How Nevada’s dying SnoBowl breathes life into skiing everywhere

The SnoBowl is located five miles north of Elko, a mining community off of I-80 in Nevada. Photo: Derek Taylor
The SnoBowl is located five miles north of Elko, a mining community off of I-80 in Nevada. Photo by Derek Taylor

[This story originally appeared in Mountain Advisor]

Community ski resorts are the cornerstones of skiing and snowboarding. Unless you were fortunate to grow up in a resort town—and considering there are some 6 million skiers in North America, the reality is most of us were not—it’s likely you learned to ski at a small community hill. While The Industry obsesses over mega resorts, gondolas, and slope-side condos, the majority of skiers cut their teeth at small ski hills like Wachusett Mountain, Massachusetts; Big Tupper, New York; and Mount Brighton, Michigan.

There more than 400 ski areas in North America. The ski world, meanwhile, pays attention to less than 100 of them. Yet without these little ski hills indoctrinating the next generation, the monster resorts would wither and die for lack of clientele.

Elko SnoBowl’s base lodge isn’t quite what you would find at Sun Valley, but it has everything local skiers and snowboarders need. Photo: Derek Taylor
Elko SnoBowl’s base lodge isn’t quite what you would find at Sun Valley, but it has everything local skiers and snowboarders need. Photo by Derek Taylor

While driving from one ski Mecca to another recently, I discovered such a gem. Elko, Nevada, is a gold mining town off I-80 between Lake Tahoe, California, and Salt Lake City, just north of the Ruby Mountains. In 1998, the city bought a chairlift and installed it on the 600-vertical-foot hill north of town, which has been in operation with a tow lift since 1992, and voilà, this is SnoBowl.

The Elko SnoBowl relies on local support, and thus the chairs are all sponsored by local business. Photo: Derek Taylor
The Elko SnoBowl relies on local support, and thus the chairs are all sponsored by local businesses. Photo by Derek Taylor

There could be no better name for the manager of a ski hill in the snow-starved Nevada desert than Roche (pronounced “rocky”) Bush. It turns out that’s exactly the case with the Elko SnoBowl. We ran into Roche on our visit as he was touring a local newspaper reporter around. “This area is mostly miners, and they want something for their families to do,” he said. “Skiing is good, clean outdoor fun.”

The fact that the sign for Elko SnoBowl is a rock on the ground says something about their annual snowfall—and the need for the updated snowmaking system the ski hill is trying to buy. Photo: Derek Taylor
That the sign for Elko SnoBowl is a rock on the ground says something about their annual snowfall—and the need for the updated snowmaking system the ski hill is trying to buy. Photo by Derek Taylor

Bush and the rest of the Elko SnoBowl crew are now trying to raise another $275,000 from the local community to upgrade snowmaking facilities and make SnoBowl a more dependable recreation outlet.

Elko SnoBowl is a true community effort. Even the Diesel to run the lift is donated by a local fuel company. Photo: Derek Taylor
Elko SnoBowl is a true community effort. Even the diesel to run the lift is donated by a local fuel company. Photo by Derek Taylor
A rescue sled sits by a shed at the Elko SnoBowl. SnoBowl is operated entirely by volunteers. Photo: Derek Taylor
A rescue sled sits by a shed at the Elko SnoBowl. SnoBowl is operated entirely by volunteers. Photo by Derek Taylor

“Right now, we’re at the mercy of God,” Bush told the Elko Daily Free Press. “We want to be able to guarantee a skiing winter.” The improvements would include 10 new guns and a cooling tower. According to Bush, water currently comes out of the ground at 60 degrees Fahrenheit, making snowmaking difficult.

Elko SnoBowl started offering lift-serviced mountain biking over the summer, though participation has been low so far. Photo: Derek Taylor
Elko SnoBowl started offering lift-serviced mountain biking over the summer, though participation has been low so far. Photo by Derek Taylor
The heat and dryness of Elko can make maintaining a quality jump line difficult. Photo: Derek Taylor
The heat and lack of moisture of Elko can make maintaining a quality jump-line difficult. Photo by Derek Taylor

“One year out of 20 we opened before Christmas,” Bush told the Free Press, “and five years ago we didn’t even have enough snow to operate the lift. With new snowmaking, we might be able to start before Christmas.”

The Elko SnoBowl’s one lift offers affordable, healthy winter recreation for the community of Elko, Nevada. Photo: Derek Taylor
The Elko SnoBowl’s one lift offers affordable, healthy winter recreation for the community of Elko. Photo by Derek Taylor
With miles of open desert and mountains surrounding the town of 19,000, there are plenty of other places to go shoot guns. Photo: Derek Taylor
With miles of open desert and mountains surrounding the town of 19,000, there are plenty of other places to go shoot guns. Photo by Derek Taylor

In the summer, locals have been building mountain bike jumps at the area, which has proved almost as difficult as the skiing operation. “We haven’t had a lot of bike participation,” Bush says. “I think it’s because it’s so hot here in the summer, and there isn’t a tree in sight.”

Colin Treanor hits the single track line at the SnoBowl. Photo: Derek Taylor
Colin Treanor hits the singletrack line at the SnoBowl. Photo by Derek Taylor

The heat and lack of moisture also make maintaining the bike features difficult. The ones we saw were crumbling and no longer very rideable.

If you would like to help the Elko SnoBowl provide consistent skiing for the Elko community, visit their FACEBOOK page for contact information.

America: Land of the Ski. Photo: Derek Taylor
America: Land of the Ski. Photo by Derek Taylor

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