By Rob McCormick
I am a Squaw Valley pass holder and work in the Valley so I rarely visit other Tahoe ski areas. This is a shame because Tahoe has many little ski areas with quality snow and terrain. One such gem is Mt. Rose. I always suspected the Chutes on Slide Mountain offered legitimate terrain but never motivated to ski them. When Mt. Rose added the formerly out of bounds Chutes to their in-bounds menu a few years back, it was significant news for serious skiers. Last Monday two friends and I made the trek from Truckee to check out what Mt. Rose has to offer. Not only were we stoked on the caliber of challenging terrain and lack of crowds, the service and amenities far exceeded our expectations.
After a hearty breakfast at the Log Cabin in Kings Beach we headed up the Mt. Rose highway into heavy fog and wind. I didn’t worry too much as the forecast called for the system to blow out after noon. What had amounted to torrential rainfall and about a half inch of glop in Truckee translated into 7 to 9 inches of new snow at Mt. Rose, which has a base elevation of 8,200 feet. To put this in perspective, Squaw’s mid mountain High Camp complex is located at the same elevation. This means Rose receives more snow and less rain than most Tahoe ski resorts.
After buying a Bonus Mondays lift ticket for $39, the special tickets agent told us the Northwest Magnum Chair was on wind hold and the only way over to the Blazing Zephyr Chair and the Chutes was via shuttle bus to Slide Lodge. She said to ask one of the guys in the orange jackets for a ride. We walked about 200 feet to the parking lot and asked an orange jacket wearer if we could get a ride. “Of course,” he replied, “I’ll pull the shuttle out so you don’t have to walk through the snow to put your skis in the carrier”. 20 seconds later we were aboard the shuttle heading to the eastern base facility. “The Chutes should open in about 30 minutes”, said the driver as he let us off. About a minute later we were riding the Blazing Zephyr Chair to the summit. The terrain below us looked like wind buffed sweetness so we opted for a quick run down Big Bonanza to warm up and kill time until the Chutes opened.
After another quick ride on the Zephyr we headed over to the Chutes, which were now labeled “part open”. The first access gate was closed so we entered through the next gate and dropped into virtually untracked, wind buffed pow. We found exposed spiny ridges separated by powder filled chutes that opened up to a lightly gladed apron at the bottom. After one run in the Chutes we had already found what we were looking for…steep, fun terrain with good snow and nobody around. We continued one satisfying lap after the next exploring different access gates along the way. Between runs we took in surreal views spanning from Lake Tahoe all the way down to the dessert of the Reno/Carson Valley. Mt. Rose proper, Mt. Haughton, Relay Peak and a cornucopia of tasty backcountry terrain loomed right across the highway.
Eventually we hit the Main Lodge for a late lunch. Adorned with vintage ski photography and other memorabilia, the lodge and cafeteria are simple, clean and very user friendly. We grabbed one of many empty tables by the window and studied ski lines in the Chutes while hoarking down the best Chili Cheese fries imaginable. After that it was up the Northwest Magnum Chair (now open) and back to Chute lapping. Guess what we discovered on our last two runs of the day? Untracked snow and no other skiers in sight!
In addition to great snow and terrain, we found the service and amenities Mt. Rose to be exceptional. Resort staff including parking attendants, ticket agents, lifties and bartenders were extremely friendly and helpful. Nearly every time we got on or off a lift we were greeted or waved to. And it did not seem forced, but rather that this team really enjoyed what they were doing. The parking lot had nicely labeled Mt. Rose trash cans. The path to the lodge and chairlift loading stations had slip resistant mats. The urinals and toilets had stainless steel baskets for gloves, hats and other personal items. The lift system is simple and efficient with two high-speed six packs providing access to the summit, one from each base area. The Timbers Bar in the Main Lodge is swanky by most ski area standards and offers a variety of draught beers and a nice assortment of Scotches and other libations.
Mt. Rose also has ticket specials that make it worth checking out even for pass holders at other areas. If you present a previous Saturday or Sunday ticket you receive a $29 ticket on Bonus Mondays. No weekend lift ticket? Mondays are still only $39. Two fer Tuesdays offers two lift tickets for the price of one. On Wednesdays guests over 50 and students with valid college ID ski for $35. Women ski for $35 on Ladies Day Thursdays. Buy a three-day consecutive ticket and the third day is free. Present a season pass from another resort on midweek days and receive a $49 ticket.
Mt. Rose provides a stellar experience from start to finish. The Chutes are dynamic enough to keep strong skiers interested all day long. The lack of crowds and minimal competition for powder makes you realize not all ski areas are raped by 10am. The amenities and staff make pulling yourself away from your home area seem like a breath of fresh air. Put simply, Mt. Rose rocks!