Little Snow, But Lots of GLBT Fun at Reno and Tahoe
Lake Tahoe’s slopes are in need of fresh powder, but that isn’t stopping diehard skiers or LGBT partiers from heading up to the Sierra and to nearby Reno for a winter getaway.
Reno and Lake Tahoe offer plenty of fun on and off the slopes with great dining, nightlife, and casinos or simply relaxing by the fireplace with a special someone or friends. There is something for everyone at the lakeside and northern city escape just hours from the San Francisco Bay Area.
The large ski resorts that are open during this extremely dry winter have had to resort to man-made snow lately and not all lifts are operating. But there is skiing to be had, officials said.
Lake Tahoe’s premiere gay ski weekend is WinterFest, which is held March 2-9 at Heavenly and Northstar ski resorts.
This is the 19th year of the weeklong LGBT snow party, according to Kevin Ray, founder and promoter of Winterfest.
Ray, a gay man, took over the popular LGBT ski weekend from the Nevada Commission on Tourism in 1996. Today, the tourism commission and the Nevada Gay and Lesbian Visitor and Convention Bureau sponsor the event that mixes skiing and snowboarding, comedy, parties and the option to hit the poker tables and slot machines on the Nevada side of South Lake Tahoe.
Ray, a project coordinator who lives in northern Nevada, also produces Reno Gay Pride, usually held in August.
Ray believes that February will bring fresh powder to Tahoe, which has been experiencing a particularly dry season. Since the early snow storms in October and November provided a solid base to build upon, the ski resorts have been running the snow machines on the trails at higher elevations.
To attract skiers and snow bunnies, many of the resorts have added fun features to their ski runs and lodges. Heavenly, for example, has a roving dance club on the slopes with guest DJs.
Ray is confident the area will soon see snowfall.
"We will get fresh powder," he said. "People have never been disappointed in the skiing."
However, he is prepared to do a snow dance if there isn’t a late season storm that dumps fresh powder onto the slopes, he quipped.
Even if it doesn’t snow soon, South Lake Tahoe offers a lot of entertainment and easy transportation from Aston Lakeland Village Beach and Mountain Resort, the host resort complex that offers shuttle service between the casinos, nightclubs, and slopes. That’s not to mention the entertainment Ray has lined up for WinterFest, including a dance party aboard the MS Dixie II departing out of Zephyr Cove.
"He attracts really great people," said Xav Dubois, a regular at WinterFest. "As much as it’s a gay and lesbian event, he just leaves it so open for everybody."
WinterFest is an extra treat for Dubois and his partner of 10 years, Sean Aken. Not only is the gay-friendly ski escape right in their backyard, but they get to share it with LGBT people from all over the U.S. and the world who come to the event, he said.
"I’m just home and I feel ease walking down the street holding hands with my partner in South [Lake] Tahoe," said Dubois, about the 40-something gay men simply feeling comfortable in the mountain resort town. "It just feels great."
Ray has plenty of fun planned on and off the slopes for this year’s WinterFest, including a comedy night with Emmy Award-winning gay comedian Bruce Vilanch.
"We are so excited to have someone of his caliber through the weekend," said Ray.
"Anything with a ’ho’ in it attracts my attention, and Tahoe is no exception," joked Vilanch in an email about performing at and attending the gay ski weekend. "But when you add in gay ski week ... it’s time for an avilanch."
WinterFest isn’t the only gay ski weekend hitting the Sierra this winter. Saga North, the gay ski group, has been hitting the slopes for the past couple of months with weekend ski and snowboarding excursions. Organizers added two excursions to South Lake Tahoe this year.
Rough and Wild
Adventurers can have their outdoor action by day and urban excitement by night in Reno.
Most of Reno’s top resorts offer ski packages, including transportation to the slopes.
The Peppermill is offering mid-week and weekend deals starting at $209 and $289, respectively, with a $75 resort credit for a three-night minimum stay in the Tuscany Towers. Guests can buy discounted lift tickets between $68 and $95 depending on the ski resort.
Atlantis offers guests one- and two-night packages starting at $79 up to $155, respectively, to stay and ski with lift tickets to a variety of slopes and $20 food and slot credits.
Silver Legacy’s ski special starts at $79 with bonus discounts for dining and playing.
Grand Sierra Resort and Casino has stay and ski packages starting at $78 per person for two nights, including the option of choosing lift tickets or "First Timers" ski lessons at Mr. Rose.
The slopes are just a 30-minute car or shuttle ride to Mt. Rose, the nearest ski resort. There are up to 18 resorts within 90 minutes of Reno’s popular resorts and casinos that offer shuttle service up to the slopes and back.
Reno also offers other outdoor adventures for LGBT travelers. Golfers can play a round at various golf courses while bikers and hikers can cycle or hike on numerous trails in the area.
At night travelers can dine at a variety of restaurants or catch a show. The Eldorado is showing Ring of Fire , a non-biographical musical based on Johnny Cash’s famous song and music, February 7-May 4.