At 10 a.m. on a crisp February morning, Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe is blanketed in a few inches of fresh white snow. Most of the mountain is open, including the lower Chutes, a section of 200-plus acres of advanced and expert steeps located smack in the middle of Slide Mountain and Mount Rose. This challenging terrain faces State Route 431 on the eastern side of the mountain, out of the sun’s reach most of the day, which keeps the snow light and fluffy.
The secret features that people tend to find most often are Venom, 209’er and Jerry’s Tree, named because it resembles Jerry Garcia and has photos of him taped to it.
There are 15 named chutes on the 2018-19 trail map, all at 40- to 55-degree vertical pitches, accessible through nine gates. The steepness of these trails means that avalanches are prone to happen — and often do — especially after snowstorms. Therefore, Mt. Rose Ski Patrol has several avalanche mitigation processes in place to try to trigger slides and leave zero chance for the public to get caught in one.
Having worked at the mountain between 2009 and 2013, I took practically every chance possible to run a few Chutes when ski patrol deemed them safe to enter. In one of those seasons, I even rode all 16 officially named Chutes in one day. It was then when I discovered other chutes, ones with official-looking yellow signs on them that weren’t on the trail map. There was Playground, up on the western side of the Chutes somewhere off the Cutthroat gate, where you used to be able to see the sign from the Northwest Magnum 6 chairlift. And then there’s 209’er tucked into the trees, named after longtime ski patroller Carl Williams’ radio number.
On this particular winter day, an hour after the lower Chutes opened, Mt. Rose Ski patroller and friend Kevin Devine guided me to some of these hidden pockets in the Chutes and pointed out a few more secret spots.
There are a couple of reasons why these features aren’t on the trail map. First, it’s already jam-packed with names with little room for any more. But the more important reason is that these areas give ski patrollers a more accurate knowledge of the terrain should an incident occur so they can respond faster when someone is in trouble. And they can determine where to accurately throw a detonator. As a Chutes skier or rider, it’s fun to stumble on these somewhat hidden spots.
Devine has been working at Mt. Rose since 1996 and knows the mountain like the back of his hand. We took a few runs together through the chutes. Riding up the Chuter chair, Devine pointed out the Bermuda Triangle with ski tracks leading to it near Tower 7. The heavily wooded area leads to an area between the road up to Winters Creek Lodge and the Chuter chair. It has some great snow, but it’s easy to get lost. If you go too far down, you’ll have to hike back out. Devine also points out Benson’s, a spot on the ridge between Miller Time and Nightmare where a man with the last name of Benson got caught in a slide. There’s another area on the other side of the Chutes next to Cardiac Ridge also named where an incident occurred, unofficially called Coddington’s.
The secret features that people tend to find most often are Venom, 209’er and Jerry’s Tree, named because it resembles Jerry Garcia and has photos of him taped to it. But the only way to come across them is to stay high on the ridges and keep your eyes open. If you head straight down the throat of any chute, you’ll ski or ride past them. In looking for the old-growth bristlecone Jerry’s Tree, I accidentally stumbled on Venom. We crossed over to a spot near the Beehive chute. Devine said they are thinking about putting up a sign in the trees called Oh, Beehiiive as a nod to Austin Powers.
If you are an advanced or expert skier or rider who likes treasure hunts and challenging terrain, take a day to find Mt. Rose’s hidden chutes for yourself. And give a big thank you to Mt. Rose Ski Patrol team for keeping the runs safe for us all to enjoy. | skirose.com