Six decades of Northern Nevadans have learned to ski and snowboard there, but now a landmark program is in financial trouble. The Sky Tavern Junior Ski Program is facing tough times. After a bad snow year, last winter, the program's registration numbers are down... and funding is scarce.
The program is entirely funded by registration fees and donations from the community. It starts the first week in January each year...and for eight weeks, local kids and their parents get to learn the ups and downs of riding mountains.
Sky Tavern opened in 1948 as a private organization...twenty years later, the city of Reno adopted it. In 1992, the Junior Ski Program became a non-profit, and has since been run entirely by volunteers. People like General Manager Bill Henderson say they truly believe in what it offers.
"When I came up as a kid, it was just one giant playground and that's what we are still trying to create. My best memories of growing up were up at Sky Tavern. I remember crashing and taking out half a lift line. I am still embarrassed about it," said Henderson.
Henderson says the program is an inexpensive alternative to learning to ski or snow board at one of the local resorts. It costs just over 100 bucks for eight weeks of lessons...and Henderson says it's a place where memories are made.
"This is where you learn to be a skier or boarder for the rest of your life."
But times are tough for the Sky Tavern. The city withdrew financial contributions last year after a five-year contract ran out. Warmer temperatures and lack of snow has also kept people away.
"That's affecting our revenue and because of that, we are going to have a shortfall unless we can get more registrations," said Sky Tavern's Treasurer Jim Carnahan.
The ski school's budget is based on teaching 2,500 kids to ski each year...and so far, only about half that many have signed up. Volunteers say it's time to bring back the old Tavern tradition.
"I started coming up here with my kids and they grew out of the program and I didn't," said Carnahan.
Added Henderson, "This place is important. It needs to be preserved and it needs to be maintained. It's not going away on my watch."
Because of financial struggles, the Tavern had to raise its prices a few years ago, but it's still very reasonable. The money you spend for eight weeks of ski lessons for your kids at Sky Tavern could probably be spent on just one day of lessons at another commercial resort.
Graduates say, it's the lifelong memories that you're paying for, not just the lessons.
If you're like to donate to the organization or sign up for lessons, you can call the Sky Tavern's Reno office at 323-5125.