Monday, February 28, 2011

Diamond Peak ski area gives value to families

The views of Lake Tahoe should put Crystal Ridge at Diamond Peak ski area in any discussion of the most scenic ski runs in the country. Located on the northeast corner of the lake in Incline Village, Nev., Diamond Peak lives up to its name as a jewel for beginners and families.

Crystal Ridge, a blue ski run at Diamond Peak, offers
spectacular views of Lake Tahoe.
                           Photo: Diamond Peak/Robyn Scarton
“We’ve just been coming here for years. We love the mountain. The price is right and no one is on the slopes, love that,” said Paula Ashcroft, a visitor from Brentwood, Calif. “You go to Squaw Valley and you’re fighting everyone and here you can ski straight on the lift and we just love it.”

Randy Paranick brought his young son, Mason, up from Sacramento, Calif., to teach him to ski. “We chose Diamond Peak, because we heard it had a good family-friendly atmosphere and had a good friend who taught their four-year-old son how to ski here last year,” Paranick said.

“We really like the fact that they offer the $23 lift ticket for the Lodgepole and Schoolhouse beginner lifts,” he added. “That way if Mason decides he wants to build a snowman or throw snowballs, I’m not out a whole bunch of money for a full lift ticket for myself.”

The lift-ticket pricing is indeed a draw for many families. Along with the beginner ticket for adults, the resort offers free skiing for children six and under. Full lift tickets for children ages 7-14 cost only $18. Youth tickets for ages 15-17 are $39. The full adult ticket costs $49. Also for $49, parents can buy an interchangeable pass to alternate "kid duty" on and off the slopes.

Diamond Peak has 655 skiable acres and a vertical drop
of 1,840 feet.                                         Photo: Eric Wagnon
“We get a lot of intermediates, a lot of beginners and a lot of kids,” said Milena Regos, Diamond Peak marketing director. “The cool thing about the mountain is that the runs funnel like a martini glass, so the runs end up at the same place.“

Diamond Peak is owned by the Incline Village General Improvement District, a quasi-public agency that also operates a pair of golf courses and a tennis center. Thanks to the healthy tax base of affluent Incline Village and Crystal Bay, the community manages to help support Diamond Peak as a modern ski area. For example, the base facilities were recently expanded and renovated. The resort also installed a high-speed quad chairlift to the summit in 2003.

The area started as Ski Incline in 1966 and changed its name to Diamond Peak at Ski Incline when the upper mountain with more black-diamond runs opened in 1987.  The Diamond Peak part of the name that has stuck seems ironic in light of the mountain’s reputation for beginners and intermediates.

Solitude Canyon can hold powder for advanced skiers
at Diamond Peak ski area.                 Photo: Eric Wagnon
The advanced terrain on the upper mountain such as The Glades and Solitude Canyon can keep good skiers reasonably entertained for a day. Real adrenaline seekers, however, would likely be happier at Squaw Valley or Alpine Meadows. One exception might be on a storm day, because those other resorts have a much greater probability of wind holds for the lifts.

Diamond Peak draws a fair number of visitors from the nearby Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe. A complimentary ski shuttle carries guests the mile distance between the hotel and the ski area.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe offers convenience, solid terrain

Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe overlooking Reno, Nev., may be the most conveniently located ski area in the country. At just 22 miles from Reno-Tahoe International Airport, Mt. Rose is closer to a major airport than any other U.S. ski area of more than 200 skiable acres.

Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe may be seen in the distance above
downtown Reno, Nev.            Photo: Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe
While local Reno skiers account for many of the resort’s visits, destination travelers can get in some bonus skiing on a travel day in or out of Reno. In fact, through Mt. Rose’s new “Happy Landings” special, visitors by air can ski on the day of arrival and receive a free lift ticket for the next day.

The ski area’s name is a misnomer, because the ski runs are on Slide Mountain across the highway from the actual Mt. Rose. The eastern side of Slide Mountain was once Reno Ski Bowl, then renamed Slide Mountain Ski Area. Slide Mountain’s north-facing slopes were the separate Mt. Rose Ski Area until the two merged in 1987.

Between the two formerly distinct ski areas, 200 acres of north-facing extreme terrain known as “The Chutes” was opened in 2004. The addition brought Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe’s skiable terrain up to 1,200 acres and a vertical drop of 1,800 feet.

Unlike many smaller areas burdened with antiquated lifts, two 6-pack chairlifts dominate the ski experience at Mt. Rose. The lifts were installed in 2000 and 2004. “We have two six-pack, high-speed detachable lifts that take you to the top of the mountain in three-and-a-half minutes,” said Kayla Anderson, Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe’s PR and web manager. “The liftline is never long. We definitely try to make improvements. We just built our Winters Creek Lodge over in the Slide Bowl two years ago, so any way we can improve this mountain and we’ve got some money to do it we will.”

Gold Run at Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe offers soft moguls
in the morning sun.                         Photo: Eric Wagnon
On a bluebird day, most skiers start the day on the sunny east-facing Slide Bowl and make laps on the Blazing Zephyr 6 chairlift. The terrain is relatively mellow with the bumps on the black-diamond Gold Run and Washoe Zephyr quickly softening up in the morning sun.

A very short hike around to Wild Card on the backside of the mountain generally offers solitude in a quasi-backcountry experience with views of Lake Tahoe. 

Wild Card goes around the backside of Mt. Rose Ski
Tahoe.                                                  Photo: Eric Wagnon
The route comes around to the other side of the ski area where the Main Lodge is located. The side that was the original Mt. Rose Ski Area is served by the Northwest Magnum 6 chairlift and a couple of lifts catering to the beginner terrain.

Both sides of the resort have solid terrain, but The Chutes really elevate Mt. Rose above most locals’ mountains. “We really worked hard to try and get the permitting to open that terrain and we do avalanche control in them,” Anderson said. “We got everything secured to be able to open it in the ’04-’05 season, so we can offer all of our guests black-diamond and double-black diamond terrain which adds a whole new level of what this mountain is about.”

The Chutes give Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe a section of very
challenging terrain.                            Photo: Eric Wagnon
Skiers can enter through nine control gates to reach 16 named chutes— most with 40-55 degree pitches to deservedly earn double-black designations. For maximum challenge, the chute named El Cap provides the full 1,500 vertical feet of The Chutes. 

On the other end of the difficulty spectrum, the much shorter, single-black Cutthroat, Exhibition and Lowball chutes have more of an eastern exposure, so they can soften up and be more forgiving on days when firm conditions predominate elsewhere.

Although Mt. Rose had on-site lodging until 1984, today’s destination visitors either come through on the way to or from other Tahoe resorts or stay in Reno. For a budget ski vacation, many of the casino-hotels in Reno offer amazingly inexpensive room rates and stay-and-ski specials.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Resort at Squaw Creek adds luxury to Squaw Valley

The Resort at Squaw Creek features ski-in, ski-out
access to California's Squaw Valley USA ski area.
                                   Photo: Resort at Squaw Creek

Challenging steeps and a local subculture of skiers who have mastered those lines have defined the reputation of Squaw Valley USA for years. 

About 2,700 feet in elevation below the chutes of the famed Palisades, however, the Resort at Squaw Creek serves as a luxurious respite from the adrenaline rush on the California slopes. Opened on Dec. 20, 1990, the AAA Four-Diamond resort is celebrating its 20th anniversary season. So as not to show its age, the property of 405 rooms and suites recently completed a $53-million renovation.

“Certainly we cater to a little higher-end clientele here. We pride ourselves on being a solid four-diamond property,” said Heimo Brandstatter, resort manager. “I always tell our associates whether it’s through training or the orientation process that we’re going to shoot for five-diamond service, but we definitely hold up that four-diamond standard here at the resort.”

Located on the far eastern edge of the ski-area layout, the Resort at Squaw Creek has the Squaw Creek triple chairlift very conveniently located outside the back door. While most hotel guests can take advantage of ski-in, ski-out access on this chairlift serving intermediate terrain, absolute beginners would want to take the free shuttle over to the main village base. Incidentally, the tree skiing just above the hotel served by the Squaw Creek and Red Dog lifts is prime territory on storm days when wind often shuts down the rest of the 4,000-acre ski area.

Squaw Valley USA recently changed ownership and announced its own $50-million plan to upgrade the ski area, particularly with the destination skier in mind. “With the new ownership of Squaw Valley USA, we’re extremely excited to have a partner that we can continue to work together on really branding Squaw Valley USA the mountain as a destination,” said Brandstatter.

“It’s not just coming to Squaw Valley USA and skiing. It’s about coming to Squaw Valley and enjoying the amenities, services and restaurants that we have to offer here in the valley,” he added. “With the new ownership and the team they have there, there’s no question in my mind that collaboration of coming together to create that destination experience is something that is truly going to be enhanced for years to come.”

One of Conde Nast Traveler’s “Top 50 Ski Hotels” in North America, the Resort at Squaw Creek is also only a five-minute drive from Alpine Meadows ski area. Alpine Meadows is sometimes described as a “mini-Squaw,” but with 2,400 acres of skiable terrain, the ski area is sizable enough to be a destination in its own right.

The current Resort at Squaw Creek ski-and-stay package for two adults costs $453 per night, plus an $18 resort fee and taxes. The deal includes a guestroom, two adult Squaw Valley USA lift tickets for each night stayed, and daily breakfast for two in Six Peaks Grille. A similar ski-and-stay package for skiing at Alpine Meadows starts at $385 for two adults. Shuttle transportation to and from Alpine Meadows is included.

Available March 27 through April 24,  the Spring Family B&B Package includes nightly accommodations in a deluxe guestroom and breakfast in Six Peaks Grille for up to two adults and two children (ages 12-and-under), starting at $179 per room, per night. 

(Travel accomodations were provided during visit.)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Ski Gear Review: Leki Trigger S Series poles

Photo: Leki
Face it. Poles occupy ski equipment’s bottom rung in terms of generating excitement. Sure, gear nerds may debate the value of aluminum versus composite materials, but poles do not rival skis and boots— or even bindings-- in the quest for the latest and greatest.    

Leki’s Trigger S Series poles, however, may be the lone case of technology in poles that could inspire a curious comment from a stranger in a liftline. Instead of a traditional loose strap, the Trigger grips have a sort of “release binding” for poles.

The skier clicks into each pole with a little loop of cord between the thumb and index finger on compatible Leki gloves or on tight straps included with the poles that modify any other glove brand. The loop is made of Dyneema, a tear-proof material also used for parachute lines. To release the glove from the pole, the user must press down with the thumb on the top of the pole and unlatch the mechanism.

Most importantly in terms of safety, the mechanism also releases much like a binding with enough pressure during a fall. Not needing a strap around the wrist, the feature can also reduce the risk of a wrist injury if the pole catches a tree when skiing in gladed terrain.

Photo: Leki
The lack of a traditional strap may take some adjustment for skiers accustomed to the feel and leverage of a strap running under the thumb gripping the pole. This initially odd feeling particularly comes into play using the compatible Leki gloves. Using the included straps that modify other glove brands, this sensation is less pronounced in that the hands can still sense a strap, but the safety feature of the release system remains. The downside to using the straps with other glove brands is that removing the gloves becomes a little more cumbersome.

The lack of traditional straps also causes a minor inconvenience in placing gear on a ski rack during a break. Most skiers loop the traditional straps on the ski tips, so obviously without straps, the poles must just lean on the rack next to the skis.

For skiers who prefer the latest and greatest gear with loads of innovation, the Leki Trigger poles do offer added safety and unique features. For skiers who like to keep their equipment functional and simple, however, the poles may seem too complicated for their own good.

(Disclaimer: Product was provided for the purposes of testing.)