I don’t much care for exposition so this will be short. Met up with two of my brothers in Reno on Sunday night. None of us had ever been to Tahoe for skiing before. We’re all black diamond-competent, but none of us are super-experts (or particularly young). Stayed at Grand Sierra in Reno for $31/room/night; rented a front-wheel drive Dodge Avenger for $23/day. I skied with my brothers for two days before they headed home, then freeloaded off a non-skiing buddy in Sparks for the rest of the week.
Monday, March 4: Heavenly
Paid: $93 (bought at Sports Authority in Reno the night before)
Quality of Random Lift Strangers: 5/10
Weather: Absolute Bluebird (my bro’s thermometer read 42 degrees on our way up Sky Express the one time)
Would Return?: Definitely
Given the advice I’d read on EpicSki, we chose a side and ended up spending almost the entire day skiing Dipper Express (we took a couple of runs on the California side since it seemed obligatory). No complaints about traverses. I think they’d had some snow the day before, so things weren’t too scraped and, in the trees at least, conditions could be described as soft. Our favorite run was in the trees alongside Big Dipper and Meteor – left us with a long, blue run-out, but I like hard-packed bombing runs, so all was good by me.
Top of Dipper Express
Can't remember what run this was, but it definitely looked like this.
Relatively soft snow in the trees.
The crowds on Sky Express
- The pulled pork sandwich at East Peak Lodge was huge, but otherwise merely okay. Barbecue baked beans were generous, but I would have preferred a sweeter sauce with a little more vinegar and somewhat less chili powder. #yelp
- To me, the oddest thing about the layout was that we were kind of “trapped” on the upper mountain. If any of us had left anything down at the car (we parked at Stagecoach), it would have been a blue square-and-slush hassle trying to retrieve it.
- Stopped at the Red Hut (Kingsbury Grade) on the way up the hill. The bacon there is something to write home about.
- Plenty of people there, but the Nevada side was pretty roomy and lift lines were close to non-existent (things were decidedly more crowded California-side).
- People here had a somewhat disturbing penchant for making high-speed, lane-shifting entries into the lift lines. I imagine they learned that on the 880 somewhere around Hayward.
- The ski patrol dude who rode up the lift with us should probably be friendlier toward people who paid $93 just to be there for the day.
In the net, I loved Heavenly. The price is silly, but the views were awesome, the tree-skiing was fun, and there were plenty of places to roam even without entering California. Just for the price, I can’t imagine going there more than once a year, but next time I’m in Tahoe to ski, it will be on the itinerary.
Tuesday, March 5: Mt. Rose
Paid: $49 (weekday full-time student price at window)
Quality of Random Lift Strangers: N/A
Weather: Sunny with high winds at the top.
Would Return?: Probably
Mt. Rose was exactly as advertised: unpretentious, locals-centric, solid vertical and elevation, and windy (although I think everywhere was probably windy that day). In terms of attitude and vibe, Mt. Rose was night-and-day compared to Heavenly (and Squaw) and, ceteris paribus, I preferred Rose’s relative easy-goingness – not that ceteris ever is paribus. Conditions were pretty firm (not icy) on-trail, while off-trail was cruddy (this included the tree areas unfortunately). Mogul runs were carved deep with pretty inconsistent snow (thanks to the warm weather, lack of recent significant snowfall, and wind I’m sure). Spent all day on Northwest Magnum 6 (heckuva lift name) after hearing that the east-side runs were more scraped.
The base was a little melty.
Skies were nevertheless blue. Mostly. Until later.
Scraped-up view from the top of Aida.
Big views of Carson Valley -- we could see our hotel and almost catch a whiff of the casinos' cigarette smoke.
- Rose had the one of the best-looking lifties I’ve seen in a long time. FWIW.
- Wish they’d had some better snow, obviously. The chutes looked like they’d be fun, but we saw (from a distance) one person who ventured in there all day and, based on his form, he didn’t look too happy.
- Was also sad that the trees down the lift-line weren’t more skiable (I tried twice).
- Didn’t understand why they wouldn’t run the little triple chair off to the right of us. There’s not a ton of skiing at the very top and the triple looked like it would at least be out of the wind. The wind absolutely howled at the top.
- Not very crowded – we didn’t share a lift ride all day.
- I liked that the ticket booth woman barely even blinked when I requested the student rate (I’m 41; yes, I’m a full-time student with the ID to verify it).
- It’s cool that there’s one resort around Tahoe that offers such intense discounts.
- Conditions were definitely a little firm that day. That said, it was hilarious listening to locals complain about how terrible the “ice” was. At Blue Knob that’s called straight-up powder.
Thursday, March 7: Squaw Valley
Paid: $60 (bought someone’s voucher off Craig’s List a month in advance)
Quality of Random Lift Strangers: 6/10
Weather: OVERCAST with light snowfall throughout.
Would Return?: Maybe
This was the big powder day of the week with it having snowed all day Wednesday. I heard from one random lift stranger that she’d had an even better time of it on Wednesday, in spite of the high winds and closure of the upper mountain, since there was plenty of untracked available and not many hardy souls there with whom to share it. On Thursday: plenty of souls. Traffic was bumper-to-bumper from I-80 to the parking lot. The gondola line (funitel line, whatever) was long in the morning and Shirley Lake and Granite Chief queues were no-doubt aggravating to the non-single. Visibility was very difficult and I ended up spending a lot of time on Shirley Lake where at least I could see while trying to figure out how to ski powder (only partially successful in both endeavors).
I like that the ski patrol is going after the guy before he's even finished hiking to the top.
Top of Siberia looking, I should think, not unlike actual Siberia.
Top of Emigrant iirc.
- Siberia Express had no line. Also no visibility on the top section.
- The shear number of chairlifts at this place is incredible. They seemed to start and end everywhere; around every corner was another chairlift (or two).
- The rock outcroppings were cool. With those and the relative absence of trees on the upper mountain, I figured this must be what skiing in Europe is like.
- Had lunch at Fireside Pizza down in the village on the hunch that ski resort food follows the same pricing principles as does dining at Disneyland. At least in this case it did – paid $18 (incl. tip) for a very good pizza and 32-oz. (!) soda in a glass (!!) rather than spending $15 for faster, price gougey-er, and inferior cafeteria-style fare. Would recommend. (Next time you’re at Disneyland, try the same strategy – you’ll see.)
- As a service to fellow acrophobes, I’ll note that the Red Dog lift is the most fear-inducing lift I’ve ever ridden. There are a couple of long, *very high* gaps on that one and the relatively slow speed of the lift means that the shear terror wasn’t just fleeting.
- Had been worried about needing chains for the drive up. Didn’t need them, despite Nevada DOT’s website stating that there was a chain check station on the 80 east of Truckee (the agriculture inspection station apparently had confused them).
Especially in the morning, the whole place had a sort of hyper-focused, manic air to it. I’m assuming it was all the expert-skiing locals who were super-determined to find the remaining stashes. No one was rude or anything, just – it wasn’t much of a kick back-and-enjoy vibe going on.
I talked to a lot of more-experienced skiers the following day at Diamond Peak and had a couple of them offer up criticisms of Squaw based on weather issues and lay-out. I can see why expert skiers would love the place, especially on a powder day, but I sympathized with the criticisms. For me, I wanted there to be more trees to ski around and to help with visibility. I also wanted there to be something groomed somewhere so I could take a few relaxed runs once I got tired of feeling like half an idiot on the by-midday chopped-up powder on the blue squares. It’s not like I didn’t have fun – I had a great time at Squaw. But with the powder dumps, I think I expected some sort of transcendent mega-experience that never quite materialized. Maybe I did it wrong. Maybe it was cloud-induced seasonal affective.
Friday, March 8: Diamond Peak
Paid: $49 (Reno Sports Authority)
Quality of Random Lift Strangers: 9/10
Weather: Overcast with some eventual light snowfall.
Would Return?: Definitely
I’m probably just a sucker for ski resorts with lake views, but I loved Diamond Peak, despite its shortcomings and quirks. I liked the laid-back vibe. The unpretentiousness caught me off guard (I figured Incline Village’s hill would be a more uppity), parking was easy, and the random lift strangers were unusually friendly and engaging. The skiing was also pretty good. Spent most of the day on Crystal Express sampling the diamonds with occasional forays on Lakeview. Snow was chopped powder most places, with some fun in-tree, un-tracked around Eagle Bowl and a few other gladey places elsewhere on the mountain.
A little foggy up on the ridge.
View at the bottom of Eagle Bowl.
Showing off my slow-skiing skills for the lift-riders.
- Diamond Peak’s biggest shortcoming was pretty obvious: south-facing and with a lower elevation than some of its competitors, there were a lot of bare spots and some closed runs.
- The views of the lake were fantastic; the lake is more than occasional scenery here, it’s a constant companion.
- Visibility was tough up on the ridge before about noon, but got better during the day. Everything coming down off the ridge offered good visibility (even at the top).
- I bought a sandwich at Wal-Mart in Reno on my way up so I have no idea how the Diamond Peak food is. However, I now know that the sandwiches at the Reno Wal-Mart are bland.
- Crystal Express doesn’t ski as weird as it looked like it would from the map.
- I liked that there was always something easy to bail out onto and something harder to bail back into on just about every run and gladed middle-ground.
- The conveyor belt on-loading on Lakeview (and Lodgepole) was a new experience for me.
The place would probably start feeling small after a few visits in a season, but I liked Diamond a lot.
The trip turned out to be phenomenal. I like spring skiing days and I liked getting to experience powder conditions that I haven’t seen since I decided to start skiing again last season. At the risk of igniting an east coast-west coast debate, by Monday afternoon I’d decided my next year’s ski trip destination wouldn’t be Vermont again after all. Even if Squaw wasn’t as transcendent as hoped, the trip overall was generally very nearly euphoric. I was mad when the lifts closed down every day and when I skied my last off Diamond on Friday, it felt like I was, I dunno, being sent back into some sort of dungeon or something.
Thanks for reading,