Donner Pass (el. . / 2,160 m.) is a high mountain pass in the northern Sierra Nevada, located above Donner Lake about nine miles (14 km) west of Truckee, California. It is a narrow pass with a very steep approach from the east, and a gradual approach from the west.
To reach California from the East, pioneer emigrants had to get their wagons over the Sierra. In 1844, the Stephens-Townsend-Murphy Party followed the Truckee River up into the mountains. At the head of what is now called Donner Lake, they found a low notch in the mountains and thus became the first overland emigrants to use the pass. 
The pass received its name, however, from another group of California-bound emigrants. In early November 1846, the Donner Party found the route blocked by snow and was forced to spend the winter on the eastern side of the mountains. Of the 81 emigrants, only 45 survived to reach California; some of them resorted to cannibalism to survive. 
In 1913, the Lincoln Highway, the first road across America, was routed over Donner Pass.
On January 13, 1952, another group became stranded about seventeen miles (27 km) west of Donner pass at Yuba Pass on Track #2 adjacent to Tunnel 35 (Track #1) at about MP 176.5. Southern Pacific's passenger train City of San Francisco was en route westbound through the gap when a raging blizzard slowed the train to a halt. The passengers and crew were stranded for six days until help could arrive. 
Summit Tunnel, West PortalIn the spring of 1868, the Sierra Nevada were finally "conquered" by the Central Pacific Railroad after almost five years of sustained construction effort with the successful completion at Donner Pass of its 1,659-foot (506 m) Tunnel #6 (aka the Summit Tunnel) and associated grade thus permitting the establishment of commercial transportation en masse of passengers and freight over the Sierras for the first time. Following a route first surveyed and proposed by the CPRR's original Chief Engineer, Theodore D. Judah (1826-1863), the construction of the four tunnels, several miles of snowsheds, and two "Chinese Walls" necessary to breach Donner Summit constituted by far the most difficult engineering and construction challenge of the entire original Sacramento to Ogden CPRR route.
The historic Lincoln Highway, the first road across America (later U.S. Route 40 and now named Donner Pass Road), crosses Donner Pass. Interstate 80 was constructed through this area in 1960. While I-80 generally parallels the old route of US 40 through the Sierra Nevada, I-80 crosses the Sierra crest at the Euer Saddle, approximately two miles north of Donner Pass. Euer Saddle is also commonly called "Donner Summit"; at 7240 feet (2206 m), it is about higher than Donner Pass, but it is much wider and has a gentler approach that aided construction to Interstate Highway standards, which do not allow the switchbacks used by the Donner Pass Road to approach its crest. The original concrete highway has been preserved as a scenic alternative to I-80. Approaching Donner Pass from the east on Lincoln Highway / old US 40, April 2007 (Robert E. Nylund)
Winter weather in Donner Pass can be brutal. Precipitation averages 54 inches (137 cm), most of which falls as snow. At 415 inches (10.5 m) per year, Donner Pass is one of the snowiest places in the United States. To take advantage of the heavy snows, the Boreal Ski Resort was built to the north. Ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe area report an average of 300 to 500 inches (7.6 to 12.7 meters) of snowfall per season. Winds in the pass can also become extreme and 100+ mph (160 km/h) wind gusts are common during winter storms. Winter temperatures in the area drop below zero several times each year; the all-time record low for California of was recorded at the Boca Reservoir (east of Truckee) in January 1937.
The winter of 1846-47 was especially severe, and this is generally cited as the single most important factor in the disaster of the Donner Party.
Summer and winter offers a wide variety of recreation and lifestyle sports such as backpacking, alpine and cross-country skiing, rock and ice climbing. The region became world famous during the early 1990s from snowboard films by Fall Line Films (FFL) and Standard Films for its easy access to frontcountry and backcountry terrain. However, its fame and quick access from Old Highway 40 or nearby Sugar Bowl Ski Resort has led to a large number of avalanche fatalities including professional snowboarder Jamil Khan. http://classic.mountainzone.com/news/khan.html
Albert Bierstadt painting "View of Donner Lake" (1871-72).http://www.xmission.com/~emailbox/glenda/bierstadt/bierstadt25.html