The sign on Suicide Hill warns sledders that trees and rocks can cause injuries.
Just outside the entrance to Old Town at Kyle Canyon on Mount Charleston, the acute slope of the snowy hill has lured sledding enthusiasts and plastic-saucer daredevils for years, prompting a private landowner to erect a wooden fence across it aimed at deterring the thrill seekers.
Yet, much to the dismay of Capt. Tim Woolever and other first responders, they still flock to the hill and they still get injured, making his job there and on other hills a few miles away in Lee Canyon more difficult with each snowflake that falls.
From broken legs, necks, pelvises, ribs, head injuries and punctured lungs, he's seen it all in his 19 years with the Nevada Division of Forestry's fire engine company on the mountain.
He remembered the time in January 2006 when an out-of-control sledder in Echo Canyon struck a 3-year-old boy who was playing at the bottom of the hill. The boy, Brian Francisco Palomares Felix, was flown by helicopter to a hospital but died of blunt head trauma, according to the Clark County coroner's office.
"It's all because people aren't in designated snow play areas. ... They hit trees and rocks and other people," Woolever said Wednesday while flipping through the accident log in the division's Kyle Canyon station.
Since mid-December, firefighters, police officers, ambulance crews and volunteers from a multi-agency task force have responded to dozens of injury accidents caused by careless sledders as well as drivers who fail to recognize the hazards of water that freezes on roads in the late afternoon and turns into black ice.
There have been 26 such cases between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day, including six people with life-threatening injuries who had to be taken by helicopter to hospitals in Las Vegas. One person was flown out Tuesday, a holiday that drew hundreds to the mountain. Four critical injuries involving sledders were reported on Christmas Eve.
Sometimes it's the crowd that complicates matters with bumper-to-bumper traffic that on some occasions has slowed rescue vehicles traveling between Kyle and Lee canyons to a pace of two miles in 40 minutes. Officials estimate that on a weekend day after a snowfall, as many as 6,000 vehicles come to the mountain bringing about 20,000 visitors.
"In Lee Canyon, they're sledding right into the road into oncoming traffic. We're lucky we haven't had anybody run over," Woolever said.
That is why, when it snows and schools aren't in session like the remainder of this week, Clark County rescue units, firefighters, police, the Nevada Highway Patrol and volunteers position themselves on the mountain in anticipation they'll be called. On New Year's Day, they answered injury calls at least 15 times.
The National Weather Service forecast for Mount Charleston calls for cloudy skies today with an increasing chance of snow in the evening. Snow will likely fall Friday with 25 mph winds out of the southwest, with more snow and gusts up to 40 mph Friday night, continuing with more snow Saturday.
And that means, Woolever said, "the high school kids will swarm up here ... by the droves."
Steve McClintock, rural coordinator for the Clark County Fire Department, said many of the sledders are deceived by the appearance of snow on the mountain. Instead of being soft and fluffy it's ice-topped and packed solid, making the surface as hard as a bowling ball.
"They need to find a nice safe place to sled. They probably ought to wait until there is more snow," McClintock said.
Among the safest places to sled is the Foxtail Snow Play Area in Lee Canyon. Nearby Lee Meadows is more safe than some areas, Woolever said, but a significant amount of snow will create hazards such as hidden logs and rocks.
"Four or five years ago a guy literally broke his neck there," he said.
On Wednesday, John Marshall watched as his friend's 6-year-old son, Phoenix James, glided down a gradual slope on his "snow boogie board" that he got for Christmas. The long board is designed to keep him a safe distance from any stumps, logs or rocks that he might run into on the hill. He brought along a helmet, too, but wasn't wearing it as there were only a handful of other sledders on the hill and it wasn't that steep.
Marshall knew, though, that the ice pack can create a dangerous situation even on a slight grade.
"I came up here last week and heard the ambulance sirens three or four times in a three-hour period," he said.
Many injuries result from sledders who don't use what Woolever refers to as "appropriate snow play devices."
Some people use plastic bags or pieces of plastic to slide down hills, but they often have no ability to steer away from hazards as they speed out of control.
Nolan Mangham, a Nevada Division of Forestry firefighter, said sledding accidents are preventable if the sledder uses the right equipment and has common sense.
His suggestion: "Do an assessment of where you're going to be sledding. Is that hill going to take you into a tree or a rock?"
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 383-0308.