Modern Donner Summit history is heavily based on tourism related to ski industry. In its early days, skiing was mostly a spectator sport. People traveled to the summit to watch ski jumpers and ski racers, while some participated in cross country skiing. Then in the 1930’s professionals began promoting skiing.

Advances in technology and equipment opened the sport to more people. With the sport more accessible, instruction became more advanced, followed by the arrival of ski lifts and ski lodges.

The confluence of these events created the modern ski industry, with Donner Summit at its center. The first formal ski school in California was at Soda Springs, behind the old hotel at Beacon Hill (named for the beacon on top) and today named Soda Springs Ski Area.

The first chairlift in California was built at Sugar Bowl. And when snowboarding appeared much later, Donner Ski Ranch, on Donner Summit, was one of the few ski areas to attract and cultivate snowboarders.