When it comes to skiing and snowboarding, Las Vegas kicks butt. What other desert city in North America can brag about having skiable snow-capped mountains in the vicinity?
But that’s exactly what you’ll find – along with 30 trails and 445 acres of terrain – at Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort. Situated approximately 50 miles northwest of the Strip in Lee Canyon, part of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, the area is laden with bristlecone pine and aspen trees. Encircled by the spectacular Spring Mountains, it boasts elevations of up to 11,289 feet (at Lee Peak, the summit). Of course, altitude brings big snowpacks and seasons that can last up to seven months. So it’s no wonder LVSSR is a winter sports enthusiast’s paradise.
“The ski area is on an alpine island in the Mojave Desert,” said Kevin Stickelman, president and general manager of LVSSR. “We sit here at a base elevation of about 8,600 feet, which is higher than a lot of ski areas in the country. We just stick up out of the desert, and it’s a totally different environment.”
Last Friday, LVSSR kicked off the 2012/13 season, which is scheduled to continue through April 7, 2013. Although the average annual snowfall is 240 inches, right now it’s relying on state-of-the-art snowmaking equipment (including five high-efficiency snow guns added to the arsenal last year) until Mother Nature becomes more cooperative. Thus, the ski resort is partially open with one chairlift serving the upper mountain. Popular runs, like The Strip, are ready and waiting for anyone who has a hankering for some down time. Weather patterns are anticipated to change in the near future. In the meantime, expectations are soaring – as they should be, because this year marks LVSSR’s 50th anniversary.
“There are very few ski areas in the country that are 50 years old,” said Stickelman, who has been at the helm of LVSSR since 2010. “It’s a unique position for us in that this is occurring at a ski area next to Las Vegas, where very few people think skiing exists. Really this is an opportunity to re-introduce ourselves to both locals as well as destination guests who come looking for outdoor recreation to supplement the gambling, dining and shows on the Strip.”
Established in 1963, LVSSR has been operated by POWDR Corporation since 2003. Last year, a $35 million master development plan to improve and expand the ski resort – the first submitted in more than 25 years – was accepted by the U.S. Forest Service. A multi-year makeover that could span 12 years, its implementation is well under way.
“Last year, we just barely scratched the surface because of the timing of the acceptance of that proposal,” explained Stickelman. “This year, we’ve replaced an old double chairlift with a quad. It’s brand new and modern, increasing the uphill capacity dramatically because it holds more people in each chair and moves faster up the hill. We have also gone through a major remodel of our base lodge and restaurant.”
In fact, the kitchen at the Bighorn Grill has been overhauled. This allowed for a switch from plastic utensils and paper plates to silverware and china and for a revamp of the menu. Hungry skiers and snowboarders can now fuel up on hot breakfasts, homemade soups, hand-tossed salads, custom burgers and a variety of snacks – such as a large spud covered with toppings from the baked potato bar.
“I’m really excited about the made-to-order pasta,” said Stickelman. “Different selections of noodles, sauces and ingredients can be put together. It’ll be prepared fresh as guests walk up. They can have it exactly how they want it – really hot and right off the stove.”
In addition, the Bristlecone Bar has gotten an appetizer/sandwich menu and a waitstaff – both of which are firsts. The outdoor patio space was increased by 5,000 square feet. The restrooms have been modernized, and extra guest lockers were put in.
Along with these enhancements, a great deal of time has been spent maintaining existing trails and adding new ones to the map. Last season, there were 16 runs at LVSSR. Fourteen new runs (including Ponderosa, Ponderosa Glade and Low Card for intermediate skiers and Queens, Kings, Lower West Bowl, Waterfall, Lost Chutes and Pipeline for advanced skiers) were recently created.
“A lot of those runs are part of a wildland fuel reduction program with the U.S. Forest Service that we started last year. We’ve gone in and removed dead and diseased trees from a certain section of the terrain that will reduce the fuel load on the forest,” said Stickelman. “That way if we were to have a wildfire, it wouldn’t be as catastrophic had there been all that standing timber.”
Overall, LVSSR offers exciting terrain for every level of skier and snowboarder. About 15 percent is designated for beginners. Rabbit Peak, where lessons will be conducted (starting Dec. 15), is a non-threatening place to learn. Friendly, skilled instructors are there and dedicated to making the experience easy and fun. They can even help veteran skiers hone their abilities. LVSSR also features half- and full-day Snow Tots (ages 3 ½ to 5) and Snow Kids (ages 6 to 12) programs that include all the necessary equipment, lift tickets and often lunch.
Of the remaining terrain, 45 percent is allotted for intermediate skiers, and 40 percent is earmarked for advanced skiers. Plus, there’s a terrain park for both snowboarders and skiers with large tabletop jumps and a variety of rails to slide off.
“We invested quite a bit this summer in our terrain park. There are new rails, jibs and jumps,” said Stickelman. “And we’ve purchased a brand new grooming machine – for about $250,000 – specifically designed for terrain park building and maintenance.”
This is just the beginning. With each passing year, LVSSR will be transformed into a truly exceptional regional ski destination.
For those with access to cars, the drive to Lee Canyon takes less than an hour via U.S. 95 north to state Route 156 west. In mid December, visitors without cars can take advantage of LVSSR’s Snow Bus shuttle system. The cost is $20 round-trip. Last year, pickups and drop-offs were made at Town Square Las Vegas and Santa Fe Station. This year, Green Valley Ranch and Red Rock Casino, Resort & Spa will be added to the schedule.
“We can even outfit visitors from head to toe so they won’t have to worry about carrying ski clothes to Las Vegas on their trip,” said Stickelman of LVSSR’s traveler-friendly feature of renting jackets and other apparel along with skis and snowboards.
Lifts operate daily from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. The Bighorn Grill and other amenities are open from 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Call (702) 645-2754 or go to skilasvegas.com for more detailed information about LVSSR’s lift ticket pricing, ski school programs and special events.