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Businesses Weigh In on Snowmaking

It is high time to get snowmaking underway at Arizona Snowbowl near Flagstaff. That’s the opinion of 20-year Flagstaff resident, Allan Wolfenberger. As manager for Flagstaff Quickstop, he sells supplies to customers on their way to the slopes.

“I think that snowmaking would make local business income more consistent, as op- posed to the up and down depending on snowfall,” said Wolfenberger. “Five or six years ago, they had 40 feet up there and 182,000 visitors with 139 days of consecutive operation. The next year, they didn’t even have 40 days of operation. That hurts,” he added, listing off businesses affected by fewer winter visitors.

Aspen Sports General Manager Dave Barnett thinks snowmaking would increase business at his downtown shop, which caters to skiers and snowboarders. Denny’s Restaurant on South Milton Road would see more patrons, too, says manager Eduardo Mevina. Although the restaurant sees more families in Flagstaff for sledding opportunities, Mevina says they serve plenty of skiers, too.

The controversy over snowmaking on the San Francisco Peaks recently took center stage again. The Flagstaff City Council considered selling potable water to the Flagstaff area ski resort, a plan that might have been subsidized by the United States Department of Agriculture. An agreement to sell reclaimed water for snowmaking already exists between the city and Arizona Snowbowl. A pending lawsuit challenges the safety of using reclaimed water to make snow. Last month, the Council voted against amending the agreement, after many hours of listening to public debate on the issue of snowmaking.

Several Native American tribes consider the peaks sacred and have blocked Arizona Snowbowl’s expansion plans through lawsuits. The U.S. Supreme Court issued a vic- tory to the resort last year when it refused to hear an appeal, granting a green light for snowmaking. However, a subsequent lawsuit is awaiting a judge’s ruling in federal district court, with a decision expected before the end of the year.

If the ruling comes down in favor of Arizona Snowbowl, construction will begin this spring on a 14-mile pipeline to transport re- claimed water up the mountain. Snowmaking would commence in about a year from now, guaranteeing the start of the season. Officials at the resort say the ability to make snow would ensure skiing during the most popular months: November, December and January.

Roger Pisacano is a proponent of snow- making with reclaimed water. He points to the high quality of water coming out of Flagstaff’s reclamation plant and thinks using it for snow is a good use during the winter months. As owner of Campus Coffee Bean, Pisacano believes a predictable ski season would be good for Flagstaff businesses and the overall economy. “If you’re a skier and you want to go on vacation, you’re going to book it at a place that has snow. When we’re having good [snow] years, there are a lot more people eating in restaurants and staying in hotels,” added Pisacano.

Fellow businessman Jim Babbitt is not so sure. He owns Babbitt’s Backcountry Outfitters downtown, and his family has owned Flagstaff businesses for 120 years. “I think there is a myth around Flagstaff that a big snowy winter is good for business. And I know that for a fact not to be true, at least in the downtown retail business,” said Babbitt.

He says BBB revenues (Flagstaff’s Bed, Board and Beverage tax) remain relatively steady year to year, despite fluctuations in snowfall. “I think it [snowmaking] would help Snowbowl itself. I just do not see the people that go on the mountain in the downtown and retail environment, other than a few restaurants, gas stations or a motel or two,” Babbitt added. He recognizes his thoughts on the topic run counter to commonly held opinions in the business community, but says they are based on his bottom line.

Arizona Snowbowl General Manager JR Murray hears that argument a lot, but counters, “When you take the tax collections of a dry winter, you will be able to add the impact of the skiers on top of that because with snowmaking, we will be open.”

A lot of numbers have been presented in the snowmaking discussion, with some of the most convincing from the U.S. Forest Service. Its Economic Impact Statement compares a do nothing option to a snow- making operation. Under the latter, the EIS reads, “At the end of the 10-year planning period, the proposed action (snowmak- ing) would generate a total of 332 additional FTEs (full time equivalent) and $17.23 million in additional economic output in Coconino County.” Combined with current spending by visitors to Snowbowl, the annual economic impact would be just under $24 million.

Murray says while that is impressive, he puts the amount closer to 50 million. “The 23.7 million is only visitor spending; that’s not our spending and our payroll. And the multiplier of the payroll in town,” said Murray.

“There would be 232 jobs created during construction,” he added, “with 332 jobs total employment.” Many of those jobs would be in the service sector.

The EIS goes on to detail how snowmaking would create a more economically viable business model for the ski resort long term. And with many drought years sprinkled throughout recent history, and more predicted, some people think a snow making option is essential for Arizona Snowbowl’s future. Of course, still others argue that development of the ski resort is not right for the region, even if it were to strengthen the local economy. FBN

Read part of the Forest Service Economic Impact Statement at www.fs.fed.us/r3/co- conino/nepa/2005/feis-snowbowl/vol1-feis- snowbowl/6c-snowbowl-chap-three-3.pdf.

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2 Responses to Businesses Weigh In on Snowmaking

  1. Rusty Huft May 21, 2011 at 12:00 AM #

    With the expansion of Snowbowl, I will ski there more. I have become reluctant to go there (I live in Tempe) because of poor lifts and crowded conditions. It gets expensive to travel to Purgatory for a weekend and will more likely stay instate for a 2 day trip.
    I also don’t want to ski Sunrise anymore because of their support to sue Snowbowl, it’s also falling apart and they don’t take care of the area like a real ski resort does. The Apache Indians just don’t care about grooming or having enough employees there on any given day.

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