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Predictions for the Winter Sport Season

Picture it: Furry forest creatures provisioning for the coming season; amassing stores of nuts and other morsels to ensure their winter feasts. According to Dave Smith, director of sales and marketing at Snowbowl of Arizona, the habits of forest fauna are one indicator of what we can expect for the coming snow season. “The animals have been stocking up,” he said. He says another good indicator is that “it’s been predicted that there will be a weak El Niño, which means an above average winter.” In the 2009-2010 season, snowfall at Snowbowl was 20 percent above average due to El Niño conditions. Smith said he’s expecting good snow again this year.

The El Niño Southern Oscillation, as it is officially known, has to do with the rise and fall of sea-surface temperatures over tropical areas of the Pacific Ocean. Cooler temperatures produce a mild winter. Waters warmer than average produce changes in storm patterns that translate into heavier than normal snowfalls. That is good news for all ski resorts if the predictions play out. According to some sources like AccuWeather.com, winter snowfalls around the United States could be substantial this year. However, meterologist Robert Rickey of the National Weather Service Office in Flagstaff isn’t so sure. “The latest forecast from the Climate Prediction Center is that the El Niño is about normal,” he said. “We aren’t predicting copious amounts of snow for this season.”

Just in case Mother Nature and El Niño don’t cooperate, the Snowbowl has a back up. With recent approval of snowmaking by the City of Flagstaff, the resort is assured of a predictable winter season for this year and many more to come. According to Julie Pastrick, president and CEO of the Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce, the economic impact of a predictable ski season has a widespread impact. “Not only does it provide jobs year round,” she said, “it means that people can plan their winter trips reliably. It used to be that people had to call to find out if there was going to be enough snow, so you couldn’t plan that far ahead.” According to Pastrick, this had a negative effect on local tourism. She said Flagstaff will benefit from “consistency of economic impact.”

The Arizona Snowbowl has more than just snow to look forward to this year as it celebrates its 75th anniversary. Underway are plans for a winter gala, a torchlight parade, and guest appearances by celebrities, as yet unnamed. “We’re still trying to nail that down,” said Smith. Arizona Snowbowl, which opened in 1938, is the oldest continuously operating ski resort in the United States, said Smith. As a comparison, Vail is only celebrating its 50th anniversary.

“We’ve been making improvements in snow making since 1980,” said Smith, adding that “snow making has been used in resorts all over the world.” The advantage is not just predictability, but also consistent coverage of the ski terrain. Smith sees Snowbowl as a family destination. “Parents can put their children in ski school in the morning and pick them up to have lunch together and then take their children back to ski school later in the day.” Located only seven miles outside of Flagstaff, the resort provides an opportunity for families to “get out of town and into the woods for something different,” he said.

In addition to the anniversary festivities, Arizona Snowbowl is making other ongoing improvements, such as the purchase of a new Snowcat to enhance overall grooming of ski jumps, and new features in order to keep the slopes built up and fresh. They have also replaced their entire fleet of rental snowboards and helmets to improve safety, which, according to Smith, “is our number one priority on the slopes.”

Season passes for Snowbowl go on sale Oct. 10 through Oct. 14 at the Drury Inn and Suites in Flagstaff. They are a real bargain, according to Smith. “You can save up to $250 by buying the season pass,” he said. Other advantages include bypassing the ticket line so you can go directly to the lifts, and enjoying discounts at partner resorts like Sipapu in New Mexico, Telluride in Durango and Wolf Creek in Colorado. Regardless of the weather patterns, Snowbowl is likely to have a big year. FBN



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