A landslide buries two chairlifts at a ski resort in Nevada.
The Sherwood and Bluebird lifts are buried by debris. (Photo: Lee Canyon Ski Resort)

This Nevada Ski Resort Got Walloped by Tropical Storm Hilary

The cyclone drenched Nevada’s Spring Mountains, causing flash floods, landslides, and heavy erosion. Now, recreation areas and ski resorts are closed.

Rocks are piled high against a chairlift after a catastrophic landslide in Nevada
Lee Canyon Ski Resort

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

You’re looking at the Sherwood chairlift at the main base area of Lee Canyon, a small ski resort located about 35 miles outside Las Vegas, Nevada. What a mess, right? Stones and mud are piled high enough to reach the machine’s drive bullwheel—the apparatus that powers the lift. At the adjacent lift, Bluebird, the debris pile touches the hold-down assembly—the series of wheels and sheaves that the chair rolls over before proceeding uphill. Nobody will be riding these lifts for a while.

This past winter’s epic powder dumps in Utah and California made skiers like myself accustomed to seeing those glee-inducing photos of chairlifts disappearing into chest-high snowdrifts. The images of Lee Canyon’s lifts buried by mud and rock hit a little different, right? It’s a macabre reminder of nature’s destructive power.

Rocks are piled high against a chairlift after a catastrophic landslide in Nevada
Another angle of the landslide that buried Lee Canyon’s base area. (Photo: Lee Canyon Resort)

The rock pile is from a massive landslide that ripped down the adjacent 11,289-foot Lee Peak over the weekend of August 19-20. The avalanche of rock and mud tore open some of Lee Canyon’s ski slopes and pushed boulders up against the towers of its lifts. Aerial images of the slide I saw on social media show exposed water pipes jutting from a rift in one run. Another image shows tree trunks scattered around the base like Lincoln Logs.

Lee Canyon and the greater Spring Mountains area was struck by remnants of Tropical Storm Hilary—the same storm that closed Death Valley National Park and other public lands, and drenched much of Southern California. The storm dropped an estimated ten inches of rain in the mountains surrounding Lee Canyon, causing flash flooding and landslides. Parts of the Mount Charleston area went days without electricity. Some of the roads and recreation areas are closed through October 1 due to the cleanup.

How long will it take to remove the rocks and mud from below Lee Canyon’s chairlifts? The resort has yet to announce a timeline for the cleanup, but the U.S. Forest Service has closed the surrounding Spring Mountains National Recreation Area indefinitely. A few days after the storm hit, the resort posted a short message on Instagram saying that it had officially ended its summer mountain biking season early. Then, on Thursday, August 24, the resort released images showing the catastrophic damage. In a statement, resort management said it still planned to be open for the 2023-24 ski season. But for the near future, all terrain, lifts, and infrastructure will remain closed.

“This was an extraordinary storm event, which has left significant damage to Lee Canyon and the Spring Mountains,” said Dan Hooper, Lee Canyon’s general manager in a statement. “Our goal is to ensure public safety. When the U.S. Forest Service deems it safe, Lee Canyon’s teams will begin restoring affected areas.”

We wish them luck, and hopd to one day see photos of the Sherwood and Bluebird lifts covered in snow.

Lead Photo: Lee Canyon Ski Resort