By Mike Roth – After an early yet less than stellar start to the ski season here in the East, I went to Reno, Nevada to seek out some better conditions.

View of Whiteface Mountain Snowmaking Trail
vs. No snowmaking trail (M.Roth)

These smaller ski areas in the Reno area are not the magnitude of Heavenly, Kirkwood, or Palisades Tahoe, but smaller with just a few lifts.  But you can only ski one trail at a time and these areas have the elevation to have and keep snow. They’re also much bigger than one would expect, compared to an Eastern “small area”.

Mount Rose Highway (P. Johnson)

You can see the slides of Mount Rose Ski area from Reno. It’s the largest of the three areas we visited with 2,000 feet of vertical and a base of 8,250 ft.   Be prepared if you have oxygen deprivation issues.  There are beautiful views of the Reno Valley and of course continual blue bird skies without a cloud in sight. There was plenty of snow on the mountain and the trails were groomed perfectly.  The surfaces at times were very much like Eastern skiing ranging from groomed corduroy to hard pack as the day progressed.  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 under foot of 200-300 inches of snow.

In fact, one of the skiers with us who was from California commented that we Easterners must love these conditions (although he didn’t come out directly say 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 boiler plate 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 –

View of Lake Tahoe (M. Roth)

The second ski area we visited was Diamond Peak, just 27 miles from Reno, also on the way to Lake Tahoe.  Again, there are such 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 – 1,500 feet of vertical – average snowfall 300 plus inches with 28 trails marked and plenty of glades within the 655 acres of skiing.  Great terrain to ski, too.  Don’t forget to checkout their senior pass rates ($225 for years 70-79, Free 80+, and no blackout dates).

The third area we skied, which was the smallest but not the least important, was Sky Tavern. It’s a strange name for a ski area but it has a history that ages way back into the late 50’s.  The area probably has the most meaning for skiing and the 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 aspire to skiing at a high school, college, or Olympic level.  The area staff is devoted to this project. It’s 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 the programs of the Stratton Mountain School, and other Eastern based ski school and high school programs without costing lots of money to train their aspiring ski athletes (to learn more of this unique area visit

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

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

Rentals were also as easy as 1, 2, 3. At the base of the Mount Rose Highway there’s 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 would recommend skiing these areas in lieu of the big boys on the other side of the highway.