With $250,000 in technology upgrades in place and an expansion plan under way, the Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort's powder opened Friday, a week ahead of schedule.
The ski resort at Mount Charleston opened for its 2011-12 season at 9 a.m. and Kevin Stickelman, president and general manager, said he can't wait for visitors to experience the new features.
Three chairlifts and one surface lift that serve the area's 16 trails and freestyle terrain park ran until 4 p.m. Amenities such as The Sports Shop, The Big Horn Café and The Bristlecone Lounge were open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Snowmaking is in progress and the total snow base was between 12 and 18 inches, with a total season snowfall of 21 inches. The area has received 14 inches of natural snow in the last three weeks, which stuck in the higher elevations.
Since last season, almost every aspect of the resort's operations has been pulled into the 21st century. Point-of-sale systems were updated, lift tickets were bar-coded and the rental shop's process was streamlined.
"It really brought us out of the Dark Ages," Stickelman said. "It's night and day."
Part of the driving force behind the upgrades was to make the consumer experience more enjoyable while on the mountain, Stickelman said. Previously, if you were going to ski or snowboard for three days, you had to stand in line each morning to purchase your ticket. Now, the resort can sell multiday lift tickets. Individual lift tickets range from $25 to $60.
Customers who buy season passes, which range in price from $200 to $650, can choose from several options, including a midweek-only pass at a discount. Discounting is made possible by the new bar-code system.
"There's no question it was needed," said Kenny Bott, who co-owned the resort for 15 years before the current owners. "I'm really proud of what they've done."
Also because of the tech upgrades, the Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort can advertise and sell its tickets on snowbird-centric websites such as Liftopia.com, which helps market the area's brand to tourists.
"It puts us right up there, in the game," Stickelman said.
About 35 percent of skiers are tourists who build a snow day into their Las Vegas vacation. About 15 percent of the tourists come from Hawaii.
"There's been a cult-type following from there," Stickelman said.
About 5 percent of visitors to the resort hail from Southern California; another 5 percent are from Asia. Inexpensive airline flights and Las Vegas nightlife help the small resort compete with neighboring resorts in Utah and California, Stickelman said.
"It may not be on the level of Big Bear and Brian Head today, but I think in the next couple of years it will surpass them. No question," Bott said.
During the 2010-11 ski season, about 8.1 million people were estimated to have visited the Pacific Southwest to ski or snowboard, according to a National Ski Areas Association report. Although Stickelman wouldn't release specific visitor count numbers for the Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort, he did say that the park sees 300 to 2,000 visitors daily. The area is categorized within the small resort classification, which means it sees fewer than 150,000 visitors annually.
"It's so variable," he added.
But, business at the resort increased about 5 percent last season.
Besides the tech upgrades, the Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort began a $35 million master development plan during the summer that will expand the number of trails to 50 and lifts to 10. The project is estimated to take 10 to 12 years.
So far, the rental shop has been refurbished, the bar has been upgraded and more obstacles have been added to the terrain park.
Because of an increase in interest in the action sports aspect of skiing and snowboarding, Stickelman and company are offering more jumps, rails and pipes for their adventurous customers this year. On any given day, there are between 12 and 30 terrain park features open at the resort.
"We're really trying to increase the variety of intermediate and advanced terrain," Stickelman said. "It allows us to be more competitive."
Contact reporter Laura Carroll at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4588.