Near-perfect snow conditions on Arizona’s biggest mountain has given a lift to a struggling ski resort and boosted Flagstaff’s winter economy.
"The town is livelier," said Jerry Thull, sales and marketing manager for the Flagstaff Visitors and Convention Bureau.
"Especially on the weekend, there’s a lot more visitors in town."
Thull said Flagstaff businesses noticed the difference since the Arizona Snowbowl ski area opened in November following robust high country snowfall. December figures now being tallied show the city’s tax revenue on hotels, lodgings, restaurants and bars was up 8.6 percent over that month in 2003, he said.
Snowbowl has suffered from a lack of good snow — and corresponding lack of skiers — for five out of the last seven years because of a lingering drought, said J.R. Murray, Snowbowl general manager. The ski area was open only four days for the 2001-02 season.
Debt incurred by the resort’s off-years won’t be totally erased by one good season, Murray said. Resort operators hope U.S. Forest Service officials decide this month to allow a major expansion of the resort, including a snowmaking operation that will make the winter season more predictable, he said.
Whatever the future holds, Snowbowl is a skier’s paradise this year with more than 11 feet of packed snow on the ground as of Tuesday and all 800 acres of trails and bowl areas open.
More than 370 "snow inches" have fallen this season on Snowbowl, located on the slopes of the San Francisco Peaks, and March is usually the biggest month for snowfall, Murray said.
The record for snow inches at the resort is 460, set in the 1992-93 season.
Murray said Snowbowl will probably be open until mid-April and may beat its previous record of 181,000 skier visits. Last year, only 74,000 skiers hit the Snowbowl slopes.
"I think we’re going to do real well for spring break," he said. Ski rental businesses, naturally, also are prime benefactors of the snow bounty.
Tom Tanner, manager of Ski Pro in Mesa, said he’s seeing many mid-week rentals.
"People are taking off work to go up there," he said.
In fact, weekdays are the best time to go because, with only four chair lifts at Snowbowl, weekend skiers have to wait longer to get to the mountaintop, said Ken Sumiec, a Scottsdale resident and president of the Phoenix Ski Club. "One of the great skier goals is to have the lift lines as small as possible," Sumiec said. More information about Arizona Snowbowl is available at www.arizonasnowbowl.com or call (928) 779-1951.