The Schussing Begins in Reno-Lake Tahoe

While most of the country hunkers down for winter, this holiday-card corner of California and Nevada gears up for business. For incentive planners, there's much going on here, from new development to variety and value.

"We have the highest concentration of ski resorts in North America—18 within an hour's drive of downtown Reno and Reno-Tahoe International Airport," said Michael Thomas, executive director of marketing for the Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority. "Even for the novice winter driver, [there's] a very well-maintained road system that enables you to get to the major resorts easily and safely."

That quantity of resorts, said Thomas, also comes with considerable quality, due in good part to the familiarity skiers crave in the product package. "People like coming here because of the brands—Heavenly, Squaw Valley, Northstar—and what they offer," said Thomas, who added that many Tahoe resorts are continuing with multimillion-dollar improvements rather than sitting tight in a challenging economy.

Hardhats seem as ubiquitous as ski caps around the lake. Northstar-at-Tahoe is sinking $15 million into facility and service upgrades, while Heavenly at Tahoe has added three trails and is expanding and remodeling its lodges.

Diamond Peak recently added 30,000 sf of meeting space, including a new banquet room. And just a half-hour from Reno, Mount Rose, which features two special-event rooms, starts the new season with overall slope and facility upgrades, and it has ground-breaking plans for its new Slide Lodge.

Sugar Bowl will unveil its new training course for skier and Boardercross athletes heading to the 2010 Winter Olympics. The course, set to open this coming season, will also be open to the public as time and conditions permit. Down the road, the 170-room Ritz-Carlton Highlands is on target for a fall 2009 debut, while JMA Ventures is planning a 2010 holiday-season opening for its high-end Hotel Avery in historic downtown Truckee.

After schussing away the day in Tahoe, apresskiers can convene at such famous gaming facilities as Harrah's and Harveys Lake Tahoe, the Cal Neva Resort, and the new MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa. Incentive winners also can return to Reno to enjoy the city's growing gaming and entertainment scene. "We have well over 20,000 hotel rooms within a very short drive to the mountains, and many of the hotels offer lake shuttles for easier access," said Thomas.

Reno, like Tahoe, is awash in hospitality makeovers. The Atlantis, Peppermill, John Ascuaga's Nugget, and Grand Sierra resorts alone have invested close to a half-billion dollars in renovations and expansions, much of them friendly toward incentives, such as fine dining, health spas, and room amenities.

New bars, clubs, restaurants, and spas—either in downtown or at Reno's gaming resorts—are aiding in Reno's renaissance, as well. "Once the slopes shut down, we have a pulse," said Thomas. "There's a real nightlife here, whether you're in downtown or at one of the resorts, and that makes us a complete destination."

Originally published Dec. 15, 2008