Lee Canyon aims to be a resort for all seasons
You can’t help but think that the Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort’s recent return to its original name, Lee Canyon, has something to do with the “ski” and “snowboard” in the now-discarded name — and you’d be right, though perhaps not for the presumed reason. It’s less about the loss of snow due to climate change, and more about the addition of spring, summer and fall activities on Mount Charleston.
When Park City, Utah-based Powdr Corp bought the resort in 2003, it changed the name to the Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort. Now Powdr, still the owner 13 years later, has changed it back to Lee Canyon. The new-old name comes with a logo designed to resemble a retro ski patch, a revamped website and all the other standard brand-identity trappings. The intent, says resort manager Kevin Stickelman, is to invoke both history and a contemporary sensibility.
It’s working for Rob Gurdison, a Las Vegas native who grew up skiing (and snowboarding, since the first day it was allowed) at Lee Canyon with the likes of Amy Purdy and Jason Mullen, and was invited to the 1998 Olympic trials. Gurdison has snowboarded all over the world, but he still frequents his local resort, he says, now taking his kids there.
“My impression of it is that it was a small mom-and-pop type resort for a long time, and when Powdr came in, they really stepped up their park-making skills,” Gurdison says. “The Lee Canyon name has that hip, nostalgic feel.”
But winter regulars like Gurdison aren’t the main targets of the rebranding. That distinction belongs to a fresh audience: people who would mountain bike, ride a zip line, attend concerts and hold family reunions at the resort during warm seasons. Attracting this clientele relies on adding amenities that were part of a master plan Powdr submitted in 2011 to the U.S. Forest Service, with which it has a long-term lease on the land, Stickelman says. Construction has been mostly on hold since then, while scientists mapped out the habitat of the endangered Mount Charleston blue butterfly. During that time, Powdr has been able to work on existing facilities — renovating lifts and restaurants, improving snow-making capacity — but has been prevented from launching the major expansion.
“Last July … we got the approval process for us to start up again,” Stickelman says. “We hope to have the approval about 18 months from now, and then we’re shovel-ready to begin.”
He stresses that the new name, sans ski or snowboard, is meant to highlight the impending year-round availability of activities and amenities at the resort, not its lack of precipitation. The resort, which averages 212 inches of snowfall per year, got only 70 inches last season, Stickelman says, and 67 the year before. But he adds that it’s back up to normal this year and is in no danger of closing due to too-warm conditions, as some resorts at lower elevations have done.
“Skiing will forever be an important part of our business,” he says. “We’ve always been a 12-month business, but skiing is the biggest sector.” In other words, even if the resort has to make its snow, rather than receive it freely from the heavens, Stickelman expects it to remain cold enough for snow sports to go on.
A thornier problem is transportation. Routes 156 and 157, the two-lane roads between U.S. Highway 95 and Mount Charleston, can get clogged with traffic — only a fraction of it headed to the ski resort, according to Stickelman. He cites data from the heaviest traffic day over the Christmas holiday, 10,000 vehicles, noting that only 820 cars were at the resort.
The U.S. Forest Service had been getting federal money to provide shuttles from a parking lot near the highway to Kyle and Lee Canyons, but with ridership averaging only 20 percent, the service stopped applying for the grant. Hope isn’t lost, though. Stickelman says the Mount Charleston Winter Alliance, a public-private coalition that includes Powdr, is working together to solve the traffic problem.