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SKI RESORT PROFILEs
– Pete Gauvin
Photo by Michelle Vikupitz
(559) 233-3330 Snow Phone
If the weekend mass migration to Tahoe ski resorts makes you want to stay home, consider Sierra Summit Mountain Resort. Situated above its own beautiful Sierra lake, Huntington Lake, this 1200-acre resort 65 miles northeast of Fresno off Highway 168 offers plenty of great skiing and riding. It can be reached in about three and a half hours from the Monterey Bay Area and South Bay Area and is rarely crowded.
In terms of terrain, it’s a very worthy alternative that rivals many of Tahoe’s mid-size resorts. With a base elevation of 7,030 feet and nearly 1,700 feet of vertical, it’s not small potatoes. There are eight lifts serving terrain for all abilities (28% rated low intermediate, 33% intermediate, 28% advanced), including a 2.5-mile beginner trail, as well as three terrain parks and a halfpipe. With reasonable lift ticket prices ($50 adult all day, peak period), it’s perfect for families and soul skiers.
Originally opened as China Peak way back in 1959, Sierra Summit’s location on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada above between Yosemite and Sequoia national parks exposes it to wet storms that drop loads of snow (an average of 350 inches annually) as they rise quickly from the Central Valley to the high eastern peaks. This produces a deep, long-lasting base and makes for ideal spring conditions.
A short hike up to the top of China Peak (8,709 feet) rewards skiers and riders with great views of Huntington Lake and, when conditions are right, fresh tracks on the backside.
For this season, the resort has added a new learning area with a magic-carpet lift for beginners, additional snowmaking all over the mountain, and new features in the popular Tollhouse Terrain Park. For those that like to enjoy first tracks, the resort will be turning the lifts earlier, at 8:30 a.m., on peak weekends and holidays.
The Sierra Summit Inn, a short walk from the lifts, offers a variety of rooms and suites. After a day on the slopes you can kick back in the Buckhorn Bar or enjoy a casual meal in the Summit Dining Room.
Mt. Rose: High, Dry and Steep
Last year Mt. Rose had far and away the best early season conditions, with more than double the amount of snow of other Tahoe resorts. Attribute that to its high base elevation (8,260 feet) and the towering peak’s ability to woo passing clouds to hang out for a shower or two before heading east into the dusty Great Basin.
If you’ve never skied Mt. Rose, you’re likely to be impressed. The mountain is not only significantly higher than surrounding peaks, but it offers some of the best sustained steeps of any resort in the Tahoe region. Opened in 2004, the Chutes offer a vertical drop of some 1,500 feet with a consistent pitch of 40-55 degrees spread over 200+ acres. The north-facing aspect combined with Rose’s lofty perch above the arid Nevada desert keeps the snow in good shape even on warmer days. Some of the driest lift-accessed powder west of the Wasatch falls on Mt. Rose (400 inches on average).
The feeling of weightlessness while making rhythmic turns down the Chutes will keep you coming back for more – if your quads can handle it. With two six-pack high-speed chairs serving both sides of the mountain (the Northwest Magnum 6 and Blazing Zephyr 6), lift lines are generally short and rides zippy – 1,800 vertical feet in 3.5 minutes. Fit skiers and boarders can often collect a full day’s worth of vert here before lunch.
Although a longer drive for day-tripping Nor Cal residents, Mt. Rose is less than a half-hour drive up the Mt. Rose Highway (SR 431) from Reno’s 17,000 hotel rooms, making it a perfect overnight or weekend destination. Bonus: the superabundance of casino hotel rooms keep room prices several times cheaper than Tahoe lodging options. Pack along a few friends and it just doesn’t pay to spend a frigid night sleeping in your car.
If you loathe winter driving, you can catch a cheap flight to Reno/Tahoe International Airport or, for a scenic ski pilgrimage, ride Amtrak over the Sierra.
Once there, Reno has some good options for skier refueling – beyond the all-you-can-eat casino buffets and strip malls. There are two top-notch brew pubs: Silver Peak Restaurant & Brewery (two locations near downtown; 775-324-1864) and the Great Basin Brewing Company (775-355-7711) in Sparks. And for breakfast, check out the quirky, cycling-themed Deux Gros Nez cafe (775-786-9400), a couple blocks south of the Truckee River Park.