Firsthand Report: Snow, Sunshine, and Beautiful Trails in Tahoe 3
Author thumbnail By Connie Lawn, DCSki Columnist

There really is a huge, magnificent aqua Lake Tahoe, and abundant sunshine in the Reno - Tahoe area. When it is good, it is very, very good. This splendid trip more than made up for the dramatic events of our last tour in 2005, when it snowed continuously for a week; 28 feet of snow later we went home without ever seeing the lake! You can still revisit those experiences on DCSki.com. Had we come a week earlier this time, we may have been jinxed again. But on this trip, the powerful Pacific storms hit the week before. By the time we arrived, there was tons of fresh powder and well-groomed trails all over. The only concern was avalanches (sadly, there were some deaths in Colorado and Montana while we were here). Here the risks were limited to sunburn and exuberant crowds. The excellent weather and conditions brought out thousands of snowseekers, especially on the weekend. The advice here is the same as the East - try to come on the weekdays if you can, and take a “powder day.”

Skyline trail at Heavenly. Photo provided by Charles Sneiderman.

There are over a dozen ski resorts around the lake within a hour of Reno, so you can even take a “powder half day.” On weekends, the more famous name resorts often have longer lines and congested slopes, especially on the beginner and intermediate trails, but most slopes are wide and well-groomed, with on-slope enforcement of slow zones. In our tour, there was never enough time - we are all determined to return for longer trips. We had a brief taste of Squaw Valley, Northstar, Heavenly, and Mt. Rose. Once again we were the guests of RKPR, Inc., which I describe as “the best little public relations house in the country.” It is run by Ronele Klingensmith and her energetic, buff husband Christopher. They run these incredibly complex trips with military precision. Maybe we should put them in charge of the war on terror. Amazing what they can cram into a few days. Imagine taking charge of 30 crabby, demanding journalists on such an adventure!

Their generosity, and that of the ski areas, hotels, restaurants, museums, and casinos, is overwhelming. Thank you! By the way, gaming is ubiquitous on the Nevada side but tourism is the mainstay of the Nevada economy. You do not have to gamble, drink, or smoke to enjoy a stay here and those activities contribute to incredibly reasonable prices for very elegant lodging, dining, and entertainment. But, for me, I just wanted to head to the fresh air and snow of the ski slopes as soon as possible!

Our ski trip began at Squaw Mountain on Thursday, January 10, 2008. This was a challenging start to our skiing. The wind was light, but there was fog, rain, and some snow, resulting in poor visibility on most of the mountain. Fortunately we had been there before, and remembered the dramatic views. We took the High Camp Cable Car up twice, and picked our way down the mountain with a friend the first time. Then we met our group for lunch at Poolside Restaurant near the Olympic museum. The glass doors to the pool were dramatically covered with snowdrifts. After that we stuck to chair lifts and trails on the Squaw Creek side of the mountain where there was intermittent sunshine, as often happens at Squaw.

We took blues off Red Dog lift. The trails were challenging and fast, but with fresh powder and little traffic. It was a great sensation to feel the fresh snow on our face, especially with air temperature near freezing and no wind. Altogether, a wonderful day at Squaw. My husband and I were recovering from a stomach virus during the first few days of the trip so we were very grateful we could handle Squaw on the first day of skiing at altitude. Every other skier or boarder seemed to be from either the East or California. One lovely man was an Air Force Major stationed at Dover AFB in Delaware. He told me Squaw gives free lift passes to active duty military personnel, and discounts to other service personnel. For him, it was actually cheaper to fly to Squaw and ski, than to go to some local areas in the East. Thank you for serving our country, Squaw Valley!

Charles and Connie stand at the Mt. Pluto summit at Northstar, 8,610 feet above sea level.

Our caravan of skiers and writers were taken to incredible modern condominiums at the Tahoe Mountain Resorts at Northstar near Truckee, California. They are beautiful! Two large rooms can fit a couple each, and there is another room with several bunk beds. There is a spacious modern kitchen and living room in the middle of the condo. For dinner, we were treated to a generous gourmet meal at the Hyatt Regency’s Lakeside Lone Eagle Grille, on the shores of Lake Tahoe. It has recently undergone a 62 million dollar renovation. (There is building going on all over the Reno-Tahoe area, and little evidence of the housing and mortgage crises). The food and wine were again exquisite, but who can eat all that food? We took some back to the condo, enabling my husband Charles to enjoy lobster tails for breakfast! A first for us and a long way from the dilapidated, overcrowded ski dorms and barracks in the old days of skiing in the 1960’s.

Thunderbird Lodge was built by George Whittell who owned the entire Nevada side of Lake Tahoe during the Depression. The lakeside lodge is now held by a historic trust and not normally open to the public, but NV Lt Governor Brian Krolicki wanted us to learn the history of modern Lake Tahoe. Photo provided by Charles Sneiderman.

On Friday morning, the 11th, we had a few great hours of skiing in Northstar, one of our favorites. It has 83 trails and 2,490 acres of skiing. The sun was out, the trails impeccably groomed, and the views of the Lake splendid. But, most of it will have to be explored another time. We had to sadly ski down, take another long walk to the bus, and move onto another destination. This enabled us to have a fascinating lunch at the colorful, dramatic, and secluded Thunderbird Lodge with the Lt. Governor of Nevada, Brian Krolicki. He had some candid observations, and was very down to earth. He did not seem distressed to learn plans to dump nuclear wastes at Yucca Flats are on hold, at least for now! That is one of the more controversial projects politicians had planned for Nevada.

After the lunch and tour, we wound though the snow-covered, exclusive homes of Incline Village and made our way to the huge resort of Heavenly Mountain. Thanks to the excellent P.R. staff and instructors, we got in some fast, dramatic runs before the lifts closed. They are really cut and groomed well! I felt like an Olympic athlete racing down some of the runs. The next day we returned to the huge resort, and added a few more lifts and runs. Thank God for the staff. Heavenly is a large area with four entrances spanning two states. It is easy to end up in California, when you need to meet your friends in Nevada, and vice versa. An enormous Saturday crowd added to the confusion next day.

Aimi Xistra, communications coordinator of Heavenly, guided us through snow and fog from NV to sunny CA. This is the view from near the top of the tram above South Tahoe, CA. Photo provided by Charles Sneiderman.

Heavenly is part of the Vail Associates family, and prides itself on its excellent service and concern for nature and the environment. Those who helped us at Heavenly included Russ Pecoraro and Aimi Xistra of the Communications Department, and Instructor Joe Hayes. We were delighted to have a great talk with Joshua Spoelstra, one of the few instructors in the country who teach adaptive snowboarding, as well as being certified by AASI Western Division as a level 3 examiner (who certifies other instructors) for adaptive, freestyle, and children’s instruction. His knowledge of anatomy and physiology impressed my physician husband. Adaptive and disabled programs are growing in the West, as they are around the nation.

From the top of the new gondola on the state line between NV and CA. Photo provided by Charles Sneiderman.

Friday night we stayed at Harrah’s with a Chinese feast at Gi Fu Loh Chinese restaurant and breakfast on the rooftop Friday’s Station with a 360-degree view (unfortunately, 360 degrees of snow at 8 a.m.), but the reward was fresh powder after a return to Heavenly via the Stateline Gondola. We skied down to California with a stop for a scenic, organic lunch at Lakeview Lodge at the top of the California tram. Two of our group had accidents on the way down, and others got lost. But we all survived. Thanks to my husband Charles who rendered medical assistance and thanks to Russ Pecoraro, director of PR at Heavenly, who drove 50 miles out of his way to take us from Heavenly to Carson City, Nevada. Everyone pitches in on a ski trip.

We had a great experience in the capital city Saturday night. There were tours of the many museums, for those who did not ski. We stayed in a down-to-earth motel casino, “The Gold Dust West.” It is one of the few that had free, high speed computer connections and phone calls. They gave us a wonderful reception, and bowling at night. For dinner, we enjoyed a wonderful buffet and performance by extremely talented children at the Brewery Arts Center. They are terrific - hope some visiting talent agents get to them. They also gave us beautiful pottery bowls, made by some of the students. A lot of talent in the Tahoe area.

The final day, Sunday, saw a return to one of my favorite areas, Mt. Rose. This time, the trails were wide and well covered, bathed in sun and warm weather, and perfectly groomed. Thanks to Krista Haggott, who took us around on trails with colorful names such as Kit Carson, Silver Dollar, the Slide Bowl, and Around the World. We did not take the infamous steep Chutes, but some in our group did and survived. Still we skied fast and hard, and probably covered over 10 miles by 11:30 in the morning. Then was time to bask in the sun on the lunch deck with our friends. Three years ago at Mt. Rose, the snow was several feet deep, the blizzard engulfed us, and the wind whipped at 90 mph. The annual “Flying Elvis” festivities had to be canceled, as they were last week too. Maybe Elvis gets angry if you imitate him on his birthday.

Our final two nights were spent in the luxurious, brand new Tuscan towers of the Peppermill Resort Casino. Would you believe HDTV in the bathrooms? Thanks to Michelle Hackman for arranging it for us. The Towers are connected to the rest of the resort, but there is a large area separating them from the Casinos, for those who may not want to expose children and others to the gaming or smoking. Many people like me come to Reno-Tahoe primarily for the natural beauty and winter snowsports. There is truly something for everyone in this area.

About Connie Lawn

When she wasn't skiing, Connie Lawn covered the White House as a reporter since 1968.

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Reader Comments

Aimi X.
January 19, 2008
Thanks to you both for the great words on Heavenly. It was a pleasure hosting you and look forward to working with you in the future.
Think snow,
Aimi X.
Stephen Nicholson
January 20, 2008
Despite the relatively "stormy conditions' during their visit Weather is not always a problem for the resorts there Most areas in the USa, Canada and Europe when weather is poor you just have to either wait it our or challenge the slopes.

In the Tahoe area one can usually find a resort that has excellent skiing when others a few miles and 15 to 30 minutes away have poor conditions and bad weather.

Kirkwppd about 40 minutes south of Tahoe is a resort many California skiers prefer.

Mammouth - about an hour and a half drive south - despite its relative isolated region is unbelievable and a favorite with many Los Angeles skiers who often ski there on July 4th
Connie Lawn
January 20, 2008
Thank you for your comments Stephen. I agree Tahoe is a terrific area, and we hope to spend a lot of time there in the future. Wish I were there now - I am freezing at below zero temperatures in West Virginia. Yours, Connie

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