Basics: If you have been to Sugar Bowl Ski Resort, you may have already been to the top of Mt. Judah – the Summit Chair above Mt. Judah Express takes you nearly to the top. Unfortunately this isn’t Switzerland, and they don’t run the chairs year-round, so if you want to get to the top in early June when there’s crazy amounts of snow still on the mountain, you’ve got to get up there yourself. The route we took was about 4 miles round trip, with about 1200 feet of elevation gain – sounds easy but walking side-slope on snow at elevation adds some difficulty.
Trail Description: We planned to start at the Sugar Bowl parking lot and walk right up the ski runs to the top. We then learned they close the gate when the resort is closed. So instead we parked as close as we could – at the Sugar Bowl Academy on Donner Summit Rd, just past the turn for the main Sugar Bowl parking lot. Turns out, this is actually a trailhead location for the PCT, but in this much snow any trail is just a marking on a map.
From the parking lot we strapped our skis and boards to our packs and headed south down a gentle slope, and then up a short but steep section. After that struggle we were able to walk side-slope, somewhat uphill. We kept with this general strategy until the peak was in view ahead. It flattens out a little bit for about a half mile as you approach the base of the peak. When you arrive at the steep part, it seems quite daunting – the final 400 feet of elevation is the hardest. We walked east, across the slope until we came out of the trees and onto the more gently sloped ridge on the northeast side of the mountain. We trudged up the ridge – still very steep for a snow hike.
After eating lunch on the ski lift – and playing in the fall net below the lift (it’s like a giant hammock!), we proceeded up to the true summit another half mile south. Honestly it didn’t look much higher, but it had great views of Mt. Lincoln and beyond.
After returning to the chair lift, we strapped on our boards and skis, and took the easy way down. We were planning to stay on a main ski run, then veer to the right sometime before the bottom. We stayed on the run for too long and ended up skiing to the shore of Lake Mary. A bit out of the way – we were hoping to ski closer to the car or the road. So we walked east again to get back to the car. This part seemed impossible – the snow under the trees was soft and deep. In perfect hindsight I would have taken the ski run all the way to the bottom and walked along the road. Anyway, it was a beautiful day and a wonderful ski-hike.
It’s really too bad ski resorts close so early – leaving the snow to melt all by it’s lonely self. And now, as I finally write this in January, they are panicking about the current lack of snow. They had plenty of 2011 snow, they just closed too early to enjoy it all!