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Head for the hills: Our snow-day guide to Mount Charleston

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Photo: Christopher DeVargas

We all call that range of rock and snow to the northwest “Mount Charleston,” but that name only refers to one mountain among many. Together, Charleston and other peaks in the range, including La Madre and Rainbow mountains, make up the Spring Mountain National Recreation Area, which encompasses more than 316,000 acres and is the southernmost part of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, the nation’s largest outside of Alaska.

About 1.2 million people visit the SMNRA every year, many locals trekking to the mountains during summer months to take refuge from the Valley’s sweltering temperatures. But Charleston may be best enjoyed in the winter, when amenities come out of hibernation, slopes are open and the snow is falling. If you’ve never gone sledding or cuddled fireside in a private log cabin, consider this a guide to your upcoming snow day.

    • Have an adventure.

      With 30 groomed ski trails spread over 195 acres, a trip down Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort’s runs is a great way to take in the bristlecone-pine beauty of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

      LVSSR opened its slopes November 29, and the resort predicts adequate snowfall until April—plenty of time to plan a trip up (and down) the mountain. “We’re enjoying 45-degree weather up here … you can ski with a T-shirt on,” says LVSSR marketing director Maria Jose Norero. She adds that while January is typically a dry month for the mountain, February is usually good for snowfall.

      The resort’s three lifts and “magic carpet” take skiers and snowboarders up to 9,300 feet above sea level—Charleston’s peak is at 11,918 feet—and its longest run stretches 3,100 feet. Only ready for the bunny slope? LVSSR has you covered with group and private lessons, as well as a new complimentary coaching service available to season pass- and daily lift ticket-holders. Just look for staff in blue jackets on the bunny hill and get skiing or riding pointers to help you take advantage of everything the mountain has to offer.

      While backcountry skiing isn’t an option at LVSSR, the resort does offer skiers and snowboarders a couple of alternatives to its 30 maintained trails. Side-country skiing is allowed off the groomed runs in between the mountain’s towering trees, and skiers and snowboarders can access an additional 250 acres of “hike-to” terrain by scaling the mountain after jumping off the lift.

      If you’d rather explore at a slower pace, consider strapping on a pair of snowshoes. A partnership between the U.S. Forest Service, Great Basin Institute and Southern Nevada Conservancy offers guided snowshoe hikes every Saturday and Sunday throughout the winter, snow permitting. The $10 registration fee includes snowshoe equipment rental, as well as educational snippets about the Spring Mountains and snow survival courtesy of your trusty guide. Want to plan your own snowshoe expedition? Rentals are available at both the Green Valley and west-side REI locations starting at $14 ($10 for REI members).

      You’ll have earned a drink after all that exploring, and LVSSR just cut the ribbon on a new rooftop bar, Chair 4, this past Saturday. Just like “Hole 19” at the golf course, skiers and snowboarders can saddle up to a bar stool—in this case, a refurbished lift chair—and take a load off after hitting the slopes. Beers, shots and burgers—with mountain-inspired names like the Yeti Burger—make up the menu, so arrive with an appetite. That shouldn’t be too difficult after a few runs down the mountain (and a couple shots of Fireball). Did we mention the Sunday Bloody Mary bar?

    • Get romantic.

      Mount Charleston’s winterscape looks just as gorgeous through the window of a log cabin—and Mount Charleston Lodge has 23 of them ready to host your next weekend getaway.

      Equipped with jetted tubs, gas fireplaces and private balconies with postcard-worthy views, the cabins are an ideal escape from mega-resort monotony. Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, so consider spending it at the mountain, curled up by the fire, making hot chocolate and … playing Scrabble!

      Cabins range from 480-768 square feet, and each includes a microwave, television and DVD player. Some also feature dining room sets, sitting areas and breakfast bars, and pet-friendly cabins are available. The Lodge also offers guests the option of having roses placed in their cabins before check-in. If you’re not trying to seduce your sweetheart, double cabins, sofa sleepers and twin day beds with trundles are also available.

      And should you get cabin fever, you’re perfectly situated: The Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort lies just a half-hour around the mountain, while the Resort on Mount Charleston is just a 10-minute drive down the street.

    • Bring the family.

      If you’ve never built a snowman or flopped down in powder to make a snow angel, now is the time. According to the Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort, Mount Charleston gets an average of 240 inches of snow each winter, and it’s just begging to be played with.

      The best place to do that is Lee Canyon (Highway 156). Looking for a sled-friendly hill? The Foxtail Picnic Area would be your best bet, but that location is currently closed. While it’s not an officially established sledding area, Lee Meadows is a popular destination for some wintry fun. Bring your own sled (in a pinch, a plastic trash can lid or inner tube will do) and make sure there’s at least 12 inches of white stuff before you go, so rocks and tree stumps don’t ruin your day.

      The Ski and Snowboard Resort is also a great day trip option for families. Private lessons for up to four people are offered in 2- and 6-hour increments, so you can hit the slopes as a family, and ongoing kids classes called the Mountaineers (ages 4-6) and Freeride (ages 7 and up) take place every Saturday throughout the winter. Session Two begins in February.

    • Simply escape.

      Heading for the hills doesn’t have to mean roughing it. As the Resort on Mount Charleston’s website says, “Get ready to relax, because these ain’t no cabins!”

      Rooms at the Resort come with HBO access, free Wi-Fi, iPod docking stations, flat-screen TVs, pillow-top mattresses and, perhaps most importantly, easy access to the bar for a hot toddy and a round of billiards. Pet-friendly rooms are available, and if you’re hitting the slopes or working other moves, the resort offers both ski and stay and romance packages, with the latter including chocolate-covered strawberries and a bottle of Champagne upon arrival.

    • Resource guide

      How to get there

      Take 95 North and turn left onto Kyle Canyon Road (Rt. 157) or Lee Canyon Road (Rt. 156), depending on your destination. From Vegas, the trip should take under an hour, but check road conditions before you go.

      Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort

      6725 Lee Canyon Road, 385-2754; snow phone, 593-9500; skilasvegas.com. Lift tickets start at $53 for adults.

      Snowshoe hikes

      Saturday & Sunday, hikes last approximately 1.5 hours, $10. Register at gomtcharleston.com.

      Mount Charleston Lodge

      5375 Kyle Canyon Road, 872-5408, mtcharlestonlodge.com. Cabins from $108.

      Resort on Mount Charleston

      2755 Kyle Canyon Road, 872-5500, mtcharlestonresort.com. Rooms from $67.

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