Family at the heart of Mt. Rose

Courtesy Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe

Full disclosure: Yours truly worked at Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe a decade ago from 2009 to 2013 and I still have many friends there. As a family-owned ski resort, being there truly did feel like I was in a family. I forged friendships with fellow lift operators, ski instructors and ski patrollers that extend well beyond the resort. I have some unforgettable memories like the time we opened Winters Creek Lodge, participated in the New Year’s Eve fireworks show/torchlight parade, enjoyed my surprise birthday and danced all day in a tight, lime green ski suit on a snow stage for Retro Day.

Editor’s Note: While Mt. Rose closed for the season shortly after this story was written, Tahoe Weekly still feels it’s important to publish this feature online highlighting one of the region’s only independently owned downhill resorts. Read about Tahoe’s other independent resorts: Diamond Peak, Donner Ski Ranch, Granlibakken, Sky Tavern, Sugar Bowl and Tahoe Donner.

The day I decided to leave my job at Mt. Rose was heartbreaking, because I felt like I was disowning my family. It was one of the hardest decisions I made in my life. Was it worth giving up my weekly Chutes runs? The employee parties? The incredible snow? Truthfully, there are too many memories to fit into this space.

Fortunately, as more time passed after making my decision to leave, it felt like I just moved away. Because every time I go back to visit, the same people are still there. Marcia is still in Guest Services, Judit is still selling ski gear in 431 Sports, Paul is still the general manager, my old boss Mike is still in marketing, Cassie is still in ski patrol dispatch, the list goes on and on. And every time I see them, it’s like a reunion. I’m always greeted with open arms. This family bond that has been present for decades, which includes employees and Mt. Rose season passholders, is part of the reason why Mt. Rose has been successful for so long.

It all started when Swiss ski bootmaker Fritz Buser launched two major business endeavors in the 1960s:  a group of four-star hotels in the Swiss Alps called Sunstar that sold in 2009 and the other one in the United States, just outside of Reno called Mt. Rose. He became the majority shareholder of Mt. Rose in 1971, which at that time coexisted with Slide Mountain, now called the East Bowl of Mt. Rose.

Currently, the Buser family still maintains majority ownership. When Fritz passed away, his two sons Kurt and Rolf, as well as Fritz’s nephew Stefan, inherited the resort. Kurt acts as president and CEO and can often be spotted overseeing the operations during the ski season. So why has he stayed?

“Mt. Rose is fortunate in a unique way. It is so close to Reno and our elevation offers consistent snow,” Kurt says, reiterating the resort’s tagline of having the highest mountain base in Tahoe. “Those two are the stabilizing elements that have kept us so successful.”

“We have every degree of terrain that appeals to every type of skier or snowboarder. We’re close to Reno and we have Tahoe’s highest base, which means consistently good snow. All those elements – A, B and C – keep us churning away and attracting guests,” Marketing Director Mike Pierce chimes in.

Its proximity to a major ski market and is an important element, but there are also other factors that come together to create the perfect (snow)storm and keep its clientele happy.

“The vibe keeps a lot of our passholders coming back. There’s a spirit here that you can’t find anywhere else,” Pierce says.

“It’s fun and different every day. And every season is different,” Buser says.

The average tenure for a seasonal employee is five years (and Mt. Rose hires up to 700 people a year), while year-round employees tend to stay an average of 15 years. Overall, Mt. Rose has a 67 percent return rate. Pierce is currently in his 26th season at Mt. Rose.

When asked why he has stayed so long, he replies, “It’s the vibe, the atmosphere. Mt. Rose doesn’t have a corporate coldness to it like other resorts can have … this is a warm, dynamic place. The comradery that develops here, you don’t see that everywhere … and not to mention, it’s a fun place to ski.”

While Mt. Rose has had its fair share of challenging years – like before snowmaking and hill grooming came on the scene – the 200-acre black diamond and expert terrain Chutes opening was an industry gamechanger.

“I believe Mt. Rose’s golden years were the first two years of opening the Chutes. Those were great snow years and no one in the area opened up anything more attractive at that time. In the next few years when we open Atoma, that will be the Chutes for the new generation,” Kurt says. | skirose.com