March – April 2020
Southern Nevada’s coolest destination is a year-round paradise.
BY MEGG MUELLER
Las Vegas is known for its toasty temperatures, celebrity-studded swimming pools, and steamy nightlife. It’s often called an adult Disneyland where adventure and fantasy can be found around seemingly every corner, and activities of every stripe can be found. There is one thing, however, that many visitors don’t know about Las Vegas: it’s a great place to go skiing and snowboarding.
You read that correctly, and while no one is comparing the Spring Mountains to the Alps, with just a modicum of effort, a winter adventure awaits above the desert of southern Nevada.
ISLAND IN THE SKY
Las Vegas sits at 2,000 feet above sea level, but take a short drive north on U.S. Route 95, then head up State Route 156, and you’ll find yourself in a whole new world. The Spring Mountains jut from the desert floor and are considered a sky island ecosystem (an isolated mountain range surrounded by completely different terrain).
The change in climate zones, terrain, landscape, and ecosystem is apparent as you drive further into the mountains. The temperature is typically 20-30 degrees cooler than in the valleys below, making Lee Canyon ripe for both winter and summer adventures. In the winter, the elevation encourages an annual snowfall of around 160 inches;
in the summer, it offers a respite from the often-blazing heat.
From December to March (and often into April), Lee Canyon is home to the area’s only ski resort. Formerly known as Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort, in 2015 the name was changed back to its original name—Lee Canyon—which was established in 1963. In truth, locals had been calling the area Lee Canyon since the 1930s when people first went looking for winter recreation.
Winter visitors are greeted with towering peaks of limestone above 445 acres of terrain that serve as backdrop for their skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, or hiking adventure. Lee Canyon has 860 vertical feet of lift-served terrain with 24 serviced snow trails and three chairlifts, plus a tubing area. Along with annual snowfall, the resort has snowmaking capabilities to assist Mother Nature. In January, 10,000-square-foot Hillside Lodge debuted, marking the biggest renovation of the resort since it opened in 1964.
The new two-story lodge includes an outdoor heated terrace; patio dining spaces; a ski-in, ski-out bar; two dining options including a bistro with new food options and a grill for typical resort fare; and expanded restroom facilities. After a day on the slopes, the chance to sit and marvel at the breathtaking view of the hills is well-earned.
According to Jim Seely, Lee Canyon’s marketing director, about 130,000 visitors per year come to do just that very thing. About 70 percent of traffic is from locals, he mentions, but visitors from Southern California, Mexico, and Brazil are common, and for some, it’s an extremely memorable visit.
“We have a lot of people who come here for the first time, and they’ve never seen snow before,” he says.
Lee Canyon recognizes that for many visitors it might also be their first time on skis or a board, so anything that can be done to facilitate newbies having a great experience, they do. Rental equipment is available for adults and children; clothing and additional gear are on sale at the pro shop; private lessons are available; and complimentary coaching is available to everyone at any time. A kids’ program routinely is filled to capacity each season.
COOL, COOL SUMMER
As the winter season comes to a close, Lee Canyon transforms into—once again—the coolest destination in the Las Vegas area. With that dramatic temperature drop mentioned before, the mountain is a paradise respite from the triple-digit temperatures in the valley.
Snowy slopes make way for verdant hiking opportunities and a chance to play 18 holes of disc golf. Mountain biking on the adjacent Bristlecone Trail is popular, and the resort hopes to offer lift-served downhill mountain biking in the near future. Lee Canyon also has scenic chairlift rides, a mini skateboard ramp, archery, patio games, and special events such as a Mountain Fest, which includes a disc golf tournament called Birdies and Beers and has live music and a beer garden. Check the calendar before you visit for events like Wine & Canvas night, too, where guests can paint the mountain landscape with the help of a local art studio while enjoying libations and appetizers.
The summer season runs from the end of May to Labor Day, weather permitting, and in that time Lee Canyon also plays host to incredibly picturesque weddings.
“Our weddings are for those looking for the most majestically natural backdrop for their special day,” Jim says. “Our aspen grove ceremony site is secluded among the trees where seating for up to 120 allows guests to experience that special day surrounded by the beauty of the Spring Mountains.”
MORE THAN A PRETTY FACE
The obvious beauty the resort offers isn’t just skin deep, however. Year round, Lee Canyon operates with a solid culture of community and giving back. The Play Forver initiative—fostered by the resort’s parent company POWDR—is “committed to protecting the environment and inspiring participation in adventure.” This translates to reducing the carbon footprint using and banking solar energy, installing LED lights, incentivizing employees to carpool, offering free water refill stations to encourage folks to ditch single-use plastic bottles, and more.
Every Friday in March, the resort offers lift tickets for just $25. For each ticket sold, $5 is given to the High Fives Foundation, a nonprofit that provides resources for mountain sports athletes with life-altering injuries. Last year, Lee Canyon donated almost $21,000 to the organization through the Feel Good Fridays program.
Whatever the season, Lee Canyon offers an unexpected and spectacular experience. For locals, it’s a recreational haven, and for visitors, it’s an opportunity to expand the notion that Las Vegas really does have everything needed for the perfect vacation.