Volunteer snow hosts help visitors navigate the winter wilderness

While Las Vegas is one of the last places people expect to find snow, there are some valley residents who actively seek it out. Some even go to the extreme of volunteering with the U.S. Forest Service on Mount Charleston during the winter to be that much closer to the white powder.

The service is set to kick off the second year of its Snow Hosts program, starting Saturday, unless earlier snowfall calls.

Each weekend, volunteers carpool to the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area to help mountain visitors navigate the snow and obtain information on safe places to go sledding or have a snowball fight.

Justin Ebert, volunteer program development specialist, said the U.S. Forest Service does not have the man power to do all of the community outreach it would like, which is why volunteers are necessary to direct people on the mountain.

Ebert, a transplant from Iowa, talked about how special it was that Mount Charleston is so close to the city.

"Having that opportunity to go up there in 30 minutes is pretty amazing," he said.

Yet many of the visitors to Mount Charleston are people who have never been there before and have never experienced snow.

Ebert said he is often shocked by the number of desert rats he sees walking in snow in flip-flops or sledding down the mountain on a cardboard box instead of a proper sled.

"You have people who have lived in Vegas their entire life who have never been to the mountain," Ebert said. "For a lot of people, this is their first experience with snow, and you want to make that enjoyable for them, but it can also be very dangerous for them."

The service advises against sledding in areas with less than 12 inches of snow and to avoid areas with numerous rocks and trees.

"Every person you meet more times than not has no idea what they’re doing," he said.

He said volunteers will often answer the same questions: Where can I play in the snow? Where are the bathrooms? Where is the gas station? Are there bears?

There are designated snow play areas on Lee Canyon, and playing in the backyards of Kyle Canyon residents is not OK, he said. There is limited parking and bathrooms on the mountain when it gets heavy traffic after a snowfall, and there is no gas station.

"There are no bears. If people ask, there are no bears," Ebert emphasized to potential volunteers at Dec. 3’s Snow Hosts program information session at REI, 710 S. Rampart Blvd.

New visitors also can run into problems with spotty cell phone coverage, poor road conditions and construction, Ebert said.

The busiest time of the day is usually between 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., he said.

Tony Timmons, who attended Dec. 3 ‘s information session, said he is going to volunteer. He said he has volunteered on Mount Charleston before and is looking forward to doing it again.

Timmons, from Arkansas, said he is happy to spend time in the snow, as long as it does not turn to ice. He does not miss the ice, he said.

Typically, the volunteers head up in the morning and attend a roadside tent gathering for information and return to Las Vegas before sunset.

The forest service said similar volunteer experience is preferred but not a requirement, and it is hoping to have between eight and 10 active volunteers this season. Six people showed up for the Dec. 3 information session.

The service is looking for volunteers who can commit to at least two shifts a month, and the program runs through the end of March, depending on weather conditions. Volunteers should be at least 18 years old and able to work outside for much of the day.

Michael Russell, who recently moved from Washington, said he can’t wait to give back and volunteer in the program.

"I love the snow, I love the outdoors and I want to share my passions with others, so of course I’m going to do it," he said.

Ebert said the service does not plan to operate the Snow Hosts program on Christmas Day, but if there is a big storm, hosts will be out there.

The service plans another information session at 7 p.m. today at REI . For more information, call 702-515-5408, email or visit

Contact Centennial and North Las Vegas View reporter Laura Phelps at or 702-477-3839.

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