Kicking off its 50th anniversary season, the Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort plans to celebrate with a gala, new facilities at the resort and the largest single investment in its history.
The resort plans to host a gala Nov. 16 at the Amanda Harris Gallery of Contemporary Art and The Lady Silvia bar and lounge, both at 900 Las Vegas Blvd. South, and has asked 50 artists to paint snowboards for the silent auction. But as the resort undergoes major changes, some of the people who have been then since the early years are reflecting on the past.
"Over time, the ski area has lost its place in the Las Vegas area, and we really want to bring it back," said Kevin Stickelman, the resort’s president and general manager .
Ski instructor Marcel Barel, a legend to friends of the resort, said he remembers the first time he drove up Mount Charleston in 1967.
"It was like a pyramid and snow-covered and I said, ‘ Whoa ,’ " Barel said. "I got up to the ski area and said, ‘I’m out of here tomorrow,’ and I’m still here."
Barel, a single father, ran the ski school as his own business for years, and his daughter learned to ski alongside resort visitors.
"Now, almost daily, somebody comes up and says, ‘Oh, Marcel, you’re still up here? God, I was 8 years old when you taught me, and this is my grandson.’ This happens all the time," Barel said.
Over the years, Barel said the biggest change happened with the resort introduced snowboarding. Resort officials were hesitant at first, but now snowboarding makes up 50 percent of the business, he said.
Part of the celebration, the resort replaced chair lift 3 with Rabbit Peak Quad, an energy-efficient lift for beginner skiers and snowboarders. Chair 3 transported skiers on the Rabbit Peak Trail for the last 30 years, but the new lift should making loading and unloading easier for beginners.
Stickelman said that among all of the new features, he’s most excited about the chair lift.
Barel said he just hopes this chair lift installation goes better than the first one. Barel said he was part of a team that set up the original lift. The next morning, Barel said he and his colleagues rode up to work when one of them hit his head with his hand when he realized they put up an entire section backward . To fix it, the resort had to bring in a large crane to lift it and turn it around.
The new lift should be installed by early December after the resort’s targeted opening on Nov. 23, Stickelman said.
When the resort originally opened in 1963, it had only one T-bar lift, a warming hut and an A-frame chalet for a lodge.
Stickelman said he hopes the anniversary and new amenities will put the resort back on the map. "What I hope this does is usher in a new era," Stickelman said. "For 50 years, this resort kind of operated under the radar here in Las Vegas. I t kind of fell behind by not pushing expansion."
Stickelman wants to see the resort as a premier outdoor destination in the region, he said, but he doesn’t want the changes to happen too quickly.
"A lot of locals still don’t even know we exist, and right now, since the ski lodge didn’t keep pace, we could really bury this place with long lines," he said.
The resort can handle between 1,800 and 2,000 people a day, with most winter season days averaging fewer than 1,000 visitors. But with the new plans for the resort, Stickelman said the park could accommodate between 4,000 and 4,200 athletes in the future.
" Thirty to 35 years ago, this place was a big part of Las Vegas locals, and that’s changed so much," Stickelman said.
Barel said he remembers when Las Vegas was a smaller town, and local celebrities would bring their entourages to the mountain with show girls.
Director of mountain operations Jack Bean said he started working at the resort in 1967 while he was in high school. He picked up trash , cleaned tables and collected lift tickets so he could earn enough money to ski.
"I just have a sense of real pride that I’ve been here throughout it all," he said. "Through all the good and bad things, I’m still here."
He said it was a struggle for the resort to survive the first few years. It was not until a snow machine was introduced in the mid-1980s that the resort found some stability; without it, Bean’s not sure the resort would have survived.
He said when Powdr Corp. bought the resort in 2003, he had renewed energy that "we are going to have things built and built right." His worst memory, however, was the 2005 season, when an avalanche buried a young boy who died.
"It’s a shame that it takes something like that to happen to realize that we needed to change our methods," he said. Since then, he said the resort changed how it manages avalanches.
Bean met his wife on the mountain, and like Barel’s daughter, his children learned to ski at the resort and worked on the mountain.
As part of the $35 million development plan that was accepted by the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest in 2011, the resort plans to reveal 14 new trails, a restaurant remodel, a Prinoth Bison X Snocat grooming machine, a new guest locker room and a new on-mountain grill this season.
The remodeling of Bighorn Grill includes a new kitchen and dining area with healthier options, made-to-order options and a baked potato bar. The new menu is important, Stickelman said, because instead of just serving pizza and burgers cafeteria-style, the new resort will mirror modern resorts in Utah and Oregon, he said.
As the master plan is implemented in the next 10 to 12 years, the resort plans to upgrade the number of trails from 30 to 50 and lifts from four to 10.
Sixty-five percent of visitors are from Southern Nevada, but 10 percent come from Hawaii, 5 percent from Southern California and 5 percent from Asia. The remaining 15 percent come predominantly from Texas and Florida.
The Who’s On Board gala is scheduled to include a cocktail reception, an art show and a silent auction. The event is invitation-only, from 6 to 8 p.m., but doors open to the public 21 or older at 8 p.m. The silent auction is planned to run until 9:30 p.m.
The resort also plans to host an anniversary celebration Feb. 16 on the hill, with regional athletes, a bar, prizes, food and live music spun by a disc jockey.
Contact Centennial and North Las Vegas View reporter Laura Phelps at email@example.com or 702-477-3839.