At 8900 feet, Mt. Rose Pass, about 20 miles from Reno, is the highest year round pass in the sierras. But this in no rugged mountain pass, frought with cliffs and inhospitable terrain. As you crest the pass and leave the great basin behind you dip down a few hundred feet and enter the wide open Mt. Rose Meadow. On blue bird winter days there can be a wall of snow rising above the cars on either side of the highway. But if you take the time to park and scramble to the top you’ll find the best local winter adventure destination in the area.
Sledding Mt. Rose Meadow
The question i get asked the most about winter recreation is where good sledding spots are. And you see people stopping right at the summit along the side of the highway sledding the steep hill right down to the parking lot. Trust me, the better spot is just over the hill at Mt. Rose Meadow. Just north of the road is a low-angle area that gradually slopes up to fairly steep for all levels of sledders. Or head across the meadow to Slide Mountain and the back side of Mt. Rose Ski Resort for some secluded backcountry sledding.
By far the easiest winter sport other than sledding is snowshowing. Gear is cheap and can be rented at local outdoor retailers. The snowshoes give you the traction and flotation to roam across the snowy landscape as you please.
“What we usually do is take the Ophir Creek Trail,” says Michael Drum, an avid hiker, snowshoer and backcountry adventurer, “from the southern turn off onto the Tahoe Rim Trail, follow it to a view point of Lake Tahoe then head up into the hills above the trail. In summer the Ophir Creek Trail goes all the way back down into Washoe Valley to Davis Creek Park. “The views are incredible of Lake Tahoe, Mount Rose, Tahoe Meadows,” Drum says, “and if you go high enough there is a fantastic view down into Washoe Valley.”
Skiing the Mt. Rose Area
Ski Touring is probably one of the most popular activities at Mt. Rose Meadow aside from Sledding. Some people prefer to strap on fat, high performance skis with robust bindings for carving turns down steep hills. Others prefer a mellow walk in the snow on light weight cross country skis.
The terrain around the meadow is varied from dead flat, to shear cliff. If you feel the need to strap a ski of about any kind to your feet you’ll find a spot to use them. Crosscountry skiers can enjoy a leisurely tour around the lowlands of the meadow. From the west end, you can park near the summit at the Mt. Rose Trailhead and tour south across the highway back through the campground and work your way down to the meadow and loop back around. Or you can start from the west end where most of the parking is and enjoy a mostly flat tour.
If downhill back country adverture is more your style, Mt. Rose Meadow is a killer launching point for alpine tours with lots of vertical. From the west end of the meadow you can head north up Relay Ridge towards Mt. Rose proper and Houghton Peak. There you’ll find secluded bowls, chutes and tree runs. Or hear west towards Incline Lake Peak. In addition to the peak you can hit Rose Knob and Rose Knob Peak. Depending on your level of adventuresomenss you can get a huge lake run off the southwest face of Rose Knob and end up in the neighborhoods of Incline Village thumbing a ride back to your car.
Snomobiling in Tahoe
Snowmobiling is prohibited in much of the Mt. Rose Meadows area, due the the high volume of non-motorized users, but the back bowl area northwest of the meadow is open. There is a road that goes from the east end of the meadow up to the radio towers on Relay Peak and much of that generally marks the boundary. While snowmobiling is allowed nin the large zone north of incline lake and south of the Mt. Rose Wilderness, the boundaries are not well marked. Use that service road and the radio towers as a guideline. If you’re north of there, you’re in wilderness.
You see some strange stuff out there at times. “What we saw were 3 or 4 guys strapped onto snowboards with large kites,” says Drum. “They would slide down one of the hills, catch some air and go air borne! It looked like the winter version of Kite Surfing.”
This article appears in the February, 2009 issue of RLife Magazine.