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Nightlife

Getting to the bottom of Mt. Charleston—drink in hand

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I wanted to be one of the ski people. But they belong to a club I’m afraid to join: the club of like-minded people who go really fast down tall things with slippery shoes.”
Photo: Beverly Poppe

There’s only one thing I dread more than lost love, and that’s skiing. So when the cute owner of my rock-climbing gym offered to ease my sorrows by teaching me to snowboard (“I’ll ski backwards and hold your hands down the mountain”), I was undecided. But when he mentioned the bar in the ski lodge, I was convinced.

But then I slept late. And I gloriously missed the skiing part of the ski resort. Or at least, that was my excuse, and a flimsy one at that. I arrived at the Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort on Mount Charleston around 11 a.m. on a Wednesday and saw a mountain of skiers. It was a winter wonderland, like a snow globe of Colorado in Nevada. I crunched through the snow to the bar, which is on the second story of the lodge and built into the side of the mountain so mountaineers could ski up to it.

Bar Guide

The bar at Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort
6725 Lee Canyon Road.

Despite the complete lack of cell-phone reception and the overwhelming presence of ski outfits as revealing as burkas, I ran into my friends on the bar patio. My would-be ski instructor pulled a couple of Busch Light cans out of his backpack, with the warning that they might be shaken up. We sipped them on picnic benches as it snowed. I tried to “be cool” and “hang with the crew,” but it was so cold that the life was seeping out of my body. First my fingers, then my toes ... and then the cold moved up my jeans to my thighs. Snow was frosting my hair blonde. Yet I kept mum, because the experience was so novel. Sitting on the benches outside the lodge felt like sitting on the beach, staring out at the ocean. Furthermore, I experienced an interesting phenomenon: The beer was making my hands cold, instead of my hands making the beer warm. We decided to invent a “hand koozie” to solve this problem, which would really just be cleverly marketed gloves.

When my friends returned to the slopes, I was suddenly very aware that I was the only person wearing jeans. I ducked into the “Bristlecone Bar” alone, grateful for their fireplace (decked with drying ski gloves). But the out-of-place feeling became a distant memory after a few sips of the $6 hot chocolate with whipped cream, sprinkles and a shot of Jack. And a magic card trick courtesy of bartender Bam Bam. (You can take the bar out of Vegas, but you can’t take the Vegas out of the bar.)

The cold stayed in my toes, but everything else was warm. This little log- cabin bar radiated a cozy happiness foreign to Las Vegas. I wanted to be one of the ski people. But they belong to a club I’m afraid to join: the club of like-minded people who go really fast down tall things with slippery shoes. I can hang at the bar at the bottom of the mountain as long as I want, but without that key element, I can never truly fit in. Nonetheless, they are a welcoming and easy-going bunch of all ages, and they seemed happy to have me as their guest ... and eager to initiate me to the slopes.

“Any good stories yet?” Asked a kindly older man with a ruddy ski-goggle tan. “Why don’t we put some skis on you and take you up the slope and then you’ll have something good to write about.” I’d found the instant cure for writer’s block.

I’ve seen this mountain on the horizon my entire tenure in Vegas, yet I’ve never seen it up close. I sat back in the fast-food-style bar seating and enjoyed a Vegas bar rarity: largepanorama windows revealing a Christmas-card ski-slope tableau.

By this point, I’d eaten all the whipped cream and sprinkles, and a potent sludge of electric chocolate was left at the bottom of my cup. I was feeling a little too warm, so I took a break on the drinking and went to watch Bam Bam do another card trick. This time he had gathered an audience of gregarious stoners.

All in all, a fabulous day, but I leave you with an important warning: The snow thing is no joke. The signs that warned, “Turn back ye who enter without tire chains” baffled me; the road was sunny and dry. But on my way down, the roads were covered and I nearly lost control of my car. The sobering effect of Bam Bam’s magic trick might have saved my life.

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