FLAGSTAFF — A northern Arizona ski resort wants to expand services with night skiing and tubing, new chairlifts and mountain biking trails, and a zip line.
Arizona Snowbowl mountain resort, operating on 777 acres of public land since 1938 under a U.S. Forest Service permit, is crafting its new Master Development Plan addressing improvements within the existing boundaries of the resort as required by the Special Use Permit issued by the Coconino National Forest. The current plan, which included snowmaking, was approved in 2005 and is near completion.
A third-party analysis completed by SE Group, a mountain resort consulting firm, determined the comfortable carrying capacity at Snowbowl is currently 3,870 visitors per day; however, guest services, dining expectations and parking facilities are deficient.
“It’s not uncommon for guests to experience long food lines, a lack of seating in the lodges and insufficient restrooms,” said General Manager J.R. Murray. “We, too, want our guests to go home with fond memories of their time on the mountain. In order to achieve this, we are planning for a capacity of 4,500 people to provide a great experience on even the busiest holidays.”
As a result, Mountain Capital Partners, the Snowbowl management group, is conceptualizing new facilities and infrastructure within the resort’s boundaries: increasing space for guest services (including food and beverage, ticketing, rentals, lessons, retail) on-mountain plus additional space within the base area, adding parking for cars and buses, and a small medical clinic in the winter.
Plans also include two new chairlifts serving beginner and intermediate skiers and five additional trails accessible to snowmaking operations.
To provide safe, managed snow play activities, Snowbowl has identified the opportunity to provide a winter tubing facility on its lower, western slope. In addition, the mountain resort will work with the Flagstaff Dark Skies Coalition to incorporate acceptable lighting fixtures for evening skiing on lower elevation slopes during weekends and holidays.
“By offering limited night skiing on 1% of the mountain’s skiable acreage, we’ll be able to provide additional outdoor recreation opportunities for local youth and groups,” said Murray. “This will also help to disperse crowds and traffic as skiers stay later on the mountain.”
The resort said tourism figures show adventure seekers are flocking to northern Arizona in record numbers searching for new outlets to satisfy their craving for four-season outdoor recreation.
“More than half of Snowbowl’s visitors come from the Phoenix area in search of snow play activities in the winter and opportunities to bike, climb and hike through the national forest in the summer and fall,” said Murray.
Nearly 60 percent of Arizona residents in the 1st Congressional District participate in outdoor recreation.
“Currently, the scenic chairlift operates from May to mid-October, which is very popular, and we’re seeing a positive response to the additional activities like summer tubing and a bungee trampoline that were added last year, but guests arrive expecting more. We have the ability to support healthy lifestyles by offering additional features that keep people outdoors and active, enjoying and appreciating all that the Coconino National Forest has to offer,” Murray said.
To accommodate the growing demand, U.S. Agriculture Undersecretary Jim Hubbard, whose responsibility includes the oversight of the Forest Service, calls mountain resorts “lifelong partnerships” in the effort to provide recreational opportunities. Activities now common at other mountain resorts and conceptualized at Snowbowl include: mountain biking, mountain coaster, alpine slide, zip-line tours, expanded disc golf, a climbing wall and outdoor concerts.
The Alliance Bank Economic Policy Institute, with the W.A. Franke College of Business at Northern Arizona University, recently published a report estimating Snowbowl’s direct economic contribution to the region at more than $58 million annually. That stems from expenditures for payroll, operations and capital projects and supports more than 700 jobs.
“This past season we introduced two Community Benefit Days, which benefited the Northland Family Help Center and the National Forest Foundation. Our total philanthropic efforts from the 2018-19 season generated approximately $93,000 for nonprofit organizations. We envision a future where our partnerships continue to flourish as Snowbowl is involved in more local efforts. We are excited about brainstorming further outreach possibilities,” said Murray.
Snowbowl’s future plans also include provisions for forest restoration projects, including fuel reduction.
The mountain resort expects to submit its list of proposed projects to the Forest Service this summer. The National Environmental Policy Act process, which includes public input, is anticipated to begin this fall when detailed project plans have been completed. The earliest implementation of the proposed projects would occur in 2021.