Virginia City alternative to Tahoe ski slopes |

Virginia City alternative to Tahoe ski slopes

John Seelmeyer
Tourism executives hope to reverse the traditional seasonal decline in visitation to Virginia City.
Courtesy Virginia City Tourism Commission |

Hoping to attract the Lake Tahoe ski crowd to help businesses along the Comstock get through the winter slump in business, Storey County tourism officials last week launched a campaign that invites skiers and snowboarders to rest their legs in Virginia City.

But given the snow drought in the Sierra, a visit to Virginia City may prove to be a highlight — not a side trip — for some visitors this year.

State tourism officials are watching the weather closely, but haven’t shifted the focus of this winter’s marketing campaign.

But they note that the Nevada Commission on Tourism already has been widening its marketing pitch over recent years to include a wider variety of wintertime activities to travelers — focusing on museums as well as moguls.

Slow winter business is nothing new in Virginia City, which generally sees a 75 percent decline in tourism during cold months compared with peak summer weeks, said Deny Dotson, director of tourism for Storey County.

Most shops and museums in the historic mining town remain open year-round, Dotson noted, and their operators often gaze longingly at the crowds that flock to nearby Lake Tahoe during the winter season.

The campaign that Virginia City launched last week uses online and social media tools to target skiers and snowboarders in the San Francisco and Sacramento markets.

It offers a $10 “Comstock Lift Ticket” that includes a ride on the Virginia City Trolley and a tour of the Ponderosa Mine. Participating restaurants, hotels and retailers also offer a 20 percent discount to visitors who buy the Comstock Lift Ticket.

The campaign, funded by a $2,500 grant from the Nevada Commission on Tourism and $3,000 of Storey County visitor funds, runs through March 31.

Even before the campaign began, Dotson said, Virginia City was seeing an uptick as Lake Tahoe visitors who otherwise who spend all their time on the slopes began looking for other alternatives.

Among those visitors who otherwise might have been on the slopes above Lake Tahoe was a group of international journalists touring the state as guests of the Nevada Commission on Tourism.

Claudia Vecchio, the state director of tourism and cultural affairs, said state tourism officials increasingly recognize that they can’t put all their winter-marketing eggs in one basket.

So marketing in recent years has incorporated fly-fishing, golf and indoor events such as museum visits along with ski images.

The annual White Pine Fire & Ice celebration, which includes an ice- and snow-sculpture competition at Cave Lake State Park near Ely, got a big promotional push from the state tourism agency a few weeks ago.

Also getting a push were concerts scheduled in February and March at the Barkley Theatre at the Oats Park Arts Center in Fallon.

“It’s imperative that people know that there are other things they can do in Nevada,” Vecchio said.

While the overarching themes of the state tourism marketing campaigns already cast a wider net, Vecchio said tourism marketers are ready to crank up alternative messages if the ski season remains disappointing.

“We’re watching it very closely,” she said. “With PR and social media, we can change direction on a dime.”