the old wooden snow sheds were taller than the others because they were constructed on wheels so they could be moved apart from the others when fire broke out. This meant the entire length of a snow shed was not burned to the ground. The old wood fired or coal fired engines often created heat and threw sparks in the tunnels that caught the wooden sheds on fire. We looked at tons of old photos of single chair lifts and others built at Sugar Bowl, along with photos of Lake Norden when it was full and old buildings along Hwy. 40. Ski photos from the 1950’s and before. It is a fascinating place to browse. While we were there one of the members of the Historical Society, and major contributor to the museum dropped by delivering a supply of books he has just written about the history of Donner Summit. It appears the book is very through and should be an interesting read. I bought one to add to my collection.
Enjoy your day.