Imagine for a moment an open valley dotted with ranches, lakes, rivers, and towns reminiscent of the Wild West — all bookended by towering, snow-covered mountains.
This little haven exists, and it’s surprisingly easy to reach. Nevada’s Carson Valley, which encompasses the small towns of Genoa, Minden, and Gardnerville as well as the community of Topaz Lake, sits right on the Nevada-California border at eastern base of the Sierra Nevada. It’s less than 30 minutes east of Lake Tahoe and about 45 minutes south of Reno-Tahoe International Airport.
And then there’s the skiing. Carson Valley is situated close to not one, but 15 mountain resorts, including the legendary Heavenly Mountain Resort, Kirkwood Mountain Resort, and Diamond Peak Ski Resort. With Carson Valley as your home base, you can spend the day at the resort of your choice, then head to lower elevations for a charming stay in a town that feels straight out of a John Wayne movie.
“It’s the kind of place where you can spend the day on the mountain, but head back to the valley to truly unplug and enjoy the Old West charm the destination has to offer,” Jan Vandermade, executive director at Visit Carson Valley, told Travel + Leisure. “Staying in Carson Valley for a ski trip gives you access to the best mountain and ski resorts in the West, but it provides a dynamic variety of off-mountain experiences as well.”
With some help from Vandermade and his team, we’ve concocted the perfect Carson Valley ski getaway.
Easy Access to Ski Resorts, Plus Backcountry Skiing
With a location near 15 mountain resorts, you can pick your poison — terrain park, steep and deep, or beginner runs — each day of your ski vacation. For views over Lake Tahoe, head to Heavenly Mountain Resort, which Vandermade notes is just about 30 minutes from Minden by car. Those looking for deep pow and steep turns should head to Kirkwood Mountain Resort, a 45-minute drive from Minden. And if you’re up for a little backcountry fun, a 15-minute drive will drop you among miles and miles of wide-open skiing. (Check out the Hope Valley Outdoors yurt for rentals, lessons, and tours.)
Plenty of Non-ski Activities — From Hot Springs to Snowshoeing
It isn’t just about downhill skiing in Carson Valley — a fact that’s welcome news to visitors craving a different form of entertainment. You can strap on a pair of snowshoes and take on a local trail or spend the day sledding and tubing in the foothills.
“Carson Valley offers plenty of winter activities, including snowshoeing, wild horse tours, viewing birds of prey and raptors, antiquing, and more,” said Vandermade, who notes that you’ll also find natural hot springs at Holiday Inn Club Vacations David Walley’s Resort and Grover Hot Springs State Park (the latter is currently closed due to fire damage).
Good Food at Good Prices
After a day playing in the mountains, you’ll need to refuel, and since Carson Valley is a drive from the area’s resorts, you won’t have to worry about forking over $15 for a measly bowl of chili.
Drop by The Pink House in Genoa for lunch (think fancy sandwiches and charcuterie boards) and Gardnerville’s J.T. Basque Bar & Dining Room for dinner, which doles out family-style meals and glasses of Picon Punch (a 19th-century cocktail made with Amer Picon that Vandermade says is not to be missed).
To throw one back with the locals, head to Nevada’s oldest continuously operating saloon, Genoa Bar, a beloved spot that’s full of Western memorabilia.
“[Carson Valley is] an Old West destination with a rugged, unpolished vibe,” said Vandermade. “Cozy up by the fire, enjoy farm-to-table food, and take in a little bit of a slower pace.”
Laid-back Lodgings at Affordable Rates
You won’t be right at the base of the ski resort, but it’s hard to top Carson Valley’s hotel rates — and accessibility. Carson Valley Inn in Minden was recently remodeled and has an on-site casino. For a cozy stay in Genoa — Nevada’s oldest non-Native settlement — book the White House Inn.
Plus, by staying in Carson Valley, you won’t have to worry about dealing with snow before an early ski day or navigating icy roads. Vandermade notes that “Carson Valley is situated at 4,700 feet. While others are often still shoveling out their cars from overnight snow, the wise one bedding down in the valley is already on the mountain.”