In pole position
Reno and Denver are more than just gateways to the snow
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: