Tropical Storm Hilary Wreck Havoc at Lee Canyon Ski Resort in Nevada

by Simon Naylor | Published: August 30th, 2023 |  Ski News

Lee Canyon Ski Resort, located just 35 miles outside of Las Vegas, Nevada, suffered extensive damage last week due to heavy rainfall from remnants of Tropical Storm Hilary.

The storm dumped up to 10 inches of rain on the Spring Mountains over the weekend of August 19-20, causing flash flooding, landslides, and erosion that have closed the ski area and surrounding recreation areas indefinitely.

Damaged Lee Canyon

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Closures and Damages

On August 24, Lee Canyon announced the early end to its summer mountain biking season due to the storm damage. The US Forest Service has closed all roads, trails, and recreation areas in the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area until at least October 1 for assessment and cleanup. Photos released by Lee Canyon show mud and boulders piled high against chairlifts at the base area, with debris reaching lift bullwheels and hold-down assemblies.

A massive landslide tore down the adjacent 11,289-foot Lee Peak, opening ski runs and pushing rocks and logs across the base area. Aerial photos reveal downed trees, exposed pipes, and extensive erosion. Nearby Mount Charleston also experienced multi-day power outages from the flooding.

Preparing for Winter

Lee Canyon staff cannot fully assess the damage until the Forest Service reopens the mountain. General manager Dan Hooper said the storm left "significant damage" but that the resort aims "to ensure public safety" during cleanup. There is no timeline yet for reopening, but Hooper said preparations are underway for the 2023-24 winter ski season as planned.

"Our commitment to the Ponderosa chair lift expansion project remains unwavering," said Hooper, referencing the resort's recent $7 million investment. The new Ponderosa lift was set to open this winter.

About Lee Canyon

Lee Canyon Ski Resort offers four chairlifts, 30 trails, and a 300-acre snow play area just outside Las Vegas. It averages over 200 inches of dry snow annually. The closest skiing option to Las Vegas, it serves over 125,000 visitors each winter.

The resort recently expanded its summer recreation offerings like mountain biking and hiking. Its trails connect to the vast Spring Mountains trail network overseen by the Forest Service. The storms dumped nearly ten inches of rain in just a few days, causing the extreme damage.

Tropical Storm Hilary

Hilary formed as a tropical storm off the Pacific coast of Mexico in late July. It brought high winds, storm surge, and flooding rains to southwest Mexico before weakening over colder ocean waters. Remnants of the moisture reached the U.S. Southwest, causing an unexpected major rain event.

The torrential rains closed Death Valley National Park in California and flooded communities around Las Vegas. The Spring Mountains recorded 9-10 inches of rain, which caused the extensive flooding and landslides around Lee Canyon based on its steep terrain.

Looking Ahead

man skiing

Lee Canyon staff said its summer mountain operations are closed for the season. But it plans to be open for winter, as usual, pending assessment and repairs. The resort expressed gratitude for the community's patience and support.

"This was an exceptional storm event that caused significant damage," said marketing director Jim Seely. "Our team and community stand ready to overcome this setback."

Key Takeaways

  • Tropical Storm Hilary brought heavy rains that caused flooding and landslides in the Spring Mountains near Las Vegas.
  • Lee Canyon Ski Resort at Mount Charleston saw extensive damage from the storms.
  • Mud and debris buried chairlifts damaged infrastructure, and led to the early closure of summer operations.
  • The US Forest Service closed the Spring Mountains recreation area for assessment and repairs until at least October.
  • Lee Canyon aims to open for winter ski season as planned once the damage is repaired.