Our Guest Author this month is Curtis Fong, “The Guy From Tahoe”. He has been a familiar figure on the ski slopes of Lake Tahoe, on the tv screen and on the radio, for years. He has also created several of the most prestigious bicycling events in the state: Bike The West, America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride, Tour de Tahoe-Bike Big Blue, and OATBRAN (One Awesome Tour Bike Ride Across Nevada).
Starting next month Curtis will cover Skiing and Bicycling in a new section of the NevadaGram we’re calling “Let’s Go OUTSIDE in Nevada”. We will add ATVing, Hunting and fishing, Hiking and Climbing, all the outdoor activities available throughout the public lands — sunbathing? lollygagging? — as opportunities permit. His look at Nevada skiing is a preview of what’s to come.
by Curtis Fong
“The Guy From Tahoe”
When anyone asks, “Where are you Skiing?”, most people respond with the obvious names of well known resorts — Heavenly, Vail, Park City, Killington — or a geographic location such as Tahoe, Colorado, British Columbia. Others describe their skiing by Mountain Ranges: the Sierra Nevada, Rockies, Wasatch, Cascade or Bugaboos.
Nobody ever says Nevada when it comes to winter sports, but there are several resorts in Nevada where skiing & snowboarding are prime — and they are not in the Sierra Nevada.
Heavenly Mountain Resort has many of its lifts and runs on the Nevada side at Stateline on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe. Heavenly North, as it is referred to, has two base lodge facilities that skiers and riders can start from: Boulder Lodge and Stagecoach Lodge, both located off of Tramway Drive at the top of Kingsbury Grade (Nevada 207).
Nine lifts & tows (out of a total of 28) are accessed out of these two lodges serving terrain on Heavenly’s Nevada side, and there are 52 named trails (out of a total of 97) on the Nevada side. One can ski back and forth from Nevada to California and vice versa, from the top of either side of the resort when there is a normal winter snow pack. This winter has started off slow and if it were not for their snowmaking system, there would be very few lifts and runs open at Heavenly Mountain.
Heavenly has one of the largest snowmaking systems in the west and has been known to lay down as much snow, equal to 6” deep, overnight, on a full football field, when conditions and overnight temperatures permit. With this year’s slow start to winter, their snowmaking system allowed them to open the top of the Nevada side with Dipper Express on November 21. Comet Express was opened the next day, and by December 8 they were able to open Stagecoach Lodge and fire up Stagecoach Express to access the Upper Nevada side of the mountain.
Five Years Ago in the NevadaGram
My paw-tograph Party in Elko was so much fun! Dogs and their posses came and they brought scrumptious home-made treats — it was like a pot-luck buffet for dogs.
I signed book after book and I ate a lot of treats I had never tasted before. My new fave: banana and peanut butter! Who knew?
Minka was there, and Dino. Sadie, Jake and Tallulah came, and Lexi-Lu.
When the party was over, each dog got a Doggy-Bag full of treats to take home. I’m still eating mine because the posse won’t give them to me all at once, which I really prefer.
S H O R T Y The Wonder Dog
The Nevada side of Heavenly also has some of the steepest and most challenging terrain of all the Tahoe resorts, with both Mott & Killebrew Canyons, steep and narrow avalanche chutes with no room for errors. I recall when the Mott Canyon Lift was built, I toured this area with their mountain manager and skied “The Y” and “Bill’s Run”. It was steep and narrow, and you had to set up every turn through the bumps and hope you didn’t blow an edge or get too far forward or back on your skis.
When it snows big time, all the way down with snow in the Carson Valley, many adventure skiers and riders ski down this backside to base of Kingsbury Grade with a little bush-wacking and skirting private property lines. On these days you can see skiers putting their thumbs out looking to hitch-hike back up. Nowadays there is a ride-share parking lot and a bus stop at the bottom of Kingsbury with shuttle bus service between Gardnerville and Stateline.
In the 1970-80’s, Heavenly hosted International World Cup Events, and the Nevada side of the mountain had a fully homologated FIS Women’s Downhill Course, still called “Olympic Downhill”. This run started at the top of their Olympic Lift on the mid mountain and ran straight down the Nevada side with a steep drop to the finish. The finish area was served by its own lift, the Wells Fargo, which was removed many years ago and the run closed off. Most skiershave no idea this run ever existed, but its re-vegetated footprint is visible from Nevada 207 (Kingsbury Grade) at the top of Daggett Pass.
Ten Years Ago in the NevadaGram
In 2004, Denys Koyle had the best idea of her life. Denys operates The Border Inn, about 5 miles from Baker on US 6/50 at the Utah line. Baker is the enchanted village at the entrance to Great Basin National Park. As she was reflecting on the great popularity of Elko’s Cowboy Poetry Gathering, she thought, “What about a party for sheepherders?”
And so she threw one.
She thought 40 or 50 people might show up for the supper of lamb stew, fried spuds and baking powder biscuits. Ninety came, most of them from the southern Idaho, western Utah, eastern Nevada region where the dwindling sheep industry still survives.
The popularity of the event has drawn more participants each year, and Denys is expanding her main building in large part to accommodate the party. But as enjoyable as the party is, there are fewer and fewer sheepherders to enjoy it.
“The last of the Basque sheepherders working around here left the range in 1977,” she says. “After that it was Scotsmen and then Navajos; they’re all Peruvians now. And where I used to have 30 or 40 of them in here on a Saturday night, I might get 8 or 9 now.
“So when people say to me, ‘Your party will be as big as the Cowboy Poetry Gathering before long,’ I say, ‘No it won’t.’ But I’m not doing this to build a big event. I’m doing this to make some old men happy.”
Although nothing beats sliding on real snow, their machine made snow, when it’s machine packed & groomed is a satisfying surface for any skier or snowboarder and most welcomed when Mother Nature doesn’t deliver the goods in a timely fashion. The investment in snowmaking has proven to be extremely beneficial for Lake Tahoe resorts to provide a product when Mother Nature takes a break.
Diamond Peak in Incline Village was the first resort to invest in snowmaking in the West. Originally known as Ski Incline, this resort installed snow making when it was opened in 1966. Here is an excerpt from Diamond Peak’s History:
“Art Wood, an entrepreneur from Oklahoma, and his associate Harold Tiller envisioned the creation of Incline Village — a master-planned vacation resort community on the northeastern shore of Lake Tahoe. Ski Incline, now known as Diamond Peak Ski Resort, was one of Art Wood’s cornerstone recreation amenities in his master-planned “Pebble Beach of the Sierra.” In 1966, Luggi Foeger, a renowned Austrian-born ski resort consultant, was hired to design and build the resort.
“Art Wood put his faith in Foeger and committed $2 million to build Ski Incline. While everyone in the ski industry predicted failure, Foeger’s vision turned out to be even more profound, since his new ski area was designed to include the first snowmaking equipment in the western United States. With the installation of snowmaking technology, Ski Incline became the first resort in the West to employ this insurance policy against Mother Nature’s stinginess. Time and again, during drought and late-snow years, these systems have enabled the resort to create a top-quality ski experience. Soon many other Tahoe area resorts followed suit.”
When Ski Incline opened on November 19 1966, just four months after construction began, it featured three chair lifts, a T-bar surface lift, and snowmaking equipment.
In 1985, Ski Incline got approval to install the mile-long Crystal Quad Chair to the top of the peak and expand the lift system and snowmaking capacity. With this steeper and more advanced terrain, the resort changed its name to Diamond Peak at Ski Incline… to reflect Black Diamond Terrain… Since then, “Diamond Peak” stuck and “Ski Incline” was retired.
With Diamond Peak’s snowmaking system, they were able to get open for top to bottom skiing and riding on December 14. Although only a few runs were opened, snowmaking was the difference, as it has been in other low snow years.
Mount Rose Ski Tahoe is another great Nevada resort. When I first started to ski in the Tahoe area, in the mid to late 60’s, there were two different resorts at the top of Hwy 431, Slide Mountain Ski Area and Mount Rose Ski Area, and there was a fence dividing the resorts between their lifts and runs at the top of the mountain.
Fifteen Years Ago in the NevadaGram
Meet the MaryJane Sisters, Mary and Jane, whose idea of a dream vacation is to travel together around Nevada and enjoy the local flavors: “You know how people tell you “you can’t get there from here?” Mary asked me. Or was it Jane?
“Well it’s not like that in Nevada. You can get almost anywhere from anywhere in Nevada. The network of unpaved roads will take you on a journey through the real Nevada, which can’t be seen from the highway. You may even go back in time as you trek the desert valleys and mountain canyons.
“We like to have a tentative itinerary subject to modification as we go,” she said. And so it was that the Sisters were dancing with some cowboys in Elko one night when somebody mentioned the two-headed calf at the Jiggs Bar. “He said the Jiggs Bar was the best place in town, not to mention the only place in town. Besides, his uncle owned the Jiggs Bar.
“Jiggs isn’t exactly a town but it definitely has the two important buildings any town in Nevada should have: the town saloon, and across the road, the garage for the volunteer fire department. Now that’s a well-planned town.
“The Jiggs Bar was old. We walked in and said we were looking for the 2-headed calf. I felt like I walked in off the desert but we got lucky. Not only was the two-headed calf on the wall, there was a boar, deer, jackalope and numerous antlers and a white porcupine in a glass display case. There was a pool table but no juke box. A donation to the VFD earned us souvenir hats.
“We asked the proprietor and his patrons for advice about the route to Eureka and we were given detailed directions regarding the 50 miles of unpaved roads ahead. We were told, “don’t make any left turns until you get through the valley.”
“The county road was easy to drive and the scenery was awesome. The sky was clear and the Ruby Mountains were subtly radiant in shades of blue and gold in the late afternoon sun. We were the only ones on the road, which made our journey even more exciting. The feeling of freedom that comes with traveling Nevada’s open roads is hard to beat.”
I recall driving up from Sacramento and passing Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, Ski Incline, Mt. Rose and skiing more times at Slide Mountain. It was wide open and there were no crowds and I helped organize my college ski club to spend new years ski trips staying in Reno and skiing at Slide Mountain. I recall one of the best things after skiing was heading to downtown Reno and stuffing my face at the El Dorado Casino Buffet — for a mere $1.85, well worth the big money then, when lift tickets were $6 and gas was 20 cents a gallon.
Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe is steeped in history and the two resorts combined in 1987/88 under one ownership and has continued to develop as a modern, efficient resort. Mt. Rose on one side and Slide Bowl on the other and connected with upgraded lifts at the top, more runs, more grooming machines, snowmaking and most recently, the additional to some of the steepest and challenging terrain offered anywhere. In 2004/5 they opened the Chuter Lift and skier/rider access to “The Chutes”.
In the new Nevada Magazine
In the small eastern town of Ely you can take a vacation back in time. The Nevada Northern Railway National Historic Landmark offers touchable history that can completely immerse you in the past. Time appears to have stopped at the museum; it’s as if the workers went to lunch and never came back. Continue Reading
These are a series of gated, full-on avalanche chutes that are controlled by their Professional Ski Patrol (Snow Safety, Controlled avalanche blasting & mitigation) before they are open for skier & riders to take the plunge.
Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe’s high base elevation continues to receive snow as global warming affects snow levels at lower altitude resorts. They do have snowmaking gear and use it when necessary, and they received enough natural snow to be the first resort to open this year on November 8. Since then, while other resorts are depending on snowmaking, Mt. Rose has received enough natural snow to open both sides of the mountain with all lifts & trails accessible, minus the Chutes.
These 3 resorts — Heavenly, Diamond Peak and Mt. Rose — are in the Carson Range, not the Sierra Nevada. Now that’s something to ponder.
There is skiing in other parts of Nevada as well, and next time I will visit with Ruby Mountain Heli-Skiing and Elko Snobowl. Heck, I might as well cover What Happens in Las Vegas – Stays in Las Vegas as not too many skiers and riders know about Ski Las Vegas – Lee Canyon Resort. Tune in next month.
Travelers to Elko find a lot of new hotels to choose from these days. The new Hampton Inn added 80 rooms and Ledgestone added 84. A 107-room Home2 Suites by Hilton is under construction on East Jennings Way and a 98-room Holiday Inn is being built on Ruby Vista Drive. Completion of these projects will provide 2,385 rooms awaiting travelers in Elko.
The existing Holiday Inn Express on Idaho Street will become a Sheraton 4 Points franchise. And that’s not all. The Oak Tree Inn, has become a Baymont Inn and Suites, and the hallowed Stockmen’s on Railroad Street is now The Stockmen’s Casino and Ramada Hotel.
Can’t wait to try one? Book a Room in Elko (Or anywhere in the world)
Parting Shot —
John Arant demonstrates a perfect Picon Punch at the Martin Hotel in Winnemucca.