Northern Nevada was in the middle of a historically dry winter until this week, which has seen feet of snow dumped at higher elevations and several inches down here on the valley floor. And that snow can only mean one thing — it's sledding season. Reno/Tahoe has dozens of great sledding locations. For this week's Exploring Our Backyard feature, I whittled them down to my nine favorite locations, including some free options, some pricey snow parks and those with varying degrees of difficulty. Here they are.
Few places top Boreal for sledding if you're willing to pay the price. It's $44 per person on weekdays and $49 per person on weekends for a 90-minute session. Boreal has four perfectly manicured lanes with a carpet conveyor lift, which means you don't have to walk up the hill yourself. They limit the number of people per session so the lines aren't long, and they also provide tubes (you can't bring your own). It's a roughly 20-second ride on the way down, and you'll have time to go down a couple dozen times over the 90 minutes. I've been to Boreal's sledding hill twice, and it was worth the pricey cost both times. Just get your tickets online in advance.
This is the most popular sledding area in town, right on Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest public land. Driving from Reno, if you take Mt. Rose Highway headed toward Tahoe, you'll hit the Tahoe Meadows area less than a mile after passing the Mt. Rose Summit trailhead parking area. It's impossible to miss because you'll see both sides of the road covered with cars. This is basically a free-for-all as there's no charge for parking and no sled rentals on site. Just bring your own equipment and get ready to do the hiking up the hill on your own. The biggest downside is the mass of people, although there should be more than enough room to socially distance yourself, per CDC guidelines. There's also a popular snowmobile area here.
Spooner Summit Snow Play Area
This one is south of Reno. From Carson City, drive up Highway 50 to Highway 28. Turn onto Highway 28 and take an almost immediate left onto a small side road the leads to a parking lot. It's an informal sledding hill on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe that offers steep hills for bigger kids (aka adults) and smaller declines for younger children. It's free and doesn't have restrooms or sled rentals, so bring your own gear and be ready to get your share of exercise by hiking up the hill. This was my favorite childhood sledding area. It gets pretty busy. It has the best balance of big hills and small hills if you have a group with differing levels of preferred steepness.
(Of note: One major issue with Spooner Summit is people leaving debris behind, which damages the environment in Tahoe and threatens the lake's clarity. More than 2,000 pounds of trash was picked up from that area last year. So please leave no trace if you do opt for Spooner Summit.)
Soda Springs' Tube Town
Who doesn't love a place called "Tube Town?" This location, which is not too far from Boreal, has 10 lanes with a 400-foot surface lift (they call it "magic carpet access") that takes riders to the top of the lanes. This one is pricey with tickets going for $40-plus per person (reserve them online), but you get access for the entire day. For smaller kids, Soda Springs also has a "Planet Kids" area for ages 7 and under. Tube Town tends to be for teenagers and above (42 inches or taller).
Galena Creek Regional Park
This place is more suited for snowshoeing, but there are some sledding options if you have smaller kids who you don't want to throw down a steep hill. Galena Creek is located on Mt. Rose Highway before you get to Sky Tavern. It's not too far away from Reno if you're looking for a close location. The suggested sledding location is within the Nature Trail Loop and along the Bitterbrush Trail and Bearmat Loop. Sledding within the park is most easily accessed from the park's north entrance just beyond the Galena Creek Visitor Center. Just don't sled south of Galena Creek. That's not permitted. The park is free.
The Tahoe-Donner Snowplay area currently has one tube lane and one sled lane available with reservations required. Non-member prices range from $20-$35 per person and includes 75 minutes of hill time. Equipment is provided. Tahoe-Donner has one of the widest and longest tube lanes in the area, so it's worth the price of admission.
Incline Village Snow Play Area
Like others on this list, this place is free, which is always nice. It's located next to the Incline Village Championship Golf Course. From the center of Incline Village, take Village Boulevard north and turn right on Northwood Boulevard. After several blocks, turn left onto Fairway Boulevard and follow it up to the parking lot by the Chateau Clubhouse. You're not going to get major speed or major air here as the slopes are gentle, but it's a nice place for younger kids to frolic in the snow. There are no lifts, and bring your own saucers and tubes.
Donner Summit Sno-Park
Located on the south side of I-80 at the Castle Peak exit beyond the Boreal Inn, Donner Summit Sno-Park requires only a $5 permit or annual $25 pass, which can be used in Sno-Park locations in California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho. The benefit of going to a Sno-Park is you now the lot along the highway will be plowed and restrooms are available since they're maintained in the winter to allow people to park safely and sled, cross-country ski or snowshoe. In terms of sledding, this place is for novices, so it's good for younger kids.
McQueen High School
If you don't want to go up to Tahoe, the best close-to-town option is the hill at McQueen High School. I'm not 100 percent sure it's legal to walk onto the grounds of a high school for free sledding, but if you get in trouble just tell the cops some dope at Nevada Sports Net said it was OK. I'm sure that will be your get-out-of-jail free card. But the hill in front of McQueen High is awesome as you'll slide right into the parking lot. The hill behind Caughlin Ranch Elementary School also works if that's closer to your location. Mogul Park (110 Mogul Mountain Drive, Reno) is another nice location in town.
Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.