In pole po­si­tion

Reno and Den­ver are more than just gate­ways to the snow

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - THE GUARDIAN RACHEL DIXON

MARCH in Reno, Ne­vada, isn’t par­tic­u­larly cold. The av­er­age daily high is around 12C. Beige and gold, dust and sand, glit­ter­ing neon and glint­ing glass — the en­tire cityscape hollers heat, rev­els in sun­light, and bathes in the sparkling flow of cash in and out of the casi­nos.

At first glance, it doesn’t ap­pear to be a place you’d as­so­ci­ate with ski­ing, yet within an hour’s drive of the city cen­tre are a glut of re­sorts — some big, some small, all of­fer­ing knee-deep pow­der and a lo­cal feel.

Reno, on the Ne­vada-Cal­i­for­nia bor­der, is like its Colorado coun­ter­part, Den­ver — cities most skiers fly into and head straight out of to their re­sort of choice. Yet there are ben­e­fits to stick­ing around in Reno and th­ese are not lim­ited to the oblig­a­tory break­fast bloody mary of­fered by the casi­nos.

While I rec­om­mend the bloody marys at Pep­per­mill Re­sort Spa and Casino, I am more ex­cited about the dull sky and snow-heavy clouds over­head as we make our way up to the re­sort of Mount Rose.

The 30-minute drive sees the dry land­scape morph into pine trees, mist and great dol­lops of snow. We pass a car that has skid­ded off the road on the black ice, lan­guish­ing in a ditch as po­lice cars rally, but we man­age to ar­rive un­scathed. The pe­tite na­ture of the main lodge be­lies the 485ha of steep ter­rain and su­perb tree runs that await us — chute af­ter chute of per­fect pow­der pop­ping out at the base of Chuter chair, which takes us to the top to do it all again. Meet­ing lo­cals is easy as we keep bump­ing into the same peo­ple.

It snows all day, so we head for the trees, which pro­vide mark­ers and break up the white­ness, and when the sun comes out for our fi­nal hour, we are treated to a glis­ten­ing view of Lake Ta­hoe in the dis­tance.

The day is topped off with a pint of Shock Top (a Bel­gian white beer that Mount Rose skiers seem to have made their own) in the main lodge bar.

Kids wet through from snow and ex­er­tion greet par­ents, par­ents greet each other, ski in­struc­tors have laughs with pun­ters and the whole lodge hums with the vibe of a com­mu­nity cel­e­brat­ing a great day on the hill.

Mount Rose isn’t the only place within shout­ing dis­tance of Reno. Another 10 min­utes up the road is Di­a­mond Peak (blink and you’ll miss it) with its lo­cal­sonly-know pow­der glades. The be­he­moth of North Star — 1282ha of ter­rain, su­per­pipes, freestyle parks, shops, restau­rants and bars — is an hour away. Then there’s Squaw Val­ley, Alpine Mead­ows, Kirk­wood, Home­wood and Heavenly.

The ma­jor­ity of th­ese re­sorts would not by them­selves hold a skier’s in­ter­est for a 10-day trip, but put them to­gether and you’ve got an itin­er­ary to keep even the hardi­est skier en­ter­tained. Act­ing as the apex for all th­ese re­sorts is Reno, which also prob­a­bly wouldn’t be enough to keep you en­ter­tained for a full trip.

But break each day into wake up, ski, night in Reno, and throw in the odd day off, and out of the neon and gam­bling­den mire emerges a lo­tus of a city.

Reno is fa­mously the place where di­vorce is quick and pain­less. In the 1961 film The Mis­fits, Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe threw her wed­ding ring into the Truc­kee River, which snakes through down­town. It’s not all about end­ings, though. Small busi­nesses and restau­rants are push­ing up in be­tween the casi­nos like green shoots, and the river con­stantly drags your eye to­wards the peaks of the Sierra Ne­vada.

Java Jun­gle, (246 West 1st Street) is all band posters, open mic nights and poetry read­ings, and serves a crack­ing good cup of or­ganic chai. Sun­dance Books (121 Cal­i­for­nia Av­enue) is a haven of fairy lights and cushy so­fas in a clas­sic re­vival style build­ing, and is said to have its own ghost.

The River­walk is the pret­ti­est part of town, with restau­rants serv­ing or­ganic lo­cal pro­duce to street­side din­ers. And al­though Reno isn’t a cul­tural hub, the Ne­vada Mu­seum of Art car­ries in­ter­est­ing ex­hi­bi­tions.

It’s a far cry from Las Ve­gas, but of­fer­ing as it does the chance to ski lit­tle­known lo­cal hills, then ditch the ther­mals and eat cit­rus-mar­i­nated tofu with swiss chard in a buzzy down­town, a trip to Reno feels like two hol­i­days for the price of one. DEN­VER doesn’t have the mild iden­tity cri­sis that seems to af­flict Reno. It’s very con­fi­dent of its place in the world as the gate­way to the Rock­ies and its vi­brant cul­tural scene mixes ef­fort­lessly with the out­door life. The Mer­cury Cafe (2199 Cal­i­for­nia Street) is a great ex­am­ple of this. While savour­ing a pint of Tree­hug­ger from the list of mi­cro­brews as we wait for our din­ner of lo­cal veg­eta­bles and or­ganic meats, a poetry slam gives way to jazz flutes and a touch of wail­ing from the per­for­mance room.

Its artsy vibe is mir­rored in the River North area of the city — all yoga stu­dios and raw-food restau­rants. Linger (2030 West 30th Av­enue) is a for­mer mor­tu­ary that’s been con­verted into an eatery where the cock­tails are as good as the panoramic views of down­town.

Equally in­spir­ing are the indie mu­sic venues, record shops, thrift stores and dive bars in and around East Col­fax Av­enue. If Pete’s Satire Lounge (at No 1920) has changed at all since Bob Dy­lan gigged there as a teenager be­fore he moved to New York, it’s hard to tell.

But as well as be­ing yoga mat and tat­too par­lour cen­tral, Den­ver is ar­guably one of the best hubs for ski­ing in North Amer­ica. Breck­en­ridge, Key­stone, Cop­per Moun­tain, Vail, Win­ter Park, Beaver Creek and Ara­pa­hoe Basin are within a two-hour drive. They of­fer su­perb ski­ing and all, ex­cept Win­ter Park and Cop­per Moun­tain, are owned by Vail Re­sorts and cov­ered by its Epic Pass.

In­stead of spend­ing a week in one re­sort, you can ski the lot with­out buy­ing a new pass. You can also hire skis in one re­sort and drop them off at another.

All of which points to ex­plo­ration rather than hang­ing out in one re­sort. It’s not a plan that will suit ev­ery­one, but if you want the free­dom to ski where the snow is good and fancy see­ing a bit more than snows­capes (af­ter all, it is a long way to go just to ski), Den­ver is a great op­tion.

There are sev­eral ski re­gions within an hour or two of Mu­nich, Bavaria’s cul­tured cap­i­tal. Among the best known is Garmis­chPartenkirchen, with 59km of pistes, which in­cludes Ger­many’s high­est peak, Zugspitze. Bavaria also has ex­cel­lent back­coun­try ski­ing for off-the-beaten track adventures. More: muenchen.de; ger­many.travel.

Van­cou­ver, Bri­tish Columbia, host of the 2010 Win­ter Olympics, has peaks eas­ily reached from down­town. Cy­press Moun­tain (30 min­utes) of­fers down­hill and cross-coun­try ski­ing, snow­tub­ing and snow­shoe­ing; Grouse Moun­tain (15 min­utes) has ski clin­ics, snow­shoe­ing and the Ob­ser­va­tory restau­rant for panoramic views. Whistler Black­comb, North Amer­ica’s largest ski re­sort, is a two-hour drive north along the scenic Sea-to-Sky high­way; buses and trains also take that route. More: british­columbia.travel; whistlerblack­comb.com/aus­tralia.

This swish city has nu­mer­ous French ski sites within strik­ing dis­tance. Some of the Mont Blanc re­sorts, in­clud­ing Cha­monix, are an hour away, as is the huge ski re­gion of the Grand Mas­sif (Samoens, Flaine, Les Car­roz, Mo­ril­lon); Grand Bor­nand and La Clusaz in Aravis; and Les Gets in Portes du Soleil. Within two hours’ drive are Paradiski, Tarentaise and Les Trois Vallees, which in­cludes Courchevel and Meri­bel. More: myswitzer­land.com.

This is the South Is­land’s best snows­ports base, with lively nightlife, adrenalin ac­tiv­i­ties such as bungee jumps and four ski ar­eas. Coronet Peak (25 min­utes) has roller- coaster ter­rain and night ski­ing; the Re­mark­ables (50 min­utes), is best for be­gin­ners; Cardrona (55 min­utes) is the big­gest re­sort close to the city; and Tre­ble Cone (90 min­utes) is ideal for ad­vanced and off-piste skiers. More: newzealand.com.au.

Ja­pan’s fifth-largest city, and cap­i­tal of the north­ern­most is­land of Hokkaido, is one of its snowiest, host­ing an an­nual snow fes­ti­val (tak­ing place this weekend). Ski re­sorts within day-trip dis­tance in­clude Teine (45 min­utes), a mix of be­gin­ner slopes and steep tree ski­ing; Koku­sai (60 min­utes) gets busy but has lots of quiet off-piste ar­eas; Kiroro (70 min­utes) and nearby Asari are good on windy days; and lav­ish To­mamu (80 min­utes) is ac­ces­si­ble from Sap­poro by train. More: jnto.org.au.

1. Mu­nich, Ger­many:

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