“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Near Truckee in Nevada County, California — The American West (Pacific Coastal)

Donner Ski Ranch

Hwy 40 Scenic Bypass

Donner Ski Ranch Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Barry Swackhamer, June 18, 2017
1. Donner Ski Ranch Marker
Caption: (bottom)
First Rope Tow
Pay 50 cents
Keep you skis on
Gray a handle
Ride up and ski down all afternoon
We don't count rides.

The first ski lift on Signal Hill (now Donner Ski Ranch) was built by Johnny Ellis in 1937. This forerunner of the "Ranch" included two rope tows powered by Model A automobiles sitting on blocks (the manila rope going around the rear wheels), and one on tow Mt. Judah above Lake Mary.
These lifts helped low cost, widely popular "downhill only" skiing spread around California from Donner Summit.
After World War II the land under Donner Ski Ranch was purchased from the railroad and developed into a modern ski area with the second "T" bar in California by Stan and Madelyn Walton. Donner Ski Ranch also pioneered later in a number of areas under Norm Sayler. It was first to offer night asking and music for skiers. It was the first to encourage handicapped skiers and the first to allow snowboarders and telemark skiers.

A Good Story
Regarding the rope tow: "Normally low gear was used, but just to liven things up the operator could shift to high gear and this would spill all but the hardiest." -- Johnny Ellis
On top of Signal Hill is one of the airway beacons
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that used to guide airplanes over the Sierra before instruments guided flight. Each beacon flashed a different rhythm of light so pilots knew where they were - keeping Signal Hill on the left and Judah on the right for example. Sometimes foul weather obscured the beacons and there were at least three plane crashes on Donner Summit.
One crashed Tri-motor was taken in pieces to Seattle where it was rebuilt. It then went off to fly in Alaska before ending up today at the Boeing Museum. To the right is a mail carrier that crashed into Van Norden Meadow.
Things to do right here

The Pacific Crest Trail is just east of Donner Ski Ranch. One direction heads north from Highway 40 and from it you can explore views, peaks, and lakes even taking it the full 4 miles to the I-80 rest stop. There are lots of good picnic stops, for example at Lake Angela or Mt. Stephens, the small peak above Rainbow Bridge.
Erected by Donner Summit Historical Society. (Marker Number 22.)
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: EntertainmentIndustry & Commerce. In addition, it is included in the Donner Summit Historical Society series list. A significant historical year for this entry is 1937.
Location. 39° 19.091′ N, 120° 19.752′ 
Donner Ski Ranch Lodge and Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Barry Swackhamer, June 18, 2017
2. Donner Ski Ranch Lodge and Marker
The marker is to the right of the white car.
W. Marker is near Truckee, California, in Nevada County. Marker can be reached from Ski Ranch Lane near Donner Pass Road, on the left when traveling east. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 10150 Ski Ranch Lane, Truckee CA 96161, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Tunnel 6 (about 500 feet away, measured in a direct line); Summit Hotel (about 500 feet away); Donner Pass Airway Station & Beacon (approx. 0.2 miles away); Sugar Bowl Academy (approx. 0.2 miles away); Great Summit Tunnel of the Sierra Nevada (approx. 0.2 miles away); Sacred Symbols From Ancient Times (approx. half a mile away); Petroglyphs (approx. half a mile away); China Wall (approx. half a mile away).
Also see . . .  Johnny Ellis, Vision for the Summit -- Donner Summit Historical Society Newsletter. “The first manila rope tow in the entire west – that I ever knew of – was my big electrically-driven rope town on section 2 [Lake Mary] ---starting up the slopes of Mount Judah in the winter of 937-38. In the next couple of years I added length to it, and I build two Model-A- driven tows on section 17 (Donner Ski Ranch – Signal Hill], and the Sierra Club added a rope tow of their own a mile west of the Pass... " (Submitted on July 8, 2017, by Barry Swackhamer of Brentwood, California.) 
Early rope tow image. Click for full size.
Donner Summit Historical Society
3. Early rope tow
Credits. This page was last revised on July 8, 2017. It was originally submitted on July 8, 2017, by Barry Swackhamer of Brentwood, California. This page has been viewed 280 times since then and 7 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3. submitted on July 8, 2017, by Barry Swackhamer of Brentwood, California.

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Feb. 21, 2024