Despite often balmy days in Las Vegas at this time of year, snow-capped Charleston Peak, rising west of the city, reminds us that winter isn't finished yet. Every storm front moving clouds across our valley carries the promise of fresh snow in the mountains. Whether the clouds deliver or not, the promise is enough to lure crowds to forested mountain slopes for snow play.
The snow calls to desert dwellers. They head for the hills in droves. Driving bumper to bumper up the narrow canyons, they encounter traffic jams and few places to safely park. Often, traffic on mountain highways during and immediately following a storm must be limited to those with snow tires or chains until road crews clear the way or conditions improve.
A little planning ensures a safe, enjoyable snow outing. Check on current weather and road conditions before you head out of town, available from many sources, including the Las Vegas Ski Resort's Web site at skilasvegas.com.
To relieve road congestion and parking problems, load your family or group into one vehicle or park multiple vehicles below the snowline and use the most serviceable vehicle to ferry the group to the snow. Always park off the roadway.
Make sure everyone in your party wears footgear with treads for traction and warm, layered clothing, including gloves and head covers. Use sunblock on exposed skin, as sunburns at high altitude can be serious. Be aware of the symptoms of altitude sickness and bring extra water and headache remedies. Pack along hot beverages, hearty soup or chili, high-energy snacks and chocolate.
Many winter visitors to the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area content themselves with enjoying the views. They motor along the mountain highways, often getting out only to shoot a few photos. They also might venture as far as the restaurants at Mount Charleston Hotel and Resort on Kyle Canyon Road, the Mount Charleston Lodge just off Kyle Canyon Road in the Old Park area or at the Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort at the end of Lee Canyon Road. All three spots command superlative views of the snowy crags.
Riding in a horse-drawn sled through the pines in the crisp winter air appeals to many mountain visitors. Arrange for this adventure with Las Vegas Carriages, which loads up behind the Mount Charleston Lodge on weekends. Rides of about 20 minutes cost $25 for adults and $15 for children. Make special arrangements for weekday outings by calling 596-6715.
Other visitors really want to get actively into the winter scene. People have fun playing in the snow anywhere there is enough snow to make a snowball. To reach an area generally safe for snow sliding, follow the Lee Canyon Road, Highway 156, to the turnoff to the Foxtail Picnic Area, used for group picnics in summer but cleared of obstacles for winter snow play. Bring sleds, toboggans and snow dishes and equip children with bicycle or sports helmets. For a fee of $7 per vehicle, Foxtail offers picnic tables, pedestal grills and heated flush toilets. Pack trash bags to take your picnic refuse home for disposal.
Snowy side roads invite exploration by snowmobile, on snowshoe treks or on cross country skis. The U.S. Forest Service recommends the Bristlecone and South Loop Trails for both snowshoe and Nordic ski adventures, although access is not restricted to those routes. When trekking in the mountainous back country where there may be avalanche danger, carry signaling devices and cell phones.
The only developed ski facility in Southern Nevada, the Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort in Lee Canyon lies about 45 minutes from downtown. Those who frequent the local ski and snowboard area enjoy their sports without having to travel far and possibly staying overnight or longer.
In addition to its cafe and bar, the resort at 8,300 feet includes a sports shop, equipment rentals and instruction for skiers and snowboarders. The ski area offers two double chair lifts and many ski trails from the top of the lifts at nearly 9,400 feet. Compared to many ski facilities in other areas, the prices for lift tickets seem to be bargains. Ski afternoons on half-day tickets for $45 for adults or all day for $50. All-day lift tickets for senior citizens and children cost $30.
Margo Bartlett Pesek's column appears on Sundays.