On a beautiful Saturday morning in January, dozens of people are filing into the parking lot of Sky Tavern located on Highway 431. Looking up toward the mountain, clusters of kids are hanging out in the base area and every chair on the Sky Ridge triple chairlift is full.
Among all the parents, kids, skis, poles and weekend morning bustle, I eventually find Sky Tavern executive director Bill Henderson.
“This is the most amazing thing ever; it lets anyone who wants to learn how to ski go out and do it. And Sky Tavern makes it affordable. Everyone is here because they love skiing and want to be involved.”
— Jeff Grossman
Henderson has been involved with Sky Tavern since 2000 and has four grown children who have all gone through the Jr. Ski Team program, made possible by a slew of parent volunteers.
As one of Tahoe’s oldest ski resorts, Sky Tavern opened in 1946. Two years after it opened, local skier Marce Herz approached then-owner Keston Ramsey with the idea of using Sky Tavern as a children’s ski learning center. In 1948 the Jr. Ski Program was born.
Over time, the property changed hands and is now owned by the City of Reno, but in 1991 when the city decided it wanted out of the ski business, local parents pulled together to form the nonprofit Sky Tavern Junior Ski Program to keep the program going.
Now is an especially exciting time for the program since the organization recently signed a new 30-year lease with the City of Reno to continue running the ski hill. With the new lease, Henderson hopes to implement a snowmaking system, put in slope lighting, replace the Poma lift with a modern carpet and expand its lesson program.
The Jr. Ski Program is going strong; 100,000 kids have been through it including Olympian David Wise, thanks to the hard work and dedication of local parents.
“It’s always been like this — a whole bunch of kids and a whole bunch of parents. We all work together. You come here and there’s not one parent here who doesn’t play an instrumental role in keeping this place going. It’s all these guys at the barbecue,” Henderson says of the parents on the deck chuckling over smoky grills. “If you’d left it up to me, you’d have a burned hamburger.”
To keep the ski resort in business, the program hosts an eight-weekend winter program that members join for a nominal fee. When the school buses full of kids and parents arrive, they are split into two-hour group lessons. After lunch, they have the option to free ski together for the rest of the day.
Grabbing a helmet — the kids are quick to call you out if you’re not wearing one — I join in a lesson group taught by volunteer parent Jeff Grossman. The kids are all over the place, either laying in the snow or working on their turns.
“This is the most amazing thing ever; it lets anyone who wants to learn how to ski go out and do it. And Sky Tavern makes it affordable. Everyone is here because they love skiing and want to be involved,” Grossman says.
The notion that Sky Tavern is like one big family is cemented when I head over to the Sky Ridge chair and meet Kelly Orr and Julie Eldridge who are facilitating the line, making sure that classes stay together and generally keeping an eye on the kids.
“My kids will choose to come here over any other mountain; they love the people,” Eldridge says.
I then meet Eric Ruud, Sky Tavern’s snowsports director, who has been involved with the ski program for 20 years. One of his favorite parts about participating in the program with his kids is that it gives him some one-on-one time with them away from technology.
“They are always on their phones or in front of a screen but riding on this chairlift gives you 2 minutes to talk to your kid,” he says.
After a morning of lessons, the Oziminski family is having lunch on the sunny deck, their 5-year-old Harrison is nibbling on a chicken tender.
“I love it,” he says. It’s his second year participating in the program and his dad Nick says that you can’t keep him off the mountain.
“Everyone here loves kids, otherwise they wouldn’t be here. No one’s stressed about the cost of skiing, it makes it affordable and accessible. And it’s such good terrain and we’re so close to it,” Oziminski says.
The Sky Tavern Jr. Ski Program also hosts an adaptive ski program and lessons for parents. | skytavern.org