The Kaibab National Forest recently announced a permit for the owners of Arizona Snowbowl to manage the Elk Ridge Ski Area on Bill Williams Mountain near the City of Williams.
Mountain Capital Partners (MCP) owns Snowbowl, eight additional ski resorts and one mountain bike park across the Southwest. The Elk Ridge Ski Area is located south of Williams and has a long history of use since the late 1940s. MCP asked for the 20-year permit after recently purchasing the ski area from Fountain Outdoor Recreation in 2017, according to Jacqueline Banks, spokeswoman for the Kaibab National Forest.
Stacey Glaser, spokeswoman for MCP, said their company was excited to hear the 67-acre permit was issued after the environmental assessment.
“We’re looking for this to be another great option for people in Arizona to enjoy snow,” Glaser said. “Like I said, the diversity available at Elk Ridge is fantastic. It could attract a wide variety of guests: everyone from those looking to ski and snowboard or those looking to touch snow for the first time.”
The permit allows them to open the current facility, but Glaser said there is no expected date to reopen at this time. Glaser said the company wants to improve the ski area by removing existing surface lifts, make lodge improvements and upgrade trails.
“If there was a foot of snow on the ground in Williams, with its current infrastructure, we wouldn’t be able to open today,” Glaser said.
Also, MCP is currently limited in the scope of what they can do with the ski area. Snowmaking, expansion and new construction has not been permitted at this time. The recently issued permit only allows for site maintenance, cleanup and repair as well as replacing inoperable and outdated equipment that no longer meets current safety standards.
The permit currently authorizes use of the ski area for winter and summer months. The ski area is built to provide downhill skiing and tubing for up to 310 people at a time — 250 skiers and 60 snowplay guests — and annual visitation averaging 3,400. The parking lot has enough space for 170 vehicles, eight cleared ski and tubing runs, and a more than 5,000-square-foot floor plan for their ski lodge.
Tribal entities objected to the permit, despite the Kaibab National Forest ruling that issuing the permit would not create any new harm to tribal interests that has not already been created.
Kaibab authorities also found that the current Elk Ridge Ski Area overlaps with federally protected Mexican spotted owl nesting sites. The Kaibab, however, ruled the overlap was only a small portion of the total 700 acres of suitable nesting area.
The ski area was once an important asset to Williams’ economy when it was in operation, according to the Kaibab. In the 1940s, the ski area had 12 acres of trails, a poma lift with 340 feet of vertical rise, a rope tow and rudimentary base lodge facilities to host up to 100 skiers at a time.
The ski area was expanded to 67 acres in 1985. In 1999, plans to expand the ski area based on a City of Williams consulting firm were abandoned.
MCP submitted an application for a special-use permit and purchased the ski area from the previous owners in 2017.
The City of Williams has continued to show its support for the ski area’s future endeavors. In February 2019, the city submitted a letter to the general manager of Arizona Snowbowl signed by the mayor and city council saying it could provide 30,000 gallons of water per week to the ski area “during peak operations, and as improvements and visitation increases.”
Glaser said the water is a continued agreement with the previous owners to provide water for cooking and restrooms.
MCP is working on multiple projects between Elk Ridge and Snowbowl. Arizona Snowbowl is currently working on its new Agassiz Lift, and has indicated it plans to file another master development plan that would sketch out development projects for the next 20 years.
Glaser indicated that the new development plan would likely be submitted some time after Agassiz Lift construction is complete. The lift will both include an eight-person gondola and a six-person chairlift. Snowbowl broke ground on the project in early June.
Snowbowl will open Friday for the summer season after being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Get local news delivered to your inbox!
Subscribe to our Daily Headlines newsletter.