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Little Snow, But Lots of GLBT Fun at Reno and Tahoe

by Heather Cassell .
Sunday Feb 2, 2014

Lake Tahoe's slopes are in need of fresh powder, but that isn't stopping diehard skiers or LGBT partiers from heading up to the Sierra and to nearby Reno for a winter getaway.

Reno and Lake Tahoe offer plenty of fun on and off the slopes with great dining, nightlife, and casinos or simply relaxing by the fireplace with a special someone or friends. There is something for everyone at the lakeside and northern city escape just hours from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Powder Fun

The large ski resorts that are open during this extremely dry winter have had to resort to man-made snow lately and not all lifts are operating. But there is skiing to be had, officials said.

Lake Tahoe's premiere gay ski weekend is WinterFest, which is held March 2-9 at Heavenly and Northstar ski resorts.

This is the 19th year of the weeklong LGBT snow party, according to Kevin Ray, founder and promoter of Winterfest.

Ray, a gay man, took over the popular LGBT ski weekend from the Nevada Commission on Tourism in 1996. Today, the tourism commission and the Nevada Gay and Lesbian Visitor and Convention Bureau sponsor the event that mixes skiing and snowboarding, comedy, parties and the option to hit the poker tables and slot machines on the Nevada side of South Lake Tahoe.

Ray, a project coordinator who lives in northern Nevada, also produces Reno Gay Pride, usually held in August.

Ray believes that February will bring fresh powder to Tahoe, which has been experiencing a particularly dry season. Since the early snow storms in October and November provided a solid base to build upon, the ski resorts have been running the snow machines on the trails at higher elevations.

To attract skiers and snow bunnies, many of the resorts have added fun features to their ski runs and lodges. Heavenly, for example, has a roving dance club on the slopes with guest DJs.

Ray is confident the area will soon see snowfall.

"We will get fresh powder," he said. "People have never been disappointed in the skiing."

However, he is prepared to do a snow dance if there isn't a late season storm that dumps fresh powder onto the slopes, he quipped.

Even if it doesn't snow soon, South Lake Tahoe offers a lot of entertainment and easy transportation from Aston Lakeland Village Beach and Mountain Resort, the host resort complex that offers shuttle service between the casinos, nightclubs, and slopes. That's not to mention the entertainment Ray has lined up for WinterFest, including a dance party aboard the MS Dixie II departing out of Zephyr Cove.

"He attracts really great people," said Xav Dubois, a regular at WinterFest. "As much as it's a gay and lesbian event, he just leaves it so open for everybody."

WinterFest is an extra treat for Dubois and his partner of 10 years, Sean Aken. Not only is the gay-friendly ski escape right in their backyard, but they get to share it with LGBT people from all over the U.S. and the world who come to the event, he said.

"I'm just home and I feel ease walking down the street holding hands with my partner in South [Lake] Tahoe," said Dubois, about the 40-something gay men simply feeling comfortable in the mountain resort town. "It just feels great."

Ray has plenty of fun planned on and off the slopes for this year's WinterFest, including a comedy night with Emmy Award-winning gay comedian Bruce Vilanch.

"We are so excited to have someone of his caliber through the weekend," said Ray.

"Anything with a 'ho' in it attracts my attention, and Tahoe is no exception," joked Vilanch in an email about performing at and attending the gay ski weekend. "But when you add in gay ski week ... it's time for an avilanch."

WinterFest isn't the only gay ski weekend hitting the Sierra this winter. Saga North, the gay ski group, has been hitting the slopes for the past couple of months with weekend ski and snowboarding excursions. Organizers added two excursions to South Lake Tahoe this year.

Rough and Wild

Adventurers can have their outdoor action by day and urban excitement by night in Reno.

Most of Reno's top resorts offer ski packages, including transportation to the slopes.

The Peppermill is offering mid-week and weekend deals starting at $209 and $289, respectively, with a $75 resort credit for a three-night minimum stay in the Tuscany Towers. Guests can buy discounted lift tickets between $68 and $95 depending on the ski resort.

Atlantis offers guests one- and two-night packages starting at $79 up to $155, respectively, to stay and ski with lift tickets to a variety of slopes and $20 food and slot credits.

Silver Legacy's ski special starts at $79 with bonus discounts for dining and playing.

Grand Sierra Resort and Casino has stay and ski packages starting at $78 per person for two nights, including the option of choosing lift tickets or "First Timers" ski lessons at Mr. Rose.

The slopes are just a 30-minute car or shuttle ride to Mt. Rose, the nearest ski resort. There are up to 18 resorts within 90 minutes of Reno's popular resorts and casinos that offer shuttle service up to the slopes and back.

Reno also offers other outdoor adventures for LGBT travelers. Golfers can play a round at various golf courses while bikers and hikers can cycle or hike on numerous trails in the area.

At night travelers can dine at a variety of restaurants or catch a show. The Eldorado is showing Ring of Fire , a non-biographical musical based on Johnny Cash's famous song and music, February 7-May 4.

Out of Hibernation

Reno will host the second annual Reno Fun Train organized by bear communities in Silicon Valley, San Francisco, and Sacramento March 7-9. The train for hirsute men and their admirers hosts a dance party with DJs and live music and chocolate and wine tastings while passing through the spectacular mountain scenery.

The bears will hit Reno and party at Carl's Pub for a beer bust March 8.

"It's a lot of party and a lot of fun. The trip up and on the way back is what it is about with the beautiful scenery, the snow and camaraderie of being together, which is the great part," said Eric Murken, 46, a gay travel agent at Travel Advisors of Los Gatos.

Last year the Bear Fun Train attracted nearly 70 guests. This year Murken is anticipating that more than 100 bears will hop onto the train for a weekend of fun, he said.

In April the popular Trannyshack show will head to Reno for its 17th annual show at Tronix Video Bar. The Easter weekend event, hosted by Heklina and her friends, is one of the town's biggest LGBT events, attracting more than 500 partiers.

DJ Mimi ImFurst gets the crowd going on the dance floor at Tronix Video Bar and Nightclub in Reno. (Photo: Courtesy Tronix)

Get Local

Local LGBTs also have events planned to entertain visitors.

A Salon 7 is celebrating its 10-year anniversary by turning its annual white party into a black party with a 1920s theme. The Gatsby-inspired event April 5 benefits Build Our Center, Reno's new LGBT community center that is scheduled to open sometime this year.

Queer women party it up at Tronix twice a month with the new Sinful ladies nights. Hosted by Sinful Entertainment promoter Monique Manzo, a 25-year-old lesbian, the dance party on the first and third Saturday has brought Las Vegas Sapphic glam and glitz to Reno.

Manzo, a Reno native, was disappointed to find the lesbian nightlife scene fizzled a bit during the time she lived in Vegas. When she returned home last year, she remedied the situation by launching Sinful Entertainment, an event production company. She fills her events with the latest dance anthems and mashups, "anything that is hot right now," along with butch and femme go-go dancers and performances.

It's been a hit. Her last party attracted up to 300 queer women in the area, she said.

Where to Stay

Guests can't go wrong with the award-winning lakeside Hyatt Regency. The gay friendly resort is TAG-approved and continues to provide top service.

On the other side of the lake, there are two LGBT-owned options to stay: the gay-owned Black Bear Inn, run by partners Kevin Chandler and Jerry Birdwell, and lesbian-owned Holly's Place, owned by Holly Eimer.

LGBT travelers seeking gay-friendly accommodations that offer plenty of entertainment and affordability in South Lake Tahoe can find it at Harrah's and Harvey's.

In Reno, my girlfriend and I love staying at the Peppermill. The resort is popular among LGBT locals and travelers, not only because of its rainbow welcome sign as guests pull into the Tuscany Towers side of the resort, but also for its AAA four-diamond status. The Peppermill offers sophisticated style and luxury in eco-friendly accommodations that is friendly on the pocketbook and welcoming to the community.

Carl's Pub, one of Reno's gay bars, is also very close to the Peppermill.

While the Peppermill is usually our first choice when we hit town, this time we opted to stay in the heart of historic Reno at the Silver Legacy. The resort is close to the Riverwalk and has easy access to multiple casinos, restaurants, and other entertainment.

If you aren't doing well on the tables or the slots at the Silver Legacy it's easy to use the underground pathway to head over to the Eldorado or Circus Circus to try your luck there.

The noted downtown area has captured much of the attention in recent years after its multi-million dollar renovation, but midtown, on South Virginia Street, is beginning to emerge. New restaurants, craft breweries, cocktail lounges, and other attractions are starting to pull visitors away from the heart of Reno down the strip toward the Peppermill and Atlantis, Reno's other AAA four-diamond casino and resort.

Dining Around Town

During our recent quick trip to Reno-Tahoe we revisited some of our favorite restaurants. They didn't disappoint. We enjoyed fabulous meals that left us satisfied.

In Reno we enjoyed a luxurious dinner at 4th Street Bistro. Reno has a lot of really good restaurants that we enjoy, but this woman-owned restaurant is the best Reno offers. Locals ooh and ahhh when it's mentioned.

Over the hill in Lake Tahoe we stopped by the five-star rated Lone Eagle Grille at the Hyatt Regency at Incline Village on the north side of the lake. The restaurant recently underwent a $700,000 renovation updating the bar and lounge area. The award-winning wines and great cocktails are still there, but now they are complemented by a new Sierra Nevada tapas and appetizers menu.

A local lesbian-owned favorite is Jack Rabbit Moon at Incline Village.

On the south side of the lake, our mouth waters for Ciera Steak and Chophouse. Like 4th Street Bistro, my girlfriend and I save this AAA four-diamond restaurant for special occasions. For an enjoyable evening out we head to Friday s Station Steak and Seafood Grill or Edgewood Golf Course Restaurant. The food is very good and it keeps our purse feeling a little bit fuller.

While my girlfriend's favorite meal of the day is dinner, mine is breakfast or brunch. For brunch, guests can't go wrong at Ernie's Coffee Shop, not to be confused with Bert's Cafe across the street. This local favorite offers up a fantastic menu - including many vegetarian options - with ample portions at a great price.

For a quick guide to Reno and Tahoe, visit

Full disclosure: Heather Cassell recently started working as an independent travel counselor at Travel Advisors of Los Gatos

Copyright Bay Area Reporter. For more articles from San Francisco's largest GLBT newspaper, visit


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