For Aspen Sports Owner Jerry McLaughlin, selling outdoor sports equipment, for which much of it depends on a commodity that melts, is challenging. But this year, with Arizona Snowbowl’s ability to make snow, a projected opening day of Friday, Nov. 29, and the expectation of at least a four-month skiing and snowboarding season, McLaughlin says retail businesses like his should experience more stability.
“It’s a relief. We’ve definitely ramped up the inventory this year,” he said. “In 25 years of doing business, we’ve survived a four-day season, a two-week season, a lot of mediocre seasons and some really fantastic seasons, but it’s a tough game no matter how it’s played because, even in a good year, you just didn’t know what to expect. And we have to pre-purchase all of our winter product nine months prior to the season.”
Across the street, Mountain Sports Owner Mark Lamberson is looking forward to a fixed opening day for Snowbowl for the first time in the ski resort’s 75-year history.
“We think it will pay huge dividends for our business and the whole community,” said Lamberson. “This will change the way Flagstaff is viewed. The extended-day visitor was missing from our local winter tourism scene. Visitors from Phoenix and Tucson, many of whom have places here and stay for weeks at a time in the summer, can now make plans to go to Snowbowl, instead of Telluride or Purgatory. They can extend their stay in the winter now and know they’ll be skiing. In the past they couldn’t say that.”
Taking that message to outdoor sports enthusiasts throughout the region, and partnering with the ski resort, is the Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“With Arizona Snowbowl now planning their opening day in advance and with such an early start date for skiing due to snowmaking, visitors will be able to plan their ski trips further in advance and are guaranteed great days on the slopes no matter when they book,” said CVB Director Heidi Hansen.
To encourage more visitors to spend their winter getaways in Flagstaff, Snowbowl is offering group and corporate discounts. “We already see the confidence in people booking their trips well in advance, knowing that Arizona Snowbowl will be open,” said Resort Services Operations Director Ryan Hartl. “More staff members have been hired to coordinate the increased demand in group reservations so that we can provide personalized customer service.”
Snowbowl also is reaching out to the business community to encourage business owners to change up their day-to-day routine in the office and enjoy the benefits of being outdoors in the Alpine setting of the San Francisco Peaks.
“This year we are offering a 10-pack of lift tickets for $399, which is discounted from last year. Because skiing is a social activity, this is a great option for groups of people. A lift ticket also makes a great employee incentive or customer appreciation gift,” said Snowbowl spokesperson Ksenia Hartl. “It’s a ticket that takes you directly to the chairlift any day except Saturdays and holidays.”
In an effort to prepare the Phoenix market for the upcoming season, Snowbowl has teamed up with Mountainside Fitness with a special ski and snowboard get-fit class called “Black Diamond Body.” The Phoenix-area gym has various locations throughout the Valley and some 40,000 members.
In the meantime, the smell of hot wax fills the air at businesses such as Humphrey Summit Ski, where boards are being tuned and waxed. “We are fully underway,” said Humphrey Summit Manager Jake Snyder. “We have people already purchasing goods, bringing in equipment in preparation for the season, and parents getting lease packages for their kids. Historically the mountain is open by Christmas, but this could give us almost a month more.”
In addition to the snowmaking difference Flagstaff businesses anticipate this winter, Hansen says there are many factors contributing to predictions of a great winter tourism season in Flagstaff.
“The North Pole Experience was such a success last year that they have added additional reservations earlier in the day and have expanded by adding more hotel partners in the city,” she said. “The Flagstaff Nordic Center will add a rental fleet of 30 fat tire snow bikes this season, adding another activity and opportunity for visitors to enjoy their trail system.”
Hansen expects the BBB (Bed, Board and Booze) tax, which increased five percent this summer, will continue the trend through the winter.
“We’re excited,” said Lamberson. “We know snowmaking is going to make a difference. It all happens the day after Thanksgiving!” FBN
As hot wax is applied to skis and snowboards in anticipation of Arizona Snowbowl’s early season opening, Humphrey Summit Manager Jake Snyder says the ski shop is hoping snowmaking will benefit the community as a whole and have a positive impact on winter business.
Photo by Veronica Tierney Photography.