CARSON CITY -- Hard-core opposition to a bill that would enable construction of a privately run snow play area on Mount Charleston appeared to thaw during a legislative hearing on the idea.
On Wednesday, the Senate Government Affairs Committee held a hearing on Senate Bill 232, which would lift development restrictions on land in the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area to build a snow park.
Lifting restrictions would clear the way for owners of Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort to build the park on about 33 acres, including 5 acres owned by Clark County.
The idea is to concentrate snow play in a central, safe location to reduce sledding accidents, traffic jams and environmental damage from thousands of Las Vegas residents who crowd Mount Charleston on winter weekends to go sledding and play in the snow.
Mountain residents who testified said they agreed with the idea of trying to control renegade snow play that is causing chaos so long as the plan doesn't become a slippery slope to unwanted commercial developments.
Resident Tom Padden said he and others just recently learned of the idea and were concerned it would open the door for "any sleazeball developer" to build casinos, convenience stores or fast-food restaurants.
But he added that as residents have learned about amendments to limit the project to a snow play area, opposition has softened.
"We've put away the torches and pitchforks," Padden said.
Under the bill by Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, and Assemblyman Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas, the 33 acres in question would be removed from the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area.
Doing so would remove development restrictions the Legislature imposed on the recreation area in 2009.
The restrictions were meant to prevent commercial development in the picturesque area.
But they're also preventing the ski resort owners from building a managed sledding area to reduce the number of injuries on the mountain and decrease the amount of litter and human waste left behind by winter crowds.
"We all grew up enjoying that area, and it is tired and it needs help," said Warren Hardy, a lobbyist for the ski resort. "Our efforts are to concentrate the impact of this recreation on certain parcels of land, leaving the remainder of land up there free from impact."
Hardy presented an amendment that would prohibit casinos, hotel rooms, gasoline stations and convenience stores on the property.
Stephanie Myers, a mountain resident since 1995, said she could support the bill if the amendment were included.
She and others also said the only permanent structures should be restrooms, which fits with the resort operators' idea to use temporary structures for food sales and warming.
"We need to have a safe place up in Lee Canyon. But we also have to protect the sanctity of the mountain," Myers said. "What we don't want to see on the mountain is Las Vegas."
The bill needs committee approval by April 15 to stay alive. The committee didn't vote after the hearing. Lee, the committee chairman, said he would schedule a work session and a vote in time to meet the deadline.
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@ reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861.