Construction work is happening in all directions at the base of Arizona Snowbowl.
To the north of Hart Prairie Lodge, a new Hart Prairie Lift is going up.
To the east, it’s the construction of a new pedestrian overpass.
To the south, foundation is being laid for a temporary restaurant.
And to the west, a lower parking lot is taking shape that will serve a future snowplay area.
But eight days before the ski mountain’s previously announced opening date of Nov. 10, one crucial element is in short supply: snow.
The mountain has received only a few dustings of natural snow at the upper elevations and Snowbowl has only been able to make snow during four or five nights this fall, Snowbowl General Manager J.R. Murray said on Wednesday.
Right now, manmade snow covers about five of the 20 acres that need to be covered with the white stuff for skiers to make it down one run, Murray said.
That doesn’t mean Snowbowl still won’t open Nov. 10 with at least one run as originally planned, he said. If the resort gets four or five days that are cold and dry enough, the resort’s 40 snowguns could make enough snow to have one run skiable by next Friday, he said.
The goal is an 18-inch base, Murray said.
If the weather doesn’t cooperate, he said Snowbowl will aim to open Nov. 17 and the resort will likely make that call by Monday.
In the meantime, Snowbowl has its plate full with construction and improvement projects that began this summer.
The project that involves moving the most dirt is a pedestrian overpass that will connect Hart Prairie Lodge with the Sunset and Grand Canyon Express chairlifts. The road to Agassiz Lodge will go under the pedestrian walkway, removing the need for skiers and snowboarders use a crosswalk to get from lodge to lifts.
That project is slated to be finished by Thanksgiving or Dec. 1, Murray said. Until then, skiers will be rerouted around the construction zone to get to the Hart Prairie lodge or the open lower-mountain lifts.
Dirt excavated from the overpass is going to two other projects that are also underway. One is a 300-seat restaurant housed in a temporary vinyl-covered structure near Sunset Lift. The restaurant will have bathrooms and a patio and will put the mountain’s total dining capacity at 700 seats. Murray said Snowbowl may or may not turn the temporary structure into a permanent restaurant.
He called the current arrangement an emergency solution to address rising demand for dining and indoor seating that has outgrown Hart Prairie and Agassiz lodges. The restaurant will be open by Christmas, Murray said.
Downhill from Snowbowl’s base area and parking lots, the resort is constructing another parking lot meant to serve a future snowplay and tubing area that Murray said Snowbowl could begin working on this year.
The lot can have up to 400 spaces and, according to the Forest Service, is for exclusive use by tubing customers. Murray said he doesn’t know when the parking lot will be finished.
In a 2005 environmental analysis, the Forest Service approved the eventual construction of a tubing/snowplay area that covers up to eight acres with six to eight tubing lanes, up to four surface lifts and a capacity of approximately 600 snowplayers at a time. Murray said the tubing area will likely cover only four to five acres and will be served by conveyor belts to bring tubers back up the hill. It will have hours that are offset from the ski resort’s to control traffic flow, he said.
The tubing area is unlikely to open this winter considering the many other projects the resort is trying to complete before the end of the year, Murray said.
As part of a larger effort to improve offerings for beginner skiers and snowboarders, Snowbowl’s other major project involves installing a new lift that replaces the old double-seater Hart Prairie Chairlift. The new quad chairlift will feature a slow-moving loading conveyor and has three times the capacity of its predecessor. It will be finished within the next 10 days and open by Thanksgiving, Murray said.
It’s the third new lift the resort has installed in three consecutive years.
All of the projects underway at Snowbowl have been approved by the Forest Service in connection with an environmental impact analysis the agency completed in 2005 for Snowbowl’s future improvement and expansion plans.
In an effort to manage wintertime traffic this upcoming season, Snowbowl is planning to continue its partnership with NAIPTA to provide bus service to the mountain and will be promoting and incentivizing carpooling, Murray said. Snowbowl is also in the midst of hiring seasonal employees, with 300 hired and about 200 more to go, he said. It is holding a job fair this Friday for applicants.
Jobs are just one means by which Snowbowl provides a significant boost to the city of Flagstaff, said Stuart McDaniel, vice president of government affairs with the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce.
A recent survey showed the resort is responsible for about $36 million per year in jobs, taxes and tourism impacts, McDaniel said. It makes sense that number would increase if Snowbowl pushes its opening date earlier in the year, he said. Snowbowl itself is seeing positive numbers in season pass sales this year, which are up 25 percent over last year, Murray said.
And if looking ahead to the winter season isn’t enough, Murray said Snowbowl is beginning a planning process to provide lift-served mountain biking for seasons when snow isn’t on the ground.