View of Lake Tahoe (credit M. Roth)

After an early start to the ski season here in the East that I would describe as less than stellar, I went west, to Reno, Nevada to seek better conditions. My goal was the smaller ski areas within a short drive from Reno, not the larger and well-known ones on the side of Lake Tahoe in California.

Our the first day driving up the Mount Rose Highway, there were snowbanks as high as that 8’-0” high as we increased in elevation – a very encouraging sign of things to come.

The smaller ski areas in the Reno area are certainly not the magnitude of Heavenly or Kirkwood, Northstar or Palisades Tahoe.  But since you can ski just one trail at a time,  and these areas have the elevation to have and keep snow and they are much bigger than one would expect, they stack up well compared to an eastern“small area”.

Mount Rose Ski area, which you can see the slides from Reno, is the largest of the three areas we visited, with 2,000 feet of elevation and starting at 8,250 ft. Beautiful views of the Reno Valley, of course continual blue bird skies, without a cloud in site. There was plenty of snow on the mountain and the trails were groomed perfectly.

The surfaces at times were very much like Eastern skiing from groomed corduroy and as the day progressed some hard packed showed up. Now if the temperature was above 32 degrees, all that hard pack snow would have been soft packed powder because there was a very deep base below of 200-300 inches of snow.

In fact, one of the skiers with us, who was from California, commented that us easterners must love these conditions (which although he didn’t come out directly saying it, I don’t think he liked the surface). For me, wherever I can get on the snow, I am happy with the surface, unless of course it is boilerplate and to be honest , I have not encountered that in a very long time. Ski areas have made great advances in snow making and grooming to provide a good skiing surface most of the time.

Diamond Peak, just 27 miles from Reno, also the way to Lake Tahoe, offers great views of the lake as you ski down that you must stop and take a photo. This area is smaller than Mount Rose with the base at 6,700 feet and topping out at 8,540, with 1,500 feet of vertical and an  average annual snowfall 300 plus inches.

There are 28 trails marked and plenty of glades, with 655 acres of skiing. Great terrain to ski. Don’t forget to checkout their senior pass rates ($225 for years 70-79, Free 80+, and no blackout dates).

The third area, which was the smallest but not the least important, was Sky Tavern, a strange name for a ski area but with a history that ages way back into the late 50’s.  The area probably has the most meaning for skiing and promotion of skiing with the youth of the Reno Valley. This area is the oldest and largest non-profit ski and snowboard learning area.

Owned by the City of Reno, this ski area is devoted to teaching and training the city’s youth who want to learn to ski as well as aspire to skiing as a high school / college / olympic goals. The area staff is devoted) to this project. Founder Marcie Herz established the program in 1948, and her remaining family is still involved with the area.

This area’s learning and training staff can be compared with programs at Stratton Mountain School and other eastern ski schools and high school programs which don’t spend pots of money to train their children to become aspiring ski athletes.

Sky Tavern has 7,583 feet of base and 8,238 at the top, with about 800 feet in elevation, so they receive plenty of snow due to the high base elevation. On the weekends you can expect lots of training and families participating in this unique venue. They train in ski racing, terrain parks, aerials, and the park is striving to be a year-round training facility.

While staying in Reno, there are plenty of venues with a reasonable nightly cost as compared to staying on a mountain. We stayed at Circus Circus Hotel and Casino which gets you plenty to eat and play after skiing.

Rentals were also as easy as 1, 2, 3, at the base of the Mount Rose Highway, at Blue Zone Sports. The ski’s we rented were excellent and the staff were more than accommodating. You can get all your skiing gear at a one-stop rental/purchase shop.

I certainly recommend skiing these areas in lieu of the big boys on the other side of the highway.


  1. Shhhhhhhhhh . . . . .!!!!!!!

  2. I’m so glad you came out! But super sad that you missed out on Sugar Bowl! It’s really the best of the best “small”out here. Guess that just means another trip is in order.

  3. Cheryl Anne Vieira says:

    Hi – have skied Mt Rose and Diamond Peak many times but still in love with Squaw/Alpine (now Palisades). Several smaller ski areas are also on the west side of Tahoe – Sugar Bowl, Homewood etc. – and then go a little farther for Sierra at Tahoe (although this area has few trees now due to the forest fires 2 years ago) and Kirkwood. Mike – remember when we skied Kirkwood, oh, so many years ago!!

  4. Thanks for the kind words about the small ski areas you visited here in Tahoe. Having lived here at the lake for the past 30 years, I’ve skied everything in a 400 mile radius. On your next trip here may I recommend one of my favorite small hills; Homewood on the west shore. It’s similar to Diamond Peak but opposite the lake offering equally great views of the lake and basin from the west shore perspective and a surprisingly diverse selection of terrain and conditions. The other small areas that should make your list are Sugar Bowl, Sierra at Tahoe and Boreal. Cheers!

  5. Sounds like you arrived at the perfect time. We’re having a week of snow, wind, and overcast skies from 2/21 thru 2/28.

  6. Ditto what Jill Jackson wrote!! We try to keep these little local gems a secret so the “flatlanders” and tourists will go to Heavenly, Northstar, and now called Palisades. It’s like having a favorite mountain bike trail or fishing hole that makes the print…….darn!

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