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In the hierarchy of ski-town name recognition, Reno registers low on the list, if at all. Most would associate that name with gambling, a less glitzy alternative to Las Vegas. But for those in the know, the “Biggest Little City in the World” is home to a mountain that Reno skiers hope you will drive right by, their ace in the hole: Mt. Rose. You could call it the Biggest Little Mountain, but there’s nothing small about Mt. Rose’s 1,800 vertical feet stationed like an outer suburb a mere 14 miles from town.
Photo: Keri Bascetta
At 9,700 feet, Mt. Rose is the highest of all the Tahoe ski areas, sitting atop the Carson Range on the Nevada side of the lake’s northeast perimeter. Accessible from either Lake Tahoe or Reno via the Mt. Rose Highway (at 8,911 feet, it’s the highest year-round Sierra pass), Rose is actually two ski areas, Reno Ski Bowl—a.k.a. Slide Mountain—and Mt. Rose. They were joined together in 1987. Unlike some Tahoe resorts, Mt. Rose is easy to navigate, placing a premium on ski time. You park at the bottom and walk (no shuttles) just steps to the main lodge, where everything is concentrated in one place. Ticket booths, rentals, cafeteria, bar, and ski school are all stacked in layers. There are no retail mazes to negotiate and one doesn’t need to ride multiple lifts to get to the good skiing. It’s a quick skate from either the main lodge or the newer Winters Creek Lodge (on the Slide Bowl side) to the lifts. Then it’s a six-minute ride to the top on the Blazing Zephyr or the Northwest Magnum, both high-speed six-packs, which provide access to the entire mountain and maximize a skier’s time on snow. In theory, one could land at RNO, grab bags and gear, make the 25-minute drive up Mt. Rose Highway, and be skiing within an hour of getting off the plane. It’s that close and that easy.
Reno native Dan Meyer, who has been teaching skiing at Rose since 1980, likes the family-friendly layout of the mountain. “It’s one of the few mountains where an entire family can ski together on one lift, ride to the top, ski runs of all different levels, and then meet up at the bottom and ride the lift back up together.” But Mt. Rose is no pushover. The Chutes, a dihedral nose of vertical stripes connecting the two sides of the mountain, offer 200 acres and 1,500 vert of steeps between 40 and 55 degrees. The intermediate terrain on Rose skis steepish with consistently long pitches. “It’s like Shirley [a popular section of Squaw],” says Larry Tomlinson, an Olympic Valley, Calif., resident on a ski outing with other members of the Tahoe City Yacht Club one Friday morning in March. “But you get more runs in because you don’t have to take a lift halfway up the mountain to get to another lift.”
That same day, Tahoe and Reno locals—postal workers, teachers, tradesmen playing hooky—were out enjoying a few inches of fresh during a very lean season. On the ride up, regulars called to each other, and they pointed out secret stashes of powder and offered navigational tips to a visitor, something that doesn’t always happen at larger destination resorts. Mt. Rose is the kind of friendly, skier-focused place where, if the computers go down in the cafeteria, Murray, the operations manager, stands there and buys skiers lunch until the problem is fixed so that people don’t have to wait around and lose time on the hill (true story). There are some views of Lake Tahoe from a few west-facing runs, but instead of the deep blues and greens of the Sierra-facing side, the main vistas on Rose are of the hardscrabble sage and khaki of the Washoe Valley and the glimmering high-rises of Reno’s casinos lying in wait 4,000 feet below. But locals don’t come for the views. They’re here to enjoy a mountain that skis bigger than its reputation. When you’re looking up from Reno, Mt. Rose looms like a threat and a promise, its glaring white chutes and bowls dominating the southwest sky, beckoning the daring and the snow-addicted.
Photo: Keri Bascetta
SLEEP » Reno is your best bet for beds. The recently renovated Sienna Hotel & Casino (214 rooms) is perched on the banks of the Truckee River (ask for a river view) in downtown Reno and features a spa, pool, and several bars. siennahotelandcasino.com
EAT » Campo, in Reno, serves fresh-made pastas, wood-fired thin-crust
pizzas, and in-house salumi with an emphasis on local produce. Order the wild-boar tagliatelle with pecorino and pair it with a Tuscan Sangiovese from the extensive list of wines by the glass.
DRINK » Grab a Mt. Rose Honey Lager (brewed exclusively for the mountain at the High Sierra Brewery in Carson City) and take in the huge views of the mountain and the desert below at the rustic Timbers bar in the old Mt. Rose base lodge.