Snowmaking using potable water could bring a more consistent option for snowplay south of the city, the owner of the Flagstaff Snow Park at Fort Tuthill told the Coconino County Board of Supervisors Tuesday afternoon.
At the board’s work session, Flagstaff Snow Park Owner Jonathan Allen presented several options he had considered for extending the snow park’s operating season, which included relocating natural snow from in the city or from the airport, using synthetic snow or several options for snowmaking.
In the park’s first operational season, the park was open for 26 days and had 19,047 customers, Allen said. He estimated the park kept about 6,500 vehicles off the Highway 180 corridor and 5,000 plastic sleds out of the landfill. However, with snowmaking, the park could be open for a 60-day season and could serve an estimated 60,000 visitors, he said.
This coming winter will see more pressure on snowplay outside the Highway 180 corridor as Wing Mountain will be closed.
The county receives a share of the revenue generated from the park, which could increase to $28,000 from last year’s $7,355 with a 60-day operating season, Allen said in his presentation.
Allen said last year the snow park tried hauling snow to the park from inside the city, but the snow was too dirty to use on any of the runs after being loaded and unloaded. Hauling from the airport was another option he said he considered, but the airport uses de-icing chemicals on the runways that could make snow melt faster and could be dangerous if children were to eat the snow.
Hauling potable water from a private source and hauling reclaimed water from the city were also considered, Allen said. However, he said the number of vehicle trips the hauling would require, the road repairs needed to make hauling possible, the necessary storage capacity and the required increase in ticket price costs could make hauling water a less desirable option.
In order to supply the park with potable water for snowmaking, 520 feet of outdated water line would need to be replaced, and 1,550 feet of new water line would need to be added, Allen said. Electrical service would also have to be extended to serve the area.
The added utility service would also reach the campground at Fort Tuthill, Allen said, so the improvements could be used throughout the year.
In a “worst-case" scenario where the park received no natural snow for the season, Allen said the park would require about 1 million gallons of water, which would create 22 inches of snow on all of the runs. Allen said that is the equivalent of about 12 single family homes’ water usage in a year.
In 2015, the Dew Downtown event used 470,000 gallons of potable water to create snow and build a ski course in downtown Flagstaff.
Supervisor Matt Ryan said in order to calm traffic congestion along Highway 180 there needs to be multiple snowplay areas around the city. Ryan said he would like to see Allen consider having the park recycle its own water on site to lower demand for more potable water.
Supervisor Art Babbott, whose district includes the Highway 180 corridor, said he would prefer for the park to use reclaimed wastewater for snowmaking, but he understood that the cost may be prohibitive. Babbott has held several meetings in the last year looking for solutions to snowplay gridlock north of the city. He said he would be open-minded about snowmaking options, including using potable water.
The city of Flagstaff's annual use of potable water is about 3 billion gallons.
Having a consistent season would allow Allen to schedule his employees for work more than a couple days in advance, which he said was one of the major inconveniences during last year’s season. People coming to Flagstaff from out of town would also be able to plan their trips to the snow park in advance.
In July, the Forest Service announced the concessionaire for Wing Mountain, one of the most popular snowplay areas, decided to discontinue its operations there. Wing Mountain, which is on the Highway 180 corridor, will not open this winter and parking will not be allowed there or on the forest road that accesses it, the Forest Service said in July.
The supervisors will discuss snowmaking at the Flagstaff Snow Park and the county’s plan for snowplay at Fort Tuthill at another upcoming work session.