The winter wonderland that is the outdoor pool area at Reno's Peppermill resort isn't only because of snowfall. One pool remains open year-round, and when the 90-degree water meets the cold air, it coats the lounge chairs, plants and a gazebo with ice crystals. The hotel doesn't pay a penny to heat the pool; the water comes from volcanic fissures more than three-quarters of a mile beneath the Earth's surface, thanks to the region's abundant geothermal energy. The tab for two, excluding flights and rental car: $60 for dinner at Brasserie St. James and $180 for one night at the Peppermill.
Most of the big hotel-casinos in Reno have well-appointed rooms, but the Peppermill ups the ante with a wide choice of spacious suites. The whole place is heated geothermally with water sourced 4,400 feet underground, directly beneath the hotel. That's also the source of the hot water that flows out of the taps. Don't worry, though: The boiling hot water is significantly cooled before being pumped to the guest rooms.
It's not hot volcanic water but the cold artesian kind that's used to craft the beers I tasted at Brasserie St. James, south of downtown near Virginia Street, the main north-south drag. Although the food is excellent — entrees include Basque mussels ($18) and duck confit cassoulet ($24) — the home brews are the big draw. Head brewer John Watterson told me the untreated artesian water accentuates the flavor of the pricey Pilsener malt used in the fermenting process. (Beer, I learned, is 98% water.)
Two-hundred years ago, where Steamboat Hot Springs now stands, Native Americans were using super-heated mud bubbling from the ground to treat various ailments. Now guests can relax and rejuvenate here in seven indoor soaking tubs, five large enough for couples. The water, which surges into a holding tank at 215 degrees, is cooled to between 85 and 115 degrees before being pumped into the mission-style building. Because this is Nevada, there are trace amounts of gold and silver in the water, but it's the silica that is good for hair and skin. One-hour soaks cost $25 per person or $45 per couple. Some of the tubs are handicap accessible.
THE LESSON LEARNED
Although not visually exciting, the free tour of the Peppermill's heating plant is a good way to learn how geothermal energy works. The hotel saves more than $2 million each year by not using the plant's giant boilers to heat water.