Median Home Price: $326,000
Miles from a chairlift: 25
Jen Callahan was part of the fifth generation of her family to grow up in northern Nevada, which is why she used to be so eager to leave. Her hometown enabled her to grow up skiing the nearby Sierra that loom over Lake Tahoe—but it also gave her a little too much proximity to what was, at the time, a place best known for not exactly being Las Vegas. “I guess growing up, Reno always felt, like, rundown, and hot, and tired,” says Callahan, who now skis in big mountain competitions. “Never would I have imagined going to college there. I was never gonna wind up in Reno.”
In the years since, Callahan has lived in Alaska, and in the Bay Area, and in Jackson Hole—and in an old school-bus-turned-tiny-home in Reno, where she and her boyfriend Andrew Hennigh met while working at Mount Rose, she as a liftie and he on ski patrol. Drawn back to the University of Nevada in Reno for its strong Natural Resources and Environmental Science department, Callahan saw the city with a fresh perspective—and loved what she saw. “My friend describes Reno as ‘brackish,’” she says. “It’s salty. It’s like a Quentin Tarantino town: It’s cool in its destruction.”
Lately, though, the story of Reno has been even cooler in its construction. With a population of 245,255; a thriving artsy-foodsy district called Midtown just a few blocks away from the banks of the Truckee River; a rising job market benefitting from Silicon Valley spillover; newly legal recreational dispensaries; and a location allowing outdoor lovers to ski, paddle, hike, and bike without spending all day battling traffic; Reno is breaking out of its old trappings without losing its distinct, oddball culture.
Mount Rose is just 25 miles from downtown Reno. Even inbounds, this low-key, old-timey ski area has plenty of thrilling terrain to be found, like the Chutes, which offer some of the longest steep vertical in North America. The base elevation of 8,260 feet can mean powder days when other mountains get rain, while 360-degree views pan from the blues and greens of Lake Tahoe and its surrounding national forest to the brown desert expanse of Nevada.
There are benign options as well: The city of Reno owns a quirky, small mountain called Sky Tavern that runs like a co-op, where parents volunteer to teach lessons and serve food and Olympic ski halfpipe gold medalist David Wise began learning his trade at age 3. (Last year, the owners of Sky Tavern offered a parking spot to Callahan’s school bus.) Getting to more well-known resorts isn’t difficult, either: Squaw Valley is less than an hour away, and driving from Reno down to backcountry stashes in South Lake doesn’t take any longer than it would from Truckee.
As Reno continues to redefine itself, the more traditional “ski towns” that dot the Lake Tahoe region—Truckee, Tahoe City, Incline Village, Meyers, Kings Beach—are in the midst of a housing crisis.
Median home prices in the Reno area are more reasonable (though growing quickly), and opportunities for employment extend beyond the usual ski-town fare. Apple, Amazon, and Google are among the companies investing heavily in data and logistics facilities in the vast Reno-Tahoe Industrial Center. The Tesla Gigafactory began mass-producing batteries there earlier this year. And Patagonia, which has based its national fulfillment center in Reno for decades, recently opened up an additional 17,000-square-foot outlet downtown—across from a West Elm that in 2016 was the first major retailer to open its doors in the neighborhood in some 30 years.
Bruce Old, the vice president for global wholesale at Patagonia, didn’t expect to stay in Reno for long when he first arrived. Sixteen years later, he can’t imagine leaving. He points to the city’s size, its lack of state income tax, its constant slate of events like the Reno Rodeo or the annual hot air balloon races, and its easy proximity to both the east and west shores of Tahoe—as well as destinations farther south like Kirkwood and Yosemite—as what keep him and his family around.
It all makes attracting and retaining knowledgeable employees easier, too. “When someone calls with a really technical question about their waders,” Old says, “we want to make sure we’ve got someone in the building that fishes. We want to make sure we’ve got someone that maybe works here part time and does ski patrol part time. We’ve got a lot of outdoor expertise in this building, being in a place where people have really good access to pursue those passions.”
Despite all the new restaurants and home renovations and galleries that have replaced what Moment Skis founder and Reno local Luke Jacobson says “used to be all liquor stores and sex shops,” there’s still plenty about Reno that retains its rough edge. You can play slots at the airport right at your gate. Jacobson points fondly to one dive bar, Tiger Tom’s, that features a stripper cage and an old seen-it-all bartender who introduces herself as “Marina—like where you park boats.”
Which is what Callahan loves, too. “That salty side,” she says. “Reno is the only town that is close to the mountains that has that.”
This story originally appeared in the November 2017 (46.3) issue of POWDER. To have award winning stories delivered right to your door, in print, subscribe here.