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Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe: Nevada’s first ski hill

Rose Mountain: ski hill is just one part of the rich history of this mountain

Mark McLaughlin
Special to Lake Tahoe Action
mt rose ski tahoe
Snow enthusiasts prepare to make turns at Mount Rose Ski Tahoe. Mount Rose's summit, at 10,785 feet, is seen in the background.
Mark McLaughlin | Lake Tahoe Action

At a time when winter in Lake Tahoe is winding down for resorts, and most are reluctantly throwing in the towel due to inadequate snow cover, Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe is still boasting two to five feet of snow on their mountain. An ancient volcano, Mt. Rose is the highest ski resort at Lake Tahoe. The resort has a base elevation of 7,900 feet and summit at 9,700 feet. In a winter like 2015, with few storms and unusually mild temperatures, Mt. Rose’s higher altitude really paid off. The resort picked up nearly 13 feet of snow this season, and its colder air temperatures helped keep it on the hill. The resort plans to stay open through April 19.

The area got its first shot of downhill skiing in the fall of 1938, when Wayne Poulsen, coach for the University of Nevada ski team, and his partner, Ed Heath, owner of a ski tow at Mono Summit, moved Heath’s rope tow to Grass Lake, near what was then called the Mount Rose Bowl. Their tow transported skiers 560 vertical feet up towards the ridgeline. The north-facing bowl, located near 8,000 feet, filled with deep, dry snow most winters and boasted an impressive vertical drop of more than 2,000 feet.

Student-athletes on the Nevada ski team helped Poulsen and Heath build a warming hut and removed dangerous tree stumps on the slope left over from the Comstock logging era. They cut pine trees and stripped them of branches to make log posts. The posts were embedded vertically into the ground to support the wheels and rope for the tow that was propelled by an old automobile engine. They called their new ski area Mt. Rose Up-ski. Once the tow was up and running Poulsen opened his Ski School Tyrol and began offering Tahoe ski lessons; it was Nevada’s first commercial ski hill operation. Years later, Wayne Poulsen and an East Coast investor named Alex Cushing would go on to make ski history by establishing Squaw Valley, future site of the 1960 Winter Olympics.

In the 1940s, the Mt. Rose Highway was a summer-only road that connected Reno with North Lake Tahoe. The highway ended at the Grass Lake ski hill — beyond that point, the road was not plowed during the winter months. After the road was improved and cleared during winter, Reno Ski Bowl was developed on the east side of Slide Mountain. At the 1960 Games, Reno Ski Bowl was an alternate site in case Squaw Valley had inadequate snow cover.

In the early 1960s, Reno Ski Bowl evolved into the Slide Mountain Ski Area, and in 1964 the north face of Slide Mountain became the Mount Rose Ski Area. The two resorts operated independently until 1987, when they merged to become Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe. The resort has the highest base of any ski area in the region, making it one of the best Lake Tahoe ski resorts, so take your last turns of the season at altitude.

Lake Tahoe historian Mark McLaughlin is a nationally published author and professional speaker. His award-winning books are available at local stores or at http://www.thestormking.com. You can reach him at mark@thestormking.com. Check out Mark’s blog at http://www.tahoenuggets.com.

Originally posted in the June 12, 2015, issue of the Tahoe Daily Tribune and regularly vetted for accuracy.


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