Jack Bean has waited 45 years to see the Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort grow into its name and the basin surrounding it.
For that reason, Friday wasn't just the season opener for him but also marked the beginning of potential realized - at last - for the little-known Mount Charleston resort within an hour of tourist mecca Sin City.
Friday welcomed the first changes in a $35 million expansion that will take a decade to complete. The expansion will double the skiable area to 700 acres, adding 20 trails and six lifts, Bean said Friday morning while sitting on the resort's deck at 6725 Lee Canyon Road.
"It's going to put us on the map. It's not going to be a hidden treasure anymore," said Bean, who started as a busboy at the resort in 1967 and worked his way up to director of mountain operations.
14 NEW RUNS
This year, skiers will have 14 new runs, but none had enough snow to open Friday. The only open run, The Strip, relied entirely on artificial snow produced by a snow-making system that now discharges 500 gallons of water per minute.
Snow output will be increased to 2,000 gallons per minute next year, which will allow four runs to open without much snowfall, according to Kevin Stickelman, president and general manager.
It's not that nature doesn't provide. An average of 240 inches of snow falls per ski season , he said. It just hasn't come yet this season.
But people automatically assume the snow is sparse, said Jack Bean's son, Josh Bean, who skied down the mountain on his father's back before he could walk.
The 31-year-old now manages the terrain park.
"It's hard to get the word out," he said.
That's apparent on the mountain, according to five-year season pass holder Randy Dunn.
"There are days as a pass holder where I look around and say 'How are they making money?' " said the skier while riding the lift up to an elevation of 9,370 feet. "With a little more terrain, this could be an awesome mountain."
EXPANSION HINGES ON SEASON
That's what Stickelman is betting on.
This season's success will dictate the expansion's future pace and whether he jumps on replacing the two-person chairlift in use Friday with a quad lift over this summer, a cost of $2.4 million.
He won't get the capital by raising fees, which have remained constant for three years, a rarity in the industry. In fact, the resort dropped some prices in recent years - the cost of a midweek pass declined from $600 to $400. An adult lift ticket costs $50 on weekdays and $60 on weekends.
The rationale: Build a solid local clientele before trying to recoup the cost of expansions.
"We've barely begun to scratch the surface of the Las Vegas market," Stickelman said.
He would like to triple the resort's number of visiting skiers to 350,000 per season by the expansion's end.
It's Las Vegas, the potential is there, he said.
Despite last year's dismal season for American ski resorts because of low snowfall that dropped just 162 inches here, the resort managed to increase revenues by 3 percent, Stickelman said.
"That's because this is a good mountain for an hour outside of town," skier Dunn noted. In the 18 miles it takes to drive up Lee Canyon from U.S. Highway 95, visitors ascend 5,600 vertical feet out of the desert to snowy slopes.
Dunn has come to learn from countless chairlift conversations that many Las Vegas visitors aren't gamblers and drinkers but are here on business. They would like something different, like skiing, he said.
As the expansion rolls out, Stickelman said prices will "obviously" increase, but local deals will remain.
Southern Nevadans account for about 70 percent of the resort's customers. That includes Nevadans such as 23-year-old snowboarder Jace Rose, who came up for opening day with 30 friends and can't wait for the 14 new trails to open this winter.
"Dude, it's going to be nice," he said.
Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at email@example.com or 702-383-0279.