Keeping it Real in Reno/Tahoe
By Francis DiScala Jr

Casinos, nature, and fresh snow! Now that is how I like to roll the dice…

Mixing casinos and fresh air in the same sentence usually doesn’t make sense, especially if you’re talking about Vegas. In any gambling destination, the maze of blackjack tables and one-armed bandits is designed to keep us indoors, amused and abused and cash-free. But inReno, the outside world also beckons. The snow glinting on the mountains calls from every window of the Silver Legacy hotel, promising a quick, scenic ride to some of my new favorite ski areas. A low-key, low-cost adventure in Reno/Tahoe is some great bang for the buck.

While I love mainstream five-star resort accommodations; even more appealing is discovering a solid value: welcome to Reno. Get here soon, because this destination is on its way to getting much more popular as serious money is being pumped into refurbishing older hotels and new ones are on the way.

I stayed at the Silver Legacy Resort Casino, an intentionally dated Victorian themed 1,720-room resort located in the center of Reno. The decor runs to the era when the silver mines ran in earnest, around the end of the 19th century. But the comfortable rooms have some nice 1980s appeal too, which I like-there was a big tub in the middle the room and a view of the mountains through the window.

The massive Silver Legacy Resort Casino resort is in the center of Reno. The rooms are comfortable with views of mountains in all directions. Like many big Vegas-style resorts, the Silver Legacy it has lots of restaurants (six), a comedy club, 85,000 square feet of gaming, and even more space than that for conventions space and boutiques shopping. It also has a health spa, and a couple of different bars/lounges and is connected to the Eldorado Hotel Casino and Circus Circus Reno, making it the complex the Mmecca of gaming in northern Nevada. And if spending time inside is not your idea of a vacation, head outdoors for some of incredible skiing.

La Strada, inside the Eldorado offers excellent Italian cuisine. People in the kitchen really know how to cook and how to present what they make; this is the real deal-no Ragu served here.

There are lots of options for indoor entertainment once you run out of gambling money, watch the show: We saw Ladysmith Black Mambazo in concert at the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino. The packed events calendar offers unexpected cultural experiences. All vocals presented by an African group that recorded into fame with Paul Simon on the Graceland Album.

On my second day I was up early, and I did what became my routine dunk in the room’s sweet giant jacuzzi hot tub with bubble bath. Is there a better place to watch the sun come up than from under a blanket of suds?

We were eager to hit the slopes, but first we had to eat. Like kings. It was steak and eggs for me at Biscotti in the Peppermill Resort Casino. Apparently the creators of this lavish luxury palace of first-class dining didn’t know the tidal wave of recession was about to hit the beach: A $400 million expansion-renovation in 2008 added 600 rooms for a total of 1,635. Ranging from 550 to 2,200 square feet, the rooms are luxurious, with pillow-top king-sized beds, custom-made furniture, and marble showers and soaking tubs. There is room here for business, too, with 102,000 square feet of convention space.

We caught some unusual warm and misty weather in Reno, but we were determined to go skiing even if it rained, which it did. I love to ski and to me there is no such thing as bad weather-just bad equipment. I had my still-good ten-year-old clothing, and after a stop at Bobo’s Mogul House I had state-of-the-art, top-of-the-line skis. Nothing compares to having the best-and Bobo’s has it. Unless you are a finicky expert skier who needs to have your own boots, let Bobo’s fit you with both rental boots and skis. (It’ll be cheaper than paying the extra baggage fees the airlines charge.)


-79 trails spread across 2,480 acres
– world-class terrain parks
– new Village at Northstar featuring shopping, dining, and a 9,000-square-foot ice rink
– summertime mountain biking, hiking, fishing, music
– located on Highway 267, just six miles north of Lake Tahoe and six miles south of downtown Truckee
– skiable acres: 2,904
– base elevation: 6,330 feet
– vertical drop: 2,280 feet
– mid-mountain elevation: 6,800 feet
– 18 lifts
– 89 trails
– average annual snowfall: 350 inches
– average daytime high temperature (April to November): 43 degrees F
– average nighttime low temperature (April to November): 21 degrees F

Skiing Northstar is in some ways similar to Deer Valley, Utah: gondolas take you to lifts, and there are no lift lines, and no ice. We got the mid-March mix of rain and snow, but thankfully there was snow near the top, a great relief from the slush in the parking lot and on the lower slopes. Despite the foggy mix I got to experience varied terrain amidst lots of big beautiful trees which made skiing spectacular. At the end of the day I enjoyed a lush after-ski experience at the Chocolate Bar.

Life is not complete without great food, which we found at the new Bistro Napa in the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa. We had an incredible meal with well-chosen wines, fresh fish, and complex desserts. But before dinner we thought a trip to the spa was in order. A clean, state-of-the-art spa is my favorite, and the spa at Atlantis is an amazing place to relax, with muted colors, beautifully appointed rooms and pools, and a solid real-athletes exercise facility surrounded by mountain views. Some of us got a massage, some got haircuts, and I just hit the weights and the hot tub and then checked out the steam room. Here’s the story of what happened there:

I use the steam room to stretch, but only when i am alone. Suddenly, in the middle of my stretch, I realize I am not alone. A figure appears in the mist: “Nice haircut,” I say, thinking I recognize the naked man standing an arm’s reach away.

No response.

“Did you get a haircut?”

“No, I got a massage.”

“Oh. You look great.”

Standing there naked, I suddenly got this creepy feeling that he wasn’t who I thought he was. I leaned to get a closer look to be sure it was him. It wasn’t.

He must have thought I was trying to kiss him. He turned and walked out of the steam room.

I followed to explain. He had turned the corner and was standing in front of a bank of lockers punching the numbers on a digital lock. Naked. And I was naked, except for the towel.

“I actually thought you were someone else… You and my friend-well, not really my friend, but this guy I met on the trip (this wasn’t sounding right)-well you are both about the same size…”

“What, short and fat?” he might have said. But he turned to see me walk away. Sometimes words just aren’t enough…. So I just went and took a shower. Then I noticed the tile, which I though would be a nice selection for my own bathroom being remodeled back home. So I came back and started taking photos of the tiles.

After the spa we cleaned up and went to dinner at Harrah’s. Harrah’s Reno has 65,000 square feet of table games and slots, but we were there to eat, not gamble. We had a nice meal at Harrah’s. I would say that the wonderful waiter was one of the most impressive service personnel I have ever met. He directed the handling of the meal with swift efficiency, and he tolerated our giddiness which seemed inevitable after the long day of fun.

Morning brought hot sunshine to Reno, and we were able to ski Mount Rose. But first we enjoyed a memorable breakfast at the Squeeze Inn-a family-run super-casual eatery in Truckee serving dozens of delicious and creative omelets.


-located just 25 minutes from Reno
-three-day Flight Plan beginner’s package is $99, including instruction
-summit elevation: 9,700 feet
-vertical drop: 1,200 feet
-average annual snowfall: 400 inches
-trails: 60
-lifts: 60
-lifts: 8
-snowmaking: 28 percent

Mount Rose may be my current favorite ski mountain in the United States, mostly because of the steeps and the laid-back, no-pretense atmosphere reminiscent of the old days, when skiing was not a fashion destination but an athletic and aesthetic one. (Not that I’m not a slave to fashion…)

Check out the Chutes, which are steep enough to make your legs bleed-with no one but the initiated to get in the way.

From the top ofMt.Rose, I looked out over the desert. In the distance I saw the tall buildings ofReno punctuating the city’s sprawling development. The Casinos seem so unimportant with such great skiing and natural beauty spread out in front of me. But I must admit, they add an excitement and energy even though they seem to push urbanization into the forefront. Yet the wilderness stubbornly, defiantly, clings on in these mountains, and the big trees, safely out of reach of the sawmill age, stand on as mute witness to my turns in last night’s fresh powder.


Note: This trip was sponsored in part by


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