by Andrew Kessel, Eric Leiberman & Dave E. Leiberman
Heavenly Mountain Resort, on the southern shore of Lake Tahoe, proved to be ideal for our weekend ski getaway. This massive, 4800-acre ski mountain straddling Nevada and California not only affords a huge variety of terrain and the most spectacular views anywhere of Lake Tahoe’s sapphire-blue waters anywhere, but also gives you a high-octane, nonstop nightlife of casino gaming, shows, clubs and restaurants that is unparalleled among ski resorts.
It is entirely possible to ski Heavenly and have a more traditional ski holiday, with charming lodges exuding California’s famous laid-back ambiance.
And then there is the Montbleu Casino Resort & Spa. Just walking distance from the Heavenly lift, on the Nevada/California stateline, Montbleu is a unique resort experience — a split personality of the wholesome outdoors by day, and the more risque nightlife by night. The 437-room resort, which is owned by Tropicana Entertainment Inc., appeals to both the traditional gamer and the late-night club-hopper with its stylish sophistication and attractive, metro-cool atmosphere to create a complete casino-resort experience. MontBleu features distinct restaurants — including the only AAA Four Diamond restaurant in Lake Tahoe and a cafe with an eclectic menu open 24-hours – and chic Las Vegas-style nightlife venues, a 45,000-square-foot casino, a spa, and a new poker room.
The bright lights flashed and the slot machines chimed all around us as we entered the first floor of the resort. After quickly settling into our room we made our way to the spa and pool. The après-ski hot-tub experience is the perfect complement to a hard day on the slopes. The hot tub has a three-pronged shape and mountain rock walls. For an additional fee, guests can use the spa for a private hot tub and sauna.
Later that night, we checked out Montbleu’s special Friday night seafood buffet. The all-you-can eat buffet offers a lot of options, including the popular crab legs, but the standout was the shrimp ($19.99).
What may have been the most memorable aspect about our first day is the 70-minute Burlesque show at Montbleu. “Sweet Talk,” running Fridays and Saturdays to April 5, is an electro-cirque themed burlesque show pairing electronic music and provocative performance in a surprisingly transformative and Vegas-like entertaining experience. “Sweet Talk” features 10 multi-talented cast members from the region, including members of the Heavenly Angels, offering a variety of singing, strip dancing, hula hoops, ladder and chair acrobatics, and break dancing from the two male performers. A guest pole dancer from San Francisco brought down the house. Other surprises included the DJ doubling-down as a fire swallower. Besides an amazing sound system and the basic fact that you are seeing a burlesque show after skiing (how often can you do that?), the show appeals to both men and women and people of a diverse age range. The house was packed this holiday weekend (tickets $20).
This is not the type of ski vacation where you just sit around a fire and watch movies at the end of the day. If you are staying at a casino resort on the Nevada side, as we did, the environment feels more urban and energetic than anything else.
Gambling is not for everyone but it’s hard to deny the excitement just walking around the casino floor. There’s an arcade for kids, while adults interested in gambling can find the full array of games, including the ever-popular Texas Hold’em with its own new dedicated tournament room. Tournaments and daily games are scheduled and are most frequently played with “no limit” rules so it could be easy to spend more than you planned.
Montbleu also has a section affectionately referred to as “The Pit” for more casual gamblers where you can play low stakes games like $5 blackjack and the “Ponies” for only .25 cents! At the Ponies you bet on mechanical horses and cheer on your “horses” to win along with a rambunctious and social crowd, all while being served the normal free drinks. What’s more, after 10 PM, the barely dressed, beautiful dancing ladies come out and dance on top of the bar in The Pit. This distraction must not have been without premeditation on the part of Montbleu.
Occasionally the young dancing girls give out V.I.P. passes to the Casino’s nightclub Opal.
On Saturday night, which is also Ladies Night, we checked out Opal. While the party doesn’t really get going until midnight or later, getting there earlier is a good idea because the room fills up quickly. For three guys in our 20s, choosing to come to Opal on Ladies’ Night also proved a good idea. The DJ plays a nice variety of hip-hop and current pop music. The hip ambiance even draws the locals. The Go-Go dancers from The Pit also make appearances dancing on elevated platforms and posing for salacious, public body-painting shows.
The real challenge of both Opal and The Pit was knowing we wanted to ski the next morning and the later we stayed out, the more difficult it was going to be to get first tracks the next day. In the end however, getting first chair proved less alluring than playing the ponies in The Pit until the break of dawn.
We took advantage of the many dining options at Montbleu Resort, as well. Cafe del Sol, for instance, featured great $1 tacos and margaritas in the après ski happy hours.
Ciera Steakhouse, Montbleu’s upscale dining option, treated us to a memorable meal we won’t forget anytime soon. The ambiance is elegant and there’s a good variety of food for all pallets. We tried delicious and creamy lobster bisque to start off. The cream of spinach, while a touch salty, was good and the scalloped cheddar potatoes had a strong and pleasant flavor. We also tried the truffle macaronie-and-cheese, which met expectations. We shared three main courses including the shrimp and clam fettuccini scampi, free-range Mediterranean chicken (our favorite), and a giant 24 oz. Porterhouse steak, all served on beautiful, long and narrow plates. Since it was Valentine’s Day, they added extra chocolate-covered strawberries gratis, presented over steaming dry ice for a beautiful and dazzling effect. Indeed, the experience at the steakhouse overall was fantastic and we received excellent service.
We flew thousands of miles collectively for a taste of the great Tahoe ski life we had heard so much about. From NYC, Atlanta, and San Francisco, we could have picked somewhere more centrally located. But it sure exceeded our expectations, offering great skiing, picturesque views, and a wild nightlife. We’re already beginning to plan our next trip out to Tahoe with a bunch more of our friends.
Check Montbleu’s website for specials and a chance to win a winter ski getaway.
MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa, 55 Highway 50 Lake Tahoe, Nevada 89449, 888-829-7630, www.montbleuresort.com.
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