Weather Window: Hollywood loved Sky Tavern
December 23, 2009
Editors Note: This is the first in a two-part series. See the Jan. 8 Sierra Sun edition for part two.
Lake Tahoe skiers, boarders, and commuters drive past it everyday without a clue, blind to the legacy of the Sky Tavern ski area. Few of them are aware the and#8220;Tavernand#8221; represents the best of skiing, winter sports, and community combined. Located northeast of Lake Tahoe on the Mount Rose Highway, Sky Tavern is a small, historic ski area that was once one of the most popular destination resorts in the American West.
The Sky Tavern blossomed as a work of passion, the love of skiing, when Reno residents Keston and Carlisle Ramsey first opened the resort in December 1945. Their goal was to promote the many benefits of skiing they enjoyed: Its physical exuberance, emotional release and sense of pure freedom.
The Tavern boasts a rich and colorful history, including appearances by famous Hollywood movie stars, prominent sports celebrities, and some of the most noted contributors to U.S. ski history. In the years after World War II and during the early 1950s, Sky Tavern basked in the spotlight as a chic, intimate resort patronized by some of the biggest personalities of the time.
In 1941, Nevada businessman Robinson Neeman built a bar and an outdoor barbecue on the present site of Sky Tavern and began selling hotdogs, sandwiches, and drinks. He then hired a Reno contractor, Keston Ramsey, to set up a rope tow which took skiers about two-thirds of the distance to the top of the hill. In a 2004 interview Keston and his wife Carlisle recounted how they acquired Neeman’s operation. In the spring of 1945 Robinson Neeman ran into trouble with the mob in Las Vegas. He fled to Reno where he told Ramsey he wanted to sell his land and ski operation quickly so he could leave the area in a hurry. Ramsey and his friend George Tett negotiated a good deal with the panicked Neeman and bought the place with a $15,000 down payment.
To develop the property into a real destination resort, Ramsey converted the small, on-site rustic cabin into a modern four-story, 21-room hotel, with a coffee shop, dining room and bar. In addition to building the hotel, Ramsey and his construction crew graded a parking lot, installed a new sewage system and water supply, and furnished the hotel. The whole job, from start to finish, took three months and three weeks. When the newly christened Sky Tavern opened for business in December 1945, the Nevada State Journal proclaimed it a second Sun Valley, Idaho.
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Sky Tavern had it all: a nice T-bar, three rope tows, challenging downhill runs and two full-time employees. The Tavern’s lodge offered hearty meals, chilled cocktails, dancing to a jukebox, and as an added Nevada-style attraction, a small gambling operation run by casino entrepreneur Bill Harrah. Movie stars and famous personalities flocked to the slopes at Sky Tavern. Contemporary celebrities like Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb, and actresses Rita Hayworth and Ingrid Bergman all found the Tavern experience exhilarating.
Keston recalled, and#8220;We had all the big shots that first year. Ingrid Bergman, Joe DiMaggio, Robert Stack and others.and#8221; Actor Andy Devine, a popular comedy sidekick in the western films of Roy Rogers, was another familiar face at the Tavern. In 1947, a young, up-and-coming ski film producer named Warren Miller and his friend Ward Baker pulled up to the Sky Tavern ski shop entrance and parked. They unscrewed an outdoor light bulb, plugged in their own power cord and proceeded to enjoy the next few days skiing the resort and sleeping in their vehicle. Miller and Ward spent their evenings in the bar drawing cartoons for guests in exchange for drinks.
and#8212; Tahoe Historian Mark McLaughlin’s new book, and#8220;Longboards to Olympics: A Century of Tahoe Winter Sportsand#8221; will be released in January 2010. Mark can be reached at email@example.com