Toothless in Reno: An escape to Squaw |

Toothless in Reno: An escape to Squaw

Ryan Slabaugh
Ryan Slabaugh/Summit DailyJim Pokrandt stands next to one of many Squaw's cliff drops.

SQUAW VALLEY – Thirty-one miles west of Reno’s infamous 4th Street hookers – “Toothless,” said the card dealer. The porn stars live in Carson City – all that ring-ding and ching-ching of the casinos is taken over by a more subtle and serene environment.Just south of Truckee, Calif., Nevada’s scourge is replaced by 4,000 acres of cliff bands and powder, although to say one can forget the high-rise gambling shelters one sees upon flying into Reno is, perhaps, too optimistic. Yet, when entering the mountains, the sudden change in attitude is enough to make one realize that A) you are a city person or B) you are not. Just think of the word “toothless,” for example. In the mountains, “toothless” becomes an adjective for an easy run, whereas in the city, even an “easy run” has more to do with a 2 a.m. jaunt from a casino to the unbathed underbelly of Reno, where matrons pace the curb in dire need of some Aquafresh.Don’t fall off cliffsSo thank heavens for the short trip away from the glamourless glitter of Reno, where I spent a few days holed up in work-mode in the sparkling guts of The Nugget. A carload of us escaped into the Sierras to a minefield of resorts and one highly anticipated trip to Squaw, which, quite frankly, I had grown to despise out of envy – and envy alone. Time and time again this winter, Pacific storms camped over the north shore of Lake Tahoe and made a beeline to Durango, missing our mountains by an inch, in radar-speak. “Epic” read the Squaw-area papers, and this was in late April, a week after Breckenridge and Copper had shut down their lifts. And, on the morning of the Great Escape, it snowed again.

We started with a few interrogations of locals – one, John Kee, previously lived in Dillon Valley, now worked at Squaw, and decided we should pay double for working with the Summit Daily News – and developed a plan of attack. Despite the snow, the temperatures were warm, so after a bit of dilly-dallying – not to be confused with ching-chinging – with outfits at the hotel, we stepped into the tram and headed up the mountain.We found our first run, a black diamond off the 9,050-foot Granite Chief, and quickly discovered our theme for the day: have fun, but don’t fall off a cliff. This area had been puffed up with snow which, set against a healthy gallery of cliff bands, looked inviting – despite the signs warning us of imminent death.Still, the snow was near-perfect, and we found chutes between the cliffs to dig our skis into. Run after run, we made our way into fresh tracks, prompting one in our crew to comment, “This is quickly becoming a favorite place to ride.”Green ticketsThe mountain, quite simply, is breath-taking. Large rock formations and spines bulge through the snow – one could imagine Frodo and his merry fellowship hiking the nearby cornices looking for a pit of hell to drop their legendary Ring. And one could also imagine that pit of hell being somewhere in the basement of The Nugget 31 miles to the east.We lapped the cliffed areas, all the while giggling at our own fortune. These cliffs are lapable, as we got clean runs for a good hour before venturing to other sides of the mountain.History also plays a part of Squaw’s edgy countenance. Remnants of the 1960 Olympics were everywhere. The Olympic rings guided us into the resort, where the Olympic Village and the Olympic General Store awaited.Eventually, we made our way to the KT22 lift – the opposite side of the mountain – where our Dillon Valley friend had recommended. We ran runs like Women’s Downhill, GS Bowl and Johnny Moseley’s Run, a landmark dedicated to Tahoe’s most recognized local. There, we found 40-plus degree slopes filled with corn snow. These steeps, thankfully, were deep, as well.

After returning to the base area, we learned the value of local’s knowledge. One snowboarder in our group had attached his lift ticket to a key ring, and the liftie informed us he would need to remove it.”It needs to be attached to something permanent,” she said and told him to attach it to his coat. Coats in California, apparently, do not come off.However, as we sat holding up the lift line and rearranging our gear, a young man slid between us and asked the liftie if she accepted “green tickets.” She said yes, he handed her two joints, and he and his girlfriend made their way to the lifts.Apparently, “green tickets” are more valuable than “real tickets,” and after making the necessary corrections to our “real tickets,” we too got to join the party on the mountain.Alas, the day ran short. After calling for our make-believe Sherpas, we packed the car, overcame a strong bout of boot-stink, and ventured back to Interstate 80 and returned east to Reno.I love the mountains, and it never became so clear as when I sat in the airport, surrounded by slot machines, waiting for a flight back to Denver. I couldn’t help but laugh about a sign in front of me reading “Tahoe-Reno Airport,” because there was nothing Tahoe about it.Yet for the next few minutes, the ching-chinging and ding-dinging filled the terminal and, for one freaky second, I swear I felt a toothache coming on. I put on my headphones, closed my eyes, and saw home, sweet home in the jagged terrain of my mind.==========================================If you go

• Be ready for difficult terrain.• Try the Squaw Valley Lodge, complete with six hot tubs, a pool and ski-in access.• Don’t expect to do much shopping. The village has a few nice restaurants, and your staple gear shops.• Respect cornology in the spring. Follow the sun for the softest snow.• Visit, or call (530) 583-6955 for mountain information and snow conditions.Other stuff to do:• Alpine Meadows: A ski area just 10 miles from Squaw, Alpine Meadows features a large back-bowl area and signs explaining the art of cornology. Visit, or call (800) 441-4423 for more information.==========================================Vail, Colorado

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