So, what do you do when your Ikon base pass is blacked out and all the Epic resorts are too far away? You go to Vegas, baby!
Las Vegas is known for huge casinos, great nightlife, late night F1 races, and that silly new sphere overlooking everything. But you can ski in Las Vegas too! Just 45 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip is the only ski resort in southern Nevada, the Lee Canyon ski area.
Formerly known as the Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort, Lee Canyon is a short drive out into the desert and then a long straight climb up into the Spring Mountains. The approach road starts at 2,000 feet above sea level and climbs up to the base elevation of 8,510 feet. The vegetation changes from Joshua trees to Ponderosa pines as you climb the road. Once up the road, the almost 1,200-foot peak of Mount Charleston looms over the entire valley, giving a very alpine feel to this desert oasis.
Amazingly, the ski area receives an average annual snowfall of 129 inches a season. That’s remarkable considering Las Vegas receives only 6.2 inches of rain a year! According to the trail map, there are 30 named trails accessing 445 acres of terrain. It is important to note that the lack of precipitation does limit the area’s snowmaking. Thus, the ski area is heavily dependent on passing storms to open some of the higher expert terrain. I arrived three days after the last big snow and only six trails (those with snowmaking) were still open. However, there were some leftover powder stashes up high if you were willing to hike a bit.
For years Lee Canyon had three major chairlifts and a magic carpet. However, the weekend I was there was the opening weekend for the new 1,500-foot Ponderosa quad chairlift. All the chairs on the hill are fixed grips which could lead to some lines, but the day I was there the only lines were at the beginner lift.
The lodge was rebuilt in 2010 and is now a very modern looking structure. The day I was there the base area was abuzz with day trippers all enjoying a day in the snow away from the desert. This was very much the family and youngster crowd: lots of first timers and folks just looking to play in the snow. Appropriately the longest line I waited in all day was at the food court!
It might seem novel but skiing in Vegas is nothing new; folks have been using the north-facing slopes of Lee Canyon for snow sports since the early 1930s. In the 1940s, the Las Vegas Ski Club operated a short rope tow and a warming hut. The Lee Canyon Ski Area was created in 1964, when the Forest Service issued a Special Use Permit. The first chairlift was installed in 1968. The main lodge building was completed in 1970. Lee Canyon Ski Area officially became Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort in 1995. But in 2015 the name was changed back to the original name.
The area is now owned by Mountain Capital Partners (MCP) based out of Purgatory Colorado, which own similar mid- to small-sized ski areas across the West, including Arizona’s Snowbowl, Utah’s Brian Head and Nordic Valley Ski Resorts, New Mexico’s Pajarito Mountain and Sipapu Ski Resort, Colorado’s Hesperus Ski Area, Oregon’s Willamette Pass Resort, and even Valle Nevado in Chile!
The area is now part of the Power Pass providing access to all the MCP areas. Lift tickets on this prime MLK weekend day were a very reasonable $74 online the night before. Beware, however, as MCP uses surge pricing so the later you purchase your ticket, the higher it is. MCP’s Arizona Snowbowl once listed a $300 ticket on a powder day. So, buy early if you are visiting a MCP resort, otherwise it is a gamble!
Overall, I had a great morning on the hill. Lee Canyon is another non “mega pass” resort that has decent terrain, reasonable prices, and low crowds. I am sure on a powder day Lee Canyon could be quite the place. On second thought, it is quite the place no matter what!
Robbie Allen is an avid small hill skier. He has written several articles on the many small hills he has sought out.