Editor’s note: With no snowfall in Flagstaff yet this winter, the Daily Sun surveyed a range of snow-related businesses and others on how the season was going so far.
Ash Patel, who owns three hotels in the city, said the industry has suffered this season from a lack of snow.
“Normally the weekend of Christmas to New Year’s is a very high impact week,” Patel said in an email, and visitors come from the Phoenix area, but also Las Vegas, other Arizona cities like Kingman, Tucson and Yuma and internationally from Mexico.
“In essence we get traffic from all over,” he said. “This year unfortunately the traffic has not been good and we at our hotels are down by 20 to 25 percent. Rates are also much lower as demand is slower.”
Patel, who has been in the hotel business in Flagstaff since 1991, said the decrease is “totally due to no snow.”
“Now come the worries of a dry winter and summer fires,” he said. “They all hurt our hospitality business. We should already be thinking about that.”
WINTER GEAR A TOUGH SELL
Dave Barnett with Aspen Sports had just one thing to say about the warm winter.
"In general it’s killing us. We need some snow,” Barnett said.
With dry terrain, trail running shoes and hiking boots have been particularly strong sellers at Peace Surplus this winter, Brad Shorb, the store’s director of operations, said last week.
Winter-oriented items like ski socks, goggles, helmets and beanies are “still doing okay,” but the store has done a couple of sales it normally wouldn't be doing in December to try to get those items moving off the shelves, Shorb said.
“It hasn’t been as bad as we thought it was going to be,” he said.
Other categories are taking a bigger hit though. The store isn’t moving any sleds and snowboots are selling slowly, Shorb said.
Ski and snowboard rentals are suffering as well.
On Dec. 19, Shorb said Peace Surplus had rented out 128 pairs of skis so far this winter season. Last year on the same date the store had rented out 582 pairs of skis.
Ski Haus has seen a similar drop in ski and snowboard rentals, owner Josh Bangle said.
Sales of skis, bindings, boots and snowboards are still about on par with last year though, Bangle said. He attributed that to the fact that the store provides a sales service people can’t get on the Internet.
Bangle drew a direct line between Snowbowl’s snowmaking and the viability of his business.
“If Snowbowl didn't offer snowmaking they would not be open and there is a very good chance I would not be open,” Bangle said.
Still, artificial snow can’t make up for the piles of powder that Mother Nature brought last year during the holidays and his staffing reflects that, Bangle said.
Last year he had 27 part-time and full-time employees and right now he has five.
“It’s hurting everybody,” he said.
SLOW AT RESTAURANTS, BARS
Restaurant and bar owners said that the lack of snow has brought about a slow holiday season, but business has still been pretty consistent.
Lumberyard Brewing Company on San Francisco Street did not seem to be affected by the general dearth of tourists, as customers waited for their tables and sipped their beers on the outside patio during a day that saw temperatures reach the low 60s.
However, the brewpub’s manager, Kelly Hanseth, said business had been slower due to the absence of snow.
“Business has been steady because the town is still active with tourists but we have seen fewer people,” Hanseth said. “We usually have a lot of snowplayers this time of year and no snow means no snowplay.”
Rendezvous bartender Tyler Jones also said business was good but unseasonably slow.
“Usually we have a lot of tourists coming in during the winter but this year has been a slow holiday,” Jones said. “Seeing the snow in Flagstaff during the holidays is a tradition for a lot of tourists from Phoenix and it is cool enough down there that you don’t need to come up here unless it is snowing.”
FEWER SNOWBLOWERS SOLD
Local collision shops said they haven’t seen too much of a drop in repair orders due to the dry weather.
Karoline Waniolek from Latham’s Collision Specialists said business was slow, but that wasn’t too unusual.
“It usually slows down around the holidays,” she said.
Tony Valencia from Route 66 Auto Body said he noticed “a little bit of a drop in business, but it’s not too bad.”
At HomCo Lumber & Hardware, Dan Simpson, who manages the plumbing and electrical department, said sales of snowblowers, shovels and other cold weather gear has dipped. He estimated that the store sold about 50 snowblowers at the beginning of the winter season but very few since. They did sell a few shovels after the dusting of snow Flagstaff got last week.
However, customers are taking advantage of the dry weather to make last-minute repairs in and outside of the home.
“I’ve had a lot of people coming in looking for items to repair irrigation systems and hose bibs,” he said.
SNOWBOWL SLOWER, TOO
It has been thanks entirely to manmade snow that Arizona Snowbowl has 10 runs and four lifts open this holiday season, General Manager J.R. Murray said. Crews have been making snow every night since about mid-November and have built up an 18-inch base that so far is holding well, Murray said.
Since Friday, the mountain has seen just under 2,000 skiers a day, Murray said. That’s down from last year when Murray reported that about 2,800 skiers visited the mountain each day between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The busiest day of that holiday season was Dec. 29, when 4,000 skiers and snowboarders hit the slopes, according to last year’s reports.
Parking lots aren’t even close to capacity this year and there haven’t been any major traffic backups that jammed roads last year at this time, Murray said.
Snowbowl is turning around about 100 people a day who are coming to the mountain seeking snowplay opportunities, he said.
NO SNOWMAKING AT TUTHILL
Despite the bare ground around the city, Flagstaff Snow Park owner Jonathan Allen said he, too, has been getting lots of interest in snowplay opportunities. Allen said he gets 10 to 15 emails a day from people asking about opening day for the tubing runs at Fort Tuthill County Park.
Without snowmaking capabilities, Allen said Flagstaff Snow Park has to wait for natural winter precipitation to fall. Staff have already prepped the ground for the season and if the area gets enough snow anytime before mid-February, Allen said they plan to open.
Allen did make a presentation to the Coconino County Board of Supervisors in the fall about the possibility of installing snowmaking at Flagstaff Snow Park.
This season’s weather emphasizes the need and potential benefit from snowmaking, he said. There have been plenty of recent nights that were cold enough to make snow and based on his estimates the snowplay area could have been open by Dec. 15 if it had been able to do so, Allen said.
No snow means no cross country skiing at the Arizona Nordic Village, but the area’s trails are open to hiking and biking, manager Wendell Johnson said. Business is certainly slower than it would be if there was snow on the ground, but Johnson said there are still some groups renting out cabins and yurts on the property.
3,000 SKATERS DOWNTOWN
A lack of snow hasn’t dampened operations at Flagstaff’s newest winter recreation opportunity, a synthetic skating rink at the Flagstaff Visitor Center downtown.
The rink has seen about 3,000 skaters since it opened Dec. 9, according to the Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau. The rink, which is operated by the nonprofit Shadows Foundation, has been hitting its 25-person capacity on weekends and has had to create waiting lists, CVB spokeswoman Meg Roederer wrote in an email.
Vicki Burton-Taunton, director of the Shadows Foundation, estimated that 60 percent of those visiting the rink are out-of-town visitors. Skaters seem to be enjoying the nice weather, Burton-Taunton wrote in an email.
Convention and Visitors Bureau spokeswoman Meg Roederer said events and activities in the city have been popular this winter.
“All indications continue to support strong tourism as Flagstaff is a destination for all seasons with or without snow,” Roederer said in an email. “Flagstaff events, activities, attractions, dining and lodging are extremely busy. We encourage visitors to book hotel reservations and visit Flagstaff. Attractions such as the North Pole Experience, Great Pinecone Drop, Skate at the Station and the Arizona Snowbowl bring people to the northland for unique and fun experiences.”
Roederer said it is too soon to report a decline or increase in December’s sales tax numbers, lodging occupancy and the average daily hotel room rate, but reports are in progress.
The Convention and Visitors Bureau partnered with Northern Arizona University in September to survey visitors over a 12-month period to generate data that can be used to compare visitor and spending totals and trends for seasons with heavy, moderate or light snowfall, Roederer said.