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Ski Resort Life

Independents Day: Mt. Rose, Nev.

It might be close to the casinos in Reno, but this independent ski area is a world away from America's Biggest Little City.

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You can be at a blackjack table at a casino in downtown Reno, and 30 minutes later, be booting up at the base of Mt. Rose. The accessibility is just one of the defining features of this no-frills ski area smack between the northeastern edge of Lake Tahoe and the blinking lights of the Biggest Little City. Thanks to its base elevation of 8,260 feet—the highest in Tahoe—Mt. Rose often gets snow when it’s raining elsewhere.

Mt. Rose caters to locals, so nothing feels fancy or drastically overpriced. Snag two lift tickets for the price of one on Tuesdays or ski for $49 on Friday afternoons. On Burner Ski Day, held each spring, skiers show up in whatever elaborate garb they wore to the last Burning Man, a tribute to the eccentric festival that takes place in the Black Rock Desert, a few hours away.

Sure, Mt. Rose has seen plenty of contemporary updates— the modern, glass-and-steel Winters Creek Lodge opened on the resort’s Slide Mountain side in 2009, and they’ve improved snowmaking and lift infrastructure over the years. There’s even a plan in the works to expand into more intermediate terrain with a skiable bridge across the Mt. Rose Highway. And just this winter, they got rid of old-school metal ticket wickets in lieu of ticket-scanning RFID machines.

But the place still has a charming, back-in-time feel to it. The main lodge screams 1970s wooden A-frame. The cafeteria’s menu, which has stayed the same for 20 years, is finally getting an update this winter. Don’t worry: The cooks will still be slinging signature bowls of chili, but you can also find new, fancier options, like a brisket grilled cheese and fresh salads.

You’re driving up the curvy Mount Rose Highway for one main reason: The Chutes, the set of imposing, north-facing shots that drop a thousand vertical feet and challenge even the most expert skiers. Two high-speed six-pack lifts deliver you to the Chutes and four gates provide entry, making 15-minute laps here totally doable. You can’t go wrong in El Cap, the main thoroughfare down the gut of the bowl, or the gates into Yellow Jacket, which has tree skiing into a wide-open apron.

Skiers enjoying a bluebird day at Mt. Rose
All smiles on Mt. Rose.Courtesy of Mt. Rose

The backcountry skiing around the resort is some of the best in the Tahoe area, thanks to its high elevation and diverse terrain. You can access the backcountry through a gate atop the resort’s Zephyr chair, but go at your own risk. Or, get a taste of the backcountry without actually leaving the boundary by hoofing it up the short bootpack from the Zephyr chair to Wild Card, an above-treeline bowl with sneaky views of Lake Tahoe.

When you’re done on the mountain, it’s a quick jaunt down the hill to Reno, where you’ll find the cheapest ski-town lodging pretty much anywhere. Just don’t forget quarters for the slot machines.

How to Get to Mt. Rose, Nev.

Nearly straddling Nevada and California, Mt. Rose is 11 miles from North Lake Tahoe and 25 miles from Reno. The closest airport, Reno-Tahoe International Airport, is about a 25- minute drive, and is served with nonstop flights from New York, Atlanta, Houston, Seattle, and more. From points west, count on a 2.5- to 3-hour drive from Sacramento and roughly 4 hours from San Francisco, depending on traffic. Always check road conditions before heading up. Visit for Nevada info and for California.

Mt. Rose Skier Stats

  • Skiable Acres: 1,200
  • Annual Snowfall (inches): 350
  • Summit Elevation (Feet): 9,700
  • Vertical Drop (Feet): 1,800

More Great Independent Resorts Worth Celebrating

Originally published in the January 2020 issue of SKI Magazine. For more great writing delivered directly to your inbox, SUBSCRIBE NOW.