The Next Chapter: Sharing Snowbowl’s Future

On the heels of the longest ski season in history, and answering the Forest Service’s call to utilize existing mountain resort infrastructure as a portal to the National Forest to satisfy growing recreational demand, we are excited to share our vision for the future. “Our job, as I see it, is to make sure that people take home the memories they come for,” said retired Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “That includes furnishing the services they need—the roads, the slopes, the facilities, and everything else. It should include using the infrastructure of ski areas to help meet recreational demand year-round.” Through our proposed Master Development Plan (MDP), we are seeking to enhance the existing guest experience, meet current demand, provide year-round outdoor recreation activities and benefit the community with additional partnerships and a greater economic impact.

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Key Components

In order to ensure our guests take home positive memories, the new plan addresses the following improvements within the existing 777-acre boundary: 

  • Facilities and infrastructure — improvements at Agassiz and Hart Prairie lodges plus at the top of Agassiz lift, and additional base area facilities serving year-round activities, additional parking, a medical clinic, adaptive skiing center;
  • Winter lifts and trail enhancements — two new lifts, five new trails;
  • Limited night skiing and tubing on lower elevation western slope;
  • Year-round recreational activities — mountain biking, alpine slide, zip-line, outdoor concerts.

“It’s no secret that we’re passionate about creating skiers and making the sport accessible to everyone,” says Managing Partner James Coleman of Mountain Capital Partners. “We are guided by our mission ‘Skiing First’ and are committed to keeping winter a top priority. I’m confident the proposed improvements will enhance the experience for expert and beginner skiers alike.”

Master Development Plan Map of Arizona Snowbowl

Snowbowl’s Economic Impact

Determined by the Alliance Bank Economic Policy Institute at NAU

  • The direct annual economic impact on Flagstaff, Coconino County, and Arizona is $58 million.
  • Employs over 700 people annually; new MDP projections call for 85 more jobs.
  • Snowbowl supported local charities with more than $93,000 last year; MDP improvements would increase funding and partnerships promoting art, culture, health, and education.
  • Projected capital project spending for the proposed MDP is more than $60 million.

We expect to submit our list of proposed projects to the Forest Service this summer. The NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process, which includes public input, is anticipated to begin this fall when detailed project plans have been completed. The earliest implementation of the proposed projects would occur in 2021.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is a Master Development Plan?

A: A Master Development Plan (MDP) is a planning document that allows us to assess our operations and visualize how we can make the mountain resort experience even more amazing. It is a requirement of the Special Use Permit, which allows Snowbowl to operate on the National Forest. Once the MDP is submitted and accepted by the Coconino National Forest, all approvals are required to follow the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process, which includes public input. The earliest that the proposed projects could be implemented is 2021.

Q: How do you create an MDP? What are the key objectives of Snowbowl's proposed MDP?

A: The MDP analyzes current operational levels, challenges, and opportunities. It examines topics such as physical space allocations and compares industry standards; it reviews terrain, lift capacity, lift queue times, skier ability levels and skier behavior. Snowbowl will retain a consultant who specializes in ski area development and work with the Forest Service to improve year-round outdoor recreational opportunities. The objective is to improve the experience for our guests and respond to the demand for additional year-round family activities.

Q: Why are you working on a new MDP?

A: The Special Use Permit, issued by the Coconino National Forest, requires us to have a current master plan on file. The current plan, which included snowmaking, was approved in 2005 and is near completion, therefore, we need to prepare and submit a new plan to remain compliant with our permit. A new MDP is expected to be “accepted” by the Forest Service in the summer/fall 2019, but that doesn’t mean permission is granted for any projects at that time. Projects are approved through the NEPA process. Various categories of NEPA are available depending on the size and scope of the project or projects. The entire MDP or separate projects could be proposed.

Q: Does Snowbowl have the mechanisms in place to manage visitation?

A: The MDP identifies projects that accommodate and improve the guest experience. Currently, several areas such as guest services, food & beverage, and parking are substantially deficient in their ability to keep up with the mountain resort’s comfortable carrying capacity (3,870/day). The MDP will address these issues. If and when visitation exceeds this new level of comfortable capacity (4,500/day), Snowbowl will manage daily visitation levels through the number of online tickets available. The 4,500 CCC is not a limit or a maximum number of guests as ski areas typically and routinely exceed their comfortable capacity on the busiest days.

Q: How does Snowbowl manage traffic and congestion?

A: We have made significant strides in reducing traffic within the Hwy 180 corridor including subsidizing public transportation (shoutout to our awesome partners at NAIPTA!) and encouraging carpool and rideshare programs for guests and staff members. Did you know we were the proud recipient of the 2019 Arizona Transit Excellence Award for our partnership with NAIPTA for our work on traffic mitigation this past season? In the future, we’d like to continue to implement programs that modify transit behavior including fee-based parking on select days during the ski season. A primary goal of ours is to increase the occupancy per vehicle while making public transportation easy and reliable.

Q: What is Snowbowl doing to protect Flagstaff's dark skies?

A: Snowbowl is working with the Flagstaff Dark Sky Coalition and local observatories to identify and install appropriate lighting fixtures. This is especially important as we consider limited night skiing and tubing on lower mountain elevations, 1% of the skiable acreage. It’s important to us to note that these activities will occur during certain holiday periods and some weekends, not every day of the week. We see night skiing and tubing as additional recreation outlets for youth and groups, and an opportunity to disperse crowds and ease traffic as guests stay longer on the mountain. We are also excited about building outreach and education programs into our plans, as we share the beauty and benefits of our starry nights and spread the word about lighting standards that preserve this precious dark sky resource.   

Q: Is there an opportunity to incorporate sustainable building practices and renewable energy systems?

A: Each facility will be designed for its unique purpose and location, and include natural and alpine architecture. Alternative energy will be evaluated for suitability and compatibility. Because the ski area is located entirely within the Coconino National Forest, elements of sustainable energy would be considered, depending on visual and physical characteristics. For example, a tall windmill would not likely be appropriate.

Q: What is the timeline for adding mountain bike trails?

A: We, too, are excited about experiencing Snowbowl from the saddle of a mountain bike and, rest assured, mountain biking is included in the plan. Snowbowl is planning to satisfy the demand for lift-served mountain biking for a variety of skill levels through bike trails and events. This will be included in the MDP and explored through the NEPA process. Upon approval from the Forest Service, Snowbowl will be able to construct plans and build trails, which will be phased in over a period of years.

Q: What other activities are being considered?

A: We’d like to add year-round activities like tubing (winter activity previously approved), mountain coaster, alpine slide, mountain biking, zip line, aerial adventure course, expanded disc golf, canopy tour, adventure/fun zone, climbing wall, and an adventure tower.

Q: How can I submit feedback on the plan?

A: Good question! During the summer of 2019, we will be in the process of formalizing the MDP. Once the MDP is submitted and accepted by the Forest Service, we will begin the NEPA process (a fancy acronym describing the procedure set forth by the National Environmental Policy Act). We expect to submit our plan in the fall of 2019 and will keep the community informed when it is accepted. Once the Forest Service accepts the plan, we will begin actively seeking public input.


Arizona Snowbowl operates under a special use permit from the Coconino National Forest.