Lee Canyon offers desert dwellers place to beat heat

For the past six years, the Lee Canyon Ski and Snowboard Resort has been open during the summers, gradually adding more activities to go along with the trails and scenery. But no matter how much the facilities might grow, Marketing Director Jim Seely knows the key to attracting crowds.

“The biggest draw that we have is that it’s seven climate zones away from the desert valley,” Seely said while sitting on the patio of the resort’s restaurant. “I think it’s that escape that draws people up here more so than say a great burger, archery for the kids or the scenic chair rides.

“It’s just breathtaking up here. It’s a different facet of Southern Nevada that people don’t realize is here sometimes, but the ones that do definitely use us as an escape for a quick getaway from Vegas or Pahrump.”

The resort, which has operated during ski season since 1963, did not spring up overnight for summer visitors.

“It’s been a gradual process, adding activities year over year,” Seely said. “The first season, we did a couple of weddings. The next season, we opened up our food and beverage. Then we added our disc golf course. Last season was our first season for archery and Onewheel. There’s a lot of things to do and we keep adding to it, making it more and more robust.”

The temperature difference can be as much as 25 to 30 degrees from valley floor to the resort’s base at 8,500 feet. Guests can choose to go higher via some of the more challenging trails in the area or by taking a ride on a chairlift.

Essential to reach the slopes in winter, the chairlift in summer provides a million-dollar view for a $12 fee. The ride up offers pleasant views of trees, mountains and sky, with the wind making a light jacket advisable even on some warm days. But the ride down from 9,300 feet opens in spectacular fashion, with a stunning view of the canyon unfolding beneath riders.

Riders have the option of getting off at the top and taking a look around, or playing on the resort’s disc golf course. The “highest course in Vegas” starts near the base, but getting to the sixth hole requires riding the chairlift. The ticket is included in the disc golf price. Sturdy hiking shoes or boots are recommended, as the course winds down the mountain before reaching the 18th hole at the base.

Other activities on what passes for ground level at Lee Canyon include archery, horseshoes, cornhole, Onewheel — basically snowboarding without the snow — and hiking. Marked trails abound in the area, with access to the system starting on Lee Canyon Road long before you reach the resort. At the end of the resort’s parking lot is the trailhead for the six-mile Bristlecone Trail, popular for both short and long hikes.

“A lot of people love that trail because it’s kind of entry level,” Seely said. “It’s definitely easy for beginners for people who don’t want to haul a backpack and really get rugged.”

Seely said the resort’s attendance is difficult to track because many visitors could be wandering around without ever participating in activities. Special events draw even more people.

“Last weekend, when we had a major concert festival, we estimated that there was close to 1,000 people,” Seely said. “I would say when we’re open here Friday, Saturday and Sunday we get a couple hundred or so a day.

“Ever since we started opening on weekends, it has been successful. We’re just about refinement and growing the activities that we have to offer.”

While the resort is not technically open the rest of the week, it is available for private gatherings.

“We can offer services on the other days for private groups,” Seely said. “If there are corporate retreats, weddings, anything where a large organization wants to come and enjoy the Spring Mountains, we’re willing to accommodate them.”

Lee Canyon plans to become a bigger wedding venue. The current pavilion can accommodate a wedding of up to 120 guests, plus there is an aspen grove nearby that makes for what Seely called a “not-so-typical Vegas wedding.” Plans call for a new building on the site of the current pavilion to allow for more separation between weddings and other visitors.

Other planned events include a Twilight Dinner and a wine-and-painting event. Some special events coincide with regular operating hours, including one aimed specifically at young people ages 6 to 14.

“We’re going to have a Youth Adventure Day, open to the public, on July 20,” Seely said. “Basically it’s a day for kids to come out and try all of the different things we have to offer as far as activities, but more important, to engage in nature, to become a lifelong activist for outdoor recreation.

“Kids can come up here for a full day, 9 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon, and try archery, try disc golf, hike on a nature trail, and just learn what it takes to live with nature with a philosophy of leave no trace and really respect nature.”

Seely sees Lee Canyon as a piece of a larger area well worth exploring, and he sees Youth Adventure Day as a way to whet young appetites for more rigorous adventures in the region.

“Hopefully that sparks an interest in the Spring Mountains and all the trails the Spring Mountains have to offer,” he said. “The more I learn about the Spring Mountains, the more I find out how much of an island in the sky it is.”

While that kind of feeling appeals to both area residents and tourists, Seely said Lee Canyon draws more tourists for ski season than for summer weekends.

“During the summertime, it’s mostly locals, but there is still a pretty good handful of adventure-seekers from outside of Las Vegas that come here and want to see it all, see what the area has to offer outside the casinos,” he said. “We see a bigger percentage in the winter. Summertime is more about the escape for Las Vegans and Southern Nevadans, but there’s still a presence of tourists.”

Future plans will expand Lee Canyon’s winter offerings while simultaneously adding elements to the warm-weather experience.

“We’re working with the U.S. Forest Service as far as expansion,” said Seely, as the resort is in Spring Mountains National Recreation Area, which is part of Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. “We’re giving them everything they need to do the environmental impact statement. Eventually, that would mean 50 trails or so, two more chairlifts, mountain biking, and that would really turn us into a year-round resort.

“We’ll see if there are chances next summer for us to do some facilities improvements. That would include a new building with more bathrooms and more food and beverage.”

Lee Canyon is a 90-minute drive from Pahrump, something that has not prevented the resort from drawing workers from the town.

“In the past, we’ve had employees from Pahrump that would commute during our winter season when we flex up to almost 200 employees,” Seely said. The resort employs about 30 during the summer.

Seely said Lee Canyon advertises all of its activities on social media and on its website, leecanyonlv.com. Specific information can be obtained by emailing info@leecanyonlv.com, groupsales@leecanyonlv.com or weddings@leecanyonlv.com

Contact Sports Editor Tom Rysinski at trysinski@pvtimes.com On Twitter:@pvtimes

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