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Snowbowl Upgrades to Benefit Skiers and the Economy

As construction on upgrades continue at Arizona Snowbowl in preparation for the upcoming season, many people have been curious about what is underway on the mountain. In this Flagstaff Business News exclusive, the resort’s general manager, J.R. Murray, shared his enthusiasm about the improvements, which include infrastructure of snowmaking equipment.


FBN: How are the upgrades at Snowbowl going to improve what is offered to skiers?


Murray: Upgrades to the Arizona Snowbowl are based on design criteria that attempt to achieve a balance between uphill capacity, downhill capacity, base lodge services, and parking capacity.

The planning variables for Snowbowl were approved by the federal courts in 1981 and the current owners accepted those parameters in 1992 as a condition of purchase. That means Snowbowl is still attempting to build out the ski area to the approved facility capacity as it was set in 1981. In short, Snowbowl has not been able to improve its facilities to keep up with demand or serve the existing daily visitation due to inconsistent winters and financial sustainability. The current upgrade plan, approved by U.S. Forest Service in 2005, identifies specific activities and improvements tiered to the 1981 capacity limitations. So, in 2011, Snowbowl is attempting to begin an aggressive improvement plan to better accommodate skiers. Despite Arizona’s population tripling in size during the past few decades, Snowbowl will never grow beyond the parameters created in 1981.

This year, we are excited to showcase new ski terrain. 40 acres of trails are nearly finished, including 35 acres of new intermediate terrain, filling a huge void. The trails are designed as glades, which is a series of tree islands that can be skied a number of ways. The new trails will disperse guests around the mountain and provide more terrain for the intermediate level, the largest segment of our demographics.

Volcano ski trail has been extended to the top of the Agassiz chairlift. The purpose of this project is to provide a reliable and early opening to the top of the ski area. Volcano also creates a critical “third way down” from the top. Many seasons, the top of the ski area cannot open, due to a combination of harsh winds and dry snow, which don’t allow for an adequate base. Volcano is situated off the ridge, faces north, and catches snow deposits. We plan on opening the top of the Agassiz lift earlier in the season, especially when Ridge and Spur Catwalk cannot open.

Other capital improvements this year include installation of a second conveyor for beginners and purchase of a new snowcat (five new ones have been purchased in the past three years). There will also be new uniforms for ski school, replacement of ski and snowboard rental equipment, as well as a new phone system.

The main purpose of the upgrade projects is to stabilize the ski area business cycle followed by an aggressive plan to upgrade almost all of the current facilities and services.

Our first priority is to increase the uphill capacity of our chairlifts, which is synonymous with reducing lift line waiting time. Without predictable ski seasons, you simply cannot save enough cash or finance chairlifts that cost $3-5 million each. The lifts at Snowbowl were installed in the 1970s and early 80s. Our plans identify four new lifts: two replacement lifts and two new installations.

Additionally, plans include improvements to both base lodges: restaurant and bar operations, dining room seating, retail and rental operations, administrative offices, employee use space, utility and communication upgrades.


FBN: How will the reliability of the ski season affect the local economy?


Murray: The region’s economy will benefit from more and additional jobs.

• Seasonal jobs will be more consistent, predictable, and longer seasons

• Construction jobs

• Additional year round positions

• Jobs in Flagstaff as the result of a consistent ski season. Hotels, restaurants, retail, etc.

• Flagstaff has many summer seasonal jobs; with predictable ski seasons, more summer seasonal employees will be able to work at Snowbowl in the winter to stabilize their income or eliminate the need for them to relocate in winter to find income.


The Economic Impact Statement created by the U.S. Forest Service lists many economic benefits.

• The EIS estimated that with snowmaking, Snowbowl will generate over $23 M in visitor spending.

• With local spending, Snowbowl payroll and local trade payables, the impact climbs to over $50 million per year.

• Hotels can offer winter packages and market their offseason, knowing the ski season will occur.

• Flagstaff will be known as a winter destination for short and longer stays.

• Snowbowl taxes increase; in sales tax, property tax, personal property tax etc.

• The predictability will eliminate the need to qualify the ski seasons in city-wide promotions, economic development and tourism, and the general public’s perception of the ski area

• Second homeowners will spend additional time in Flagstaff.

• City- and state-wide economic “leakage” will decrease. With improvements, skiers in Arizona will not bypass Snowbowl for other locations due to crowds, lack of terrain, old facilities, etc. FBN


Season pass sales are underway now through Oct. 19 with prices at the same level they have been for the past 11 years. Additional information is available at http://www.arizonasnowbowl.com. 

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