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Skiing/ Bob Lochner : High Sierra Is Betting This Is a Good Winter

January 15, 1988|Bob Lochner

RENO — --The billboard along the Harbor Freeway in Los Angeles proclaims, "Snow Show," and displays a showgirl carrying a pair of skis over her shoulder, presumably headed for the High Sierra. It even gives her phone number: (800) FOR RENO.

She's scarcely dressed for the sport, even spring skiing, but then this biggest little city and half of nearby Lake Tahoe were built on fantasy.

One of the fantasies, perhaps, is that skiers are also gamblers. Of course, to a degree they are. Every trip down a steep slope carries with it the threat of a broken leg or worse, but most serious skiers would rather take their chances on the slopes than at the tables.

Besides, they need their rest if they want to get their full lift ticket's worth the next day. The casinos are for non-serious skiers who use the sport as an excuse to go gambling.

In any event, skiing is the big come-on in the winter here, and Nevada's gaming industry doesn't hesitate to plow back a chunk of its huge summertime profits to cultivate skiers, whether serious or non-serious, from around the world.

Directly or indirectly, the casinos participate in the marketing programs of five organizations: Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority, Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority (South Shore), Tahoe North Visitors and Convention Bureau, Ski Lake Tahoe, and the state of Nevada's tourism department.

In addition, these groups are members of the Sierra Ski Marketing Council, which attempts to hold everything together.

"It gets confusing at times," said Phil Weidinger, who directs Ski Lake Tahoe's activities. "But everyone is trying to attract skiers, for a week or a weekend."

Ski Lake Tahoe is composed of the five largest resorts in the Northern Sierra--Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, Northstar, Heavenly Valley and Kirkwood. They have a total of 88 lifts and 25,000 acres of skiable terrain, and if you want to sample each one, there's a five-day interchangeable lift ticket available for $135.

Squaw, Alpine and Northstar also have an interchangeable ticket with four other North Tahoe ski areas--Sugar Bowl, Homewood, Ski Incline and Mt. Rose, which ranges from $81 for three days to $140 for six days.

This has been an excellent winter in the Tahoe basin. Most resorts have been open since well before Christmas, and the holidays set records for skier attendance at Squaw, Alpine and Heavenly.

"Each day between Christmas and New Year's seemed to get better as the week went on," Weidinger said. "It snowed, then turned sunny just in time for everyone to enjoy the powder."

After last winter's semi-drought in the Sierra, the summer was a quiet one up here, with most ski resorts concentrating on expanding their snow-making capacity.

Ski Incline, located on the Nevada side of Tahoe, doubled its size and vertical drop by opening Diamond Peak. The new quad chairlift is ready to roll, but more snow is needed to cover the advanced runs that it serves.

Incline is a family-oriented place, as are Northstar and Homewood. Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley and Heavenly Valley offer the greatest variety, both in types of skiers and degrees of difficulty.

Sugar Bowl and Kirkwood are each about 30 minutes away from Tahoe, Sugar Bowl to the north and Kirkwood to the south, but both have big mountains and Alpine village atmospheres. Mt. Rose is the closest to Reno and with a base elevation of 8,000 feet frequently has reliable snow when it is marginal elsewhere.

Altogether, there are 18 ski areas within a 90-minute drive of this city, which makes the Reno-Tahoe complex especially suitable for weeklong stays.

According to Weidinger, 45% to 50% of the skiers at the big five resorts drive up from the San Francisco Bay Area, 200 miles away. Another 20% to 25% come from Southern California, and the balance are from the rest of the country. Of those from the Southland, about 60% drive the 400 to 500 miles, and about 40% fly into either South Lake Tahoe Airport or Reno-Cannon International.

No data was available on how that showgirl got here.

Skiing Notes Tomaz Cerkovnik of Yugoslavia moved into a tie for first place in the men's standings of the U.S. Pro Ski Tour by defeating Joerg Seiler of Switzerland in the slalom final last weekend at Heavenly Valley. Cerkovnik, with $19,825 in earnings, and Joakim Wallner of Sweden each have 160 points, although the latter has picked up less money, $13,800. Rookie Alex Giorgi of Italy beat Wallner in the giant slalom final and is tied for third place with Hans Standteiner of Olympic Valley, with 120 points apiece. This weekend's event is at Beaver Creek, Colo.

Austrian Birgit Hussauf took the women's pro lead with 90 points after turning back three-time defending champion Cathy Bruce of Stratton, Vt., in Sunday's slalom at Haystack, Vt. The women compete this weekend at Waterville Valley, N.H.

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