Fritz Buser, the principal owner of Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe, was born in the small farming village of Hemmiken in the northern part of Switzerland on April 29, 1921. He grew up with the daily hardships, surviving by milking cows and harvesting apples and potatoes. From these experiences his entrepreneurial spirit was ignited; at an early age, he sought to break away from his humble beginnings.
After the obligatory eight years of schooling, during which he spent all eight grades in a single classroom with the same teacher, Fritz pursued an apprenticeship with a bank in a nearby small city called Liestal. Still in his teens, on the eve of World War II, he began his first business venture – trading sardines. Some of the start-up capital for this venture came from the money he saved by riding a bicycle 20 miles every day instead of taking the train.
In his early twenties – at the end of World War II – Fritz decided it was time to think bigger…America. He secured agreements with various prominent Swiss manufacturers to represent their products as a salesman in the United States, including the ski boot company ‘Henke’ – the first company that produced buckled (vs laced) boots. He set up an office in New York City that he managed from Liestal, Switzerland where he continued to reside and raise a family. This endeavor, however, was not enough to satisfy his ambition. Fritz continued to expand his vision by starting a linen distribution company in Liestal called ‘Loyal’ which he later turned into the headquarters for all of his future business ventures. Eventually, he even acquired the principal ownership rights of the Henke boot company.
In the 1960s, he joined his childhood friend Ernst Rieder to form a very successful real-estate development company known as Himac. The two of them remained best friends for decades, conducted several trips across the United States, and supported each other’s business ventures.
Kurt and Fritz Buser
Later in the 1960s, Fritz launched the two business endeavors that would become his main concentrations for the next forty years. One was based in Switzerland, the other in the U.S.
In Davos, Switzerland he formed Sunstar, a mountain resort hotel group grown out of his real-estate ventures with Rieder. When Sunstar was sold in 2009, it included seven four-star hotels all located in major winter resort towns located in the Swiss Alps.
In the United States, Fritz became an early investor in Mt. Rose after meeting some of the founders at the ski shows he attended annually for the previous twenty years promoting Henke boots. He became the company’s majority shareholder in 1971 and has controlled the growth and direction of Mt. Rose ever since.
THE BEGINNING OF MT. ROSE – SKI TAHOE
In the 1930s, long before the present Mt. Rose Highway was built or any chairlifts were constructed, Reno and Washoe County locals were skiing in the area currently known as Mt. Rose – Ski Tahoe. In 1939, Wayne Poulsen built and operated the Mt. Rose Upski and the Ski School Tyrol. Shortly after World War II, the Sky Tavern lodge was established and continues to operate in the same location on Mt. Rose Highway (SR 431), 11 miles west of US 395, just south of the City of Reno. Eventually, this historic ski lodge would be sold to the City of Reno where the city’s Junior Ski Program is administered.
Devoted skiers from Sky Tavern hiked up to the 9,700’ peak of Slide Mountain and skied in the location of the present Mt. Rose – Ski Tahoe. By widening the existing logging trails for better ski terrain, these powder hounds were cutting some of the first ski trails in the Sierra Nevada. In 1950, the old Mt. Rose Highway was merely a summer road connecting Reno with beautiful Lake Tahoe. As the years marched on, the old SR 431 continued to be improved thus allowing winter travel to higher elevations; more terrain became easily accessible.
The original Reno Ski Bowl was constructed on the east slope of Slide Mountain (currently the East Bowl of Mt. Rose) and was at one point connected to the Sky Tavern area by the old “Ringer Chair.” This lift spanned “Bum’s Gulch” taking it to the base of the Reno Ski Bowl. Remnants of this lift can still be seen on the highway about 2 miles below the Mt. Rose Main Lodge where a lone, rusty lift tower remains standing. When Squaw Valley hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics, the Reno Ski Bowl was actually chosen as an alternate site for skiing events if Squaw did not have adequate snow coverage.
1960 to 1989
The ’60s saw large changes on the slopes of Slide Mountain. The Reno Ski Bowl evolved into the Slide Mountain Ski Area. Wes Howell is credited with the majority of the lifts constructed at Slide in its early years. In 1964, the north face of Slide Mountain became the Mt. Rose Ski Area at Jim Leusher attempted to rally investors to develop the resort with the “Greatest Potential” in Lake Tahoe. The Mt. Rose Development Company was formed to direct the future of the ski resort and in 1971 Fritz Buser became the owner.
For many years “Slide” and “Rose” operated independently of each other, both expanding in their own ways with more lifts and lodge improvements. The Mt. Rose lodge even rented 42 hotel rooms until they discontinued guest lodging in 1984.
In 1980, 180 acres of new trails were cut at Mt. Rose between the Sunset ski trail and the Mt. Rose Highway. That same year the Lakeview chair was built offering spectacular views of Lake Tahoe and increasing uphill capacity. The 1984-85 season saw the 20th anniversary of Mt. Rose – Ski Tahoe operations along with two new chairlifts. The existing Northwest Passage double chairlift was replaced with a new triple chair and the Galena triple chair was installed providing increased terrain for beginner and novice skiers. In 1985, “Around the World” was cut adding a new 2.5 mile-long ski run for a long relaxing cruise.
The “Iron Curtain” between Slide and Rose finally came down in 1987 when Mt. Rose acquired the Slide Mountain Ski Area terrain under a lease agreement with the U.S. Forest Service. The “Slide Side” (as it is affectionately referred to by locals) became the East Bowl of Mt. Rose. The combination of the two ski areas increased the overall terrain of Mt. Rose to 900+ acres and established the resort as a significant player in the Lake Tahoe Basin.
As Mt. Rose-Ski Tahoe moved into the ’90s, improvements continued to take place on the hill with an upgrade of the Zephyr chair to a quad lift in 1989 and, later, with the evolution of the Ponderosa lift from a double to a quad chair in 1993. Both of the new lifts vastly increased uphill capacity and aided in boosting the overall image of the resort. The expansion of U.S. 395 to SR 431 created a six-lane freeway now extending to the Mt. Rose highway providing high speed, non-stop access for the 22 mile trip from Reno.
The 1994-95 season shined as the 30th anniversary for Mt. Rose and this landmark year produced some of the most significant facility improvements in the resort’s history; a 2.5 million dollar remodel of the Main Lodge which included a monster outdoor BBQ deck and a 300% expansion of the indoor dining area.
Over 550 inches of snow blanketed Mt. Rose that season putting an end to the alarming eight-year drought and setting a new record for the most snow in the history of Mt. Rose. Top-to-bottom snow-making was also introduced to the resort in the late ’90s giving the mountain the insurance policy it needed to have consistent early season openings.
The New Millennium
Mt. Rose screamed into the 21st century with its first high-speed lift when the Northwest triple was replaced with the Northwest Magnum 6. Following in its wake was the upgrade of the Zephyr quad lift to the Blazing Zephyr 6 high-speed chair in 2004 giving Mt. Rose dual high speed, base–to-summit rides to the top. But big fast chairs were only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
In the separation between the east and north slopes of Slide Mountain lives the extreme terrain known as The Chutes. There was a time when skiers were allowed in the Chutes area at their own risk. Shuttle buses actually ran from the Slide Mountain Junction to the base of the Reno Ski Bowl from the late 1950s to the mid-’60s transporting everyone who ventured over to the backside. The mid-1960s saw the closure of this area until it’s official opening in 2004. After 10 years of groundwork, Mt. Rose officially adopted these 200 acres into its trail system including the addition of the Chuter lift providing an exit back to the Slide lodge.
Spring of 2009 provided the last days for the old Slide Lodge. It had evolved from the Reno Ski Bowl days as a simple warming hut through 6 additions but the old lodge desperately needed an overhaul. It was determined that a completely new building was the best option. The new lodge, now located on the back edge of the lot, features a steel and glass design to bring facets of the mountain into the architecture of the facility. The Winters Creek Lodge, as it is now known, includes a large deck to maximize seating on those beautiful sunny days.
2015 brought the addition of 9 additional Pole Cat snow-makers as well as the realignment of the Ponderosa Chair – becoming the Wizard Lift accessing the 4 new trails of the new Enchanted Forest family zone.
In 2017, the Magic lift was installed – the first dual conveyor in an enclosed gallery in North America.