Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort Goes All In On Expansion

Yep, that's just 40 minutes from the Vegas Strip. Maybe SIA will come back.

Yep, that's just 40 minutes from the Vegas Strip. Maybe SIA will come back. Photo Joe Thompson

Besides partying and gambling, Las Vegas will soon be known for its riding. The Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort announced that the Humoldt-Toiyabe National Forest Service has accepted its Master Development Plan (MDP) to improve the resort over a ten to twelve year span.

Included in the MDP are additions to the area including adding 50 trials and ten lifts, increasing snowmaking capacity and parking, upgrading equipment, and adding guest facilities, all of which will be designed to meet Leadership in Energy and Environment certificates.

We caught up with Kevin Stickelman, LVSSR’s president and general manager to learn more about the resort’s plans to grow the mountain into a major attraction for Sin City and beyond, and lessons in navigating Forest Service approval.

I understand that the overall development plan is slated to take place over the next 10-12 years. Can you break down what the schedule will look like?

What you’ll see first is some infrastructure replaced. That includes chair lifts that are reaching the end of their life span. The first is to be replaced by a high-speed quad that’s now a double. That lift would service the main terrain load and skier load for our expansion. Once that lift goes in, you’ll see some additional trails cut that are accessible off our existing chair lifts. We’re in the process right now of working with the Forest Service in identifying which trails come first, second and third, just based of our terrain capacity that’s outlined in our master plan.

There will also be some immediate snowmaking upgrades prior to this season. We’re looking at installing some higher efficiency guns, running electrical service to some areas that have only been serviced by air and water in the past, so that we can put some fan guns in those places for better early season snow conditions. You’ll see expanded outdoor seating and patio area with a bigger capacity grill and things like that for our guests. That’s one of the things that Vegas has here at this ski area is the outdoor atmosphere. The days are mostly blue skies with decent temperatures…winter high is in the upper 20′s. You can have a burger and beer on the deck and it’s a great experience. We’re also, prior to this coming ski season, installing a couple yurts to house ski school programs. It’s about 1400 sq. ft. of space for our kid’s ski and snowboard school. It gives them a better check-in areas and an area to house rental skis/snowboards for that program.

Photos: Joe Thompson & LVSSR

We’ll see some terrain park upgrades this year—some additional features put in which would have happened even without the master plans acceptance, but the snowmaking upgrades will definitely enhance the terrain park experience here on the mountain this season.  It’s going to be great and that’s one of our huge focuses going forward. We’ve seen a lot of success these past two years with grassroots park and slopestlye and rail jam events. We’ve got four main events coming up this winter. It was a pretty good party last year. Coors Light and Monster sponsored it. It drew several hundred spectators and cash prizes. We’re looking for that event to really grow. It’s Vegas-the nightlife here is huge and to be able to have something on the snow in the winter is big with the local ski and snowboard crowd.

It seems like there’s a pretty decent scene in Las Vegas on the snowboarding side for sure.

Totally.

How long have you guys been working on the MDP?

The master plan has been in the works since Powdr Corp. acquired the area in 2003.  We really got to the nuts and bolts of it in 2007 with the preliminary submission to the Forest Service, which came back with a number of things that we needed to go back to the drawing board on. Those things included: looking at the parking plan—we’ve added some mass transit into the plan that we actually started a couple of years ago.

So, shuttles up from Vegas?

Yea, shuttles out of Vegas…and some other parking areas down the road a bit that  we’ll include in this. We also had to take a look at our base facilities and where we’d locate those. The Forest Service has asked that we design our buildings to LEED standards, which is something that’s a best practice anyway. We were happy to make that change.

Having LEED certified buildings is good marketing for you guys as well right?

It was a good thing to hang our hat on for sure. We also had to look at some of the sensitive plant and animal species that are here at the mountain and come up with mitigation, re-vegetation, species/habitat protection.

What are you going to do about that?

So, well one of the things is that we’ve avoided in this master plan a couple of the  habitat locations for the Mt. Charleston Blue Butterfly-which is a very rare species of blue butterflies that just happen to occur here in the Spring Mountains outside of Las Vegas. Then there are a couple areas that are on the existing ski area that we’ve avoided from development, whether it’s mountain biking trails or hiking trails or additional snowmaking. We’ve changed some of our things to just stay out of those areas. And then some of those areas the other areas, what we’ve done is suggested a re-vegetation plan that looks at re-vegetating the areas that we’ve disturbed for ski trails, the lifts, snow making, etc… with some of the native plants specifies that encourage the butterfly habitat up here on the mountain.

How many skier-days did you guys do last year? What’s your goal going forward with this?

You know, we wont release that…but we do expect that this master plan will at least double, if not triple, our skier visits over the next 12 years or so. We’ve seen a pretty decent growth in local season pass sales, year over year over the past several years. Last year was great. We saw an 8% increase in season pass sales. We expect that trend to continue as we continue to market to the college demographic.

Is that your primary focus then, on the local community or are you guys also going to be expanding into more of a destination resort with the expansion?

It’ll be a combination of both. The population base in Vegas is two-million people. We’ve got a tremendous upside potential  there to expand our season pass base and engage local families and local kids up here, but right now every year for the last five years 25-30% of our visits have come from outside of southern Nevada. We see a lot of people coming up here who are on a week-long trip to Vegas for the casinos, gambling and shows and all of that, who are looking for something to do during the days when they’re not down at the shows or having a fancy dinner.

We’re not ever going to be a Copper Mountain or Park City, but we could be a pretty solid regional destination. Our competition last year spoke to that. We had a lot of people driving in for our slopestlye competitions from southern California from Utah from AZ. We had decent purses as far as rewards went and our park got really good exposure. We’ve tried to put emphasis on that. Outside of the event draw is just the novelty to ski in the desert outside Las Vegas for the people who are here on vacation.

It’s about a 40 minute drive from the Strip. It’s easy to get to…it’s just one highway you take right from downtown.

Any advice for resorts or companies looking at submitting applications to the Forest Service?

Embrace the public lands and mission that they have, which is to provide recreation to the public. That was really one of the hang-ups that we suffered. Over the course of the last several years, we’ve learned the lesson the hard way.  We were trying to do things that didn’t always fit with the overall mission of the Spring Mountain National Recreation Area, which is where we sit. Eevery region, every forest, has a little bit different mission and recreation plan. We involved those guys in our master plan discussions. We had meetings in their office even, where we could get the stakeholders of the Forest Service involved and talking through some of these problems so that we weren’t trying to invent these solutions on our own.

A lot of times, a master plan process is invented by the ski area and you cross your fingers and wait for the approval. We took a little different strategy and involved those federal agencies, and they were with us every step of the way going through the different revision and descriptions and how things were worded. We relied on some of their resources as far as their botanists and ecologists to guide and steer us into the right direction. At the end of the day, we’ve got a plan in place now that will be really the cornerstone of recreation here at the Spring Mountains.