Hidden gem at Diamond Peak

Diamond Peak is probably the most overlooked and underrated ski resort in the Tahoe Basin. With an impressive 1,840 feet of vertical, a variety of ski trails and breathtaking views of Big Blue, Diamond Peak is well worth the drive to Incline Village. This hidden jewel has miles of uncrowded runs, open tree skiing and an intermediate cruiser called Crystal Ridge is rated among the World’s 100 Best Ski Runs by CNN Travel.

032416-SierraStories_DiamondPeak
View from Crystal Ridge at Diamond Peak | Mark McLaughlin

Diamond Peak is geared toward an exciting family experience, but diehard skiers can challenge themselves in Solitude Canyon, an expert area that’s killer after a powder storm. Financially backed by property owners in the tony Incline Village community, Diamond Peak is publicly owned. Because of the community support, the resort boasts a modern top-to-bottom snowmaking system, as well as a fleet of state-of-the-art grooming machines equipped with LIDAR, a laser-based radar technology that can precisely measure snow depth to facilitate more effective grooming.

Like many Tahoe ski resorts, Diamond Peak has an interesting history. For 30 years after the 1929 stock market crash, most of the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe was owned by Captain George Whittell, a San Francisco real estate tycoon. In 1960, Whittell sold 9,000 acres of land to Art Wood, a developer who built Incline Village. The master plan for this vacation resort included a new ski area called Ski Incline. The word incline refers to a 19th Century logging operation that hauled lumber up a nearby mountainside during the Comstock Era.

It was a stroke of genius that Wood hired legendary Austrian ski pioneer Luggi Foeger to look over the initial layout of the new ski area because Foeger told Wood that the location was all wrong from a skier’s perspective. The slopes faced south instead of north, which better protected the snow, and the proposed runs were poorly cut. Foeger successfully designed Ski Incline “to provide a pleasurable experience for the whole family.” Over his career, he headed ski schools at Badger Pass in Yosemite National Park, Sugar Bowl and Alpine Meadows at Lake Tahoe. He also helped design Northstar California, now owned by Vail Resorts.

A former trooper with the 10th Mountain Division, Foeger is a member of the prestigious U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. In 1940, Minot “Minnie” Dole, a Connecticut insurance broker and ski enthusiast who had previously organized the National Ski Patrol System to help injured skiers, convinced President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the U.S. War Department that the Army desperately needed a unit of mountain soldiers to fight in the high mountain country of Europe during World War II. The War Department asked Dole to utilize the Ski Patrol System to recruit skiers and mountain climbers from all over the country.

Any man who wanted to enlist as a ski trooper needed three written letters of endorsement testifying to his skiing ability and wilderness experience and skills. Recruiters encouraged all outdoor-oriented men to volunteer for mountain soldier training at Camp Hale, Colo. Park rangers, trappers, hunting guides and ranchers signed up. Among the brave volunteers who joined were two former Truckee residents, the late Karl Kielhofer and Pete Vanni. Roy Mikkelsen, a national ski jumping champion with the Auburn Ski Club, was a second lieutenant at Camp Hale in 1943. Bill Klein (a longtime director of skiing at Sugar Bowl Ski Resort) also joined the mountain unit.

After the war, veterans from the 10th Mountain Division fired-up America’s modern ski industry. They published ski magazines, managed ski shops, opened ski schools, designed and marketed ski equipment, and established ski areas, including Vail, Aspen, Sugarbush, Whiteface Mountain and others. At least 62 ski resorts have been founded, managed or employed head ski instructors that were 10th Mountain Division veterans.

One influential vet from the 10th Mountain Division was Foeger, a pioneer ski instructor and an exceptional ski area designer. As a young man growing up in Austria, he flourished as a prodigal skier and mountaineer in that country’s rugged Tyrol region. For 10 years he was also a top instructor for Hannes Schneider in St. Anton, Austria. Schneider is known as the father of modern ski teaching for his development of the Arlberg Technique where alpine skiers crouch and bend their legs with weight forward to initiate smooth turns.

During World War II, when he was in his early 40s, Foeger fled to the United States to escape the Nazis. After the war, he joined a select group of experts teaching ski and winter survival skills for the ongoing 10th Mountain Division. Foeger later moved to California to run ski programs in the Sierra. Foeger’s award-winning layout of the Ski Incline area was called a model for modern ski slope development. The affable instructor was known as much for his sense of humor as for his care in resort design to preserve and protect the environment, while at the same time cultivating thoroughly manicured slopes for good skiing.

Skiers who knew Foeger rated him as “one of the true complete mountain men” of the world. Foeger, who died in 1992, was inducted into the prestigious National Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, an honor that represents the highest level of national achievement in skisport. Indicative of their influence on the United States ski industry, there 34 veterans of the 10th Mountain Division are in the Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame.

Ski Incline was the first resort in the West to utilize a snowmaking system. Future improvements added more chairlifts and expanded snowmaking capability. In 1987, under the direction of resort manager Jurgen Wetzstein, the area doubled in size and was renamed Diamond Peak for the addition of the more advanced runs on the new upper mountain. The resort’s marketing slogan is “Don’t Worry, Ski Happy.” Check it out for yourself.