Snow & Tell: Get up to Mount Charleston for a white winter minutes from Las Vegas

Photo: Wade Vandervort

All right, snow people. Lee Canyon is officially open for the season, and there's enough powder on the mountain for you to fill an entire weekend with winter activities. Sip some hot chocolate in the brand- new, 10,000-square-foot Hillside Lodge, ski up to the bar for a hot toddy or bring the kids along for their first snowboarding lesson. Not a skier or snowboarder? No problem. Head up to Mt. Charleston Lodge at Kyle Canyon, where you can catch live entertainment, enjoy a burger and take in the sweeping, gorgeous views of the snow-covered Spring Mountains.

Mount Charleston is great in the summer, but this is the best time of year to visit and create those magical holiday memories. So suit up, break in your new board and keep reading to see what's new at the mountain, and how to safely enjoy its winter wonderland. –Leslie Ventura

New Digs: Lee Canyon's Hillside Lodge adds comforts to the mountain experience


The new Hillside Lodge (Wade Vandervort/Staff)

On December 14, the Lee Canyon resort opened for the season with its most expansive upgrade since the 1960s. New to the resort is the 10,000-square-foot Hillside Lodge, which features a ski-up, ski-out bar with sweeping views and a cozy café.

Attendance to the mountain has grown steadily in the past decade, and the lodge renovation is long overdue, says Lee Canyon director of marketing and technology Jim Seely. "This is pretty spectacular to see this improvement," Seely says. "This building came about because of the increase in business and what's happened with recreation in Las Vegas. This was just to catch up with capacity."

The new two-story Hillside Lodge represents a $6 million investment from Lee Canyon's Utah-based parent company, Powdr, Seely says. The traditional-meets-modern building was built by Carpenter Sellers Del Gatto Architecture, and Lee Canyon's website touts it as "a phenomenal jumping-off point to better serve Las Vegas" growing population and the growing demand for year-round, authentic outdoor recreation."

The Hillside Lodge will have its public grand opening, with a ribbon cutting ceremony, on Friday, January 10. The new addition provides space for a bar area called Bristlecone and a coffee shop dubbed the Brewin Burro.

As for the old lodge, that now features a renovated Bighorn Grill dining area. "We've taken our old lodge, and we basically opened it up so that [one floor] can be all food and beverage," Seely says, "[with] more restaurant seating for 21-and-under families inside."

Inside the new Hillside Lodge, Bristlecone doubles as a multiuse space with its floor-to-ceiling windows and expansive views of the mountain. The bar will be available for weddings and conventions in the summertime, Seely says.

Downstairs, the lodge's new coffee shop, the Brewin Burro, offers treats for kids and adults, as well as grab-and-go food options.

But the biggest upgrade beyond the coffee shop and bar is—wait for it—more restrooms.

"When you build facilities in 1963, you can't really have the foresight of how many people [will be] coming in 2019," Seely says. "A lot of our locals and our dedicated guests that come up here are going to be pretty excited about our restrooms."

And while the Hillside Lodge opening is the talk of Lee Canyon at the moment, the mountain has more changes in store. The resort's proposal for expansion with the United States Forest Service has been a years-long work in progress, particularly because the Spring Mountains are a critical habitat for the endangered Mount Charleston blue butterfly.

While the Hillside Lodge project was completed under a special use permit (that new recreational site isn't invasive to any of the blue butterfly's natural habitats, Seely says), other changes could happen as soon as this summer if the Forest Service approves the plan.

That proposed expansion would include more winter trails, two more chairlifts, improved parking facilities and new summertime activities like chairlift-loaded mountain biking, Seely says. "We'll have around 12 mountain biking trails, and we'll go from 27 winter ski trails to 50," plus "more intermediate and beginner terrain."

In the meantime, families can head up the mountain to experience the Hillside Lodge for themselves. "The dedicated season pass holders that are three generations deep are going to see this new facility and be like, 'Wow,'" Seely says. "Lee Canyon is growing; it's really taking shape.'" –Leslie Ventura

Before you go: What you should know before heading up the mountain


Snowboarders hit the mountain (Wade Vandervort/Staff)

A winter trip to Mount Charleston can provide much-needed respite from city life, but it does takes some planning. For those who aren't used to navigating through ice and snow, here are some key things to know.

Skiing and snowboarding:

Lee Canyon receives around 129 inches of snow per year, offers skiing and snowboarding from Thanksgiving until mid-April, and is the most accessible ski resort in Las Vegas. The resort area provides 24 trails and three lifts, along with hike-to sky-country areas and a freestyle terrain park. Complimentary coaching is available for beginners.

Single-day lift passes cost around $79 for adults and $62 for children ages 6-12 and seniors 65 and over. For more information on ticketing and where to rent gear, visit leecanyonlv.com.

Safety comes first.

• Wear three (or more) layers of clothing in extremely cold temperatures. Boots, gloves and face masks are recommended.

• Use sturdy sleds specialized for snow that can steer. Avoid makeshift sleds like trash can lids and cardboard boxes. Always sled feet-first.

• There are areas throughout the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area designated just for snow play. Safe snow play requires at least 12 inches of snow.

• Only sled in open areas, away from trees, fences and roads.

Stock up on supplies.

Be sure to pack extra blankets, clothes, chains, shovels, food and water and an ice scraper, in case you find yourself in a compromised situation. Don't rely on the GPS on your phone, as cell service can be limited on the mountain. Instead, print or download a map at gomtcharleston.com/maps-guides.

Check your vehicle.

Ensure your car or truck can handle icy roads and snow-filled parking lots. Snow tires are a must, and all-wheel and four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended for navigating around the mountain and accelerating in slippery conditions. Cat litter can also provide traction for your tires if your vehicle gets stuck in the snow Make sure your tank is filled, too, as there are no gas stations on the mountain.

Parking is limited.

Get to the mountain as early as possible, especially during weekends and holidays. Parking areas are designated on the mountain and on the sides of the road. There's no roadside parking between Lee Meadows and the Ski Resort in Lee Canyon. Roadside parking is also prohibited in Kyle Canyon outside designated areas. When parking along the road, all wheels must be pointed to the right to ensure that emergency vehicles can pass. For more parking information, visit gomtcharleston.com.

Check weather and road conditions.

The National Weather Service posts live updates on its website (weather.gov/vef) and on Twitter (@NWSVegas). You can also visit the mountain's own Twitter account@GoMtCharleston) for helpful weather and traffic information. Live webcam footage of weather conditions at Mount Charleston and Lee Canyon can also be found at mtcharlestonweather.com/webcam and leecanyonlv.com/the-mountain/webcams/mountain. For road conditions updates try NVroads.com.

Where to hike:

There are more than 60 miles of maintained trails throughout the Spring Mountains with elevations between 6,000 and 12,000 feet. Hikers should carry plenty of water and sunblock, even in the winter, since high elevations can lead to increased sun exposure and dehydration. Dressing in layers is especially crucial for hiking, as temperatures can drastically vary from the bottom of the trail to the summit of the mountain. Hikers at various levels should consider starting at a shorter distance when taking winter conditions into account.

Mount Charleston also offers guided snowshoe hiking around the Spring Mountains. Email [email protected] for more information. –Kelcie Grega

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