Ski resorts hoping to avoid last year’s slippery slope

One of the ski lifts at Arizona Snowbowl, one of the largest ski resorts in the state. (Photo courtesy of
One of the ski lifts at Arizona Snowbowl, one of the largest ski resorts in the state. (Photo courtesy of outsideoulook.com)

When Arizona comes to the minds of people, it’s usually the Red Rocks of Sedona, the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona and the metropolitan Phoenix.

There’s also the blistering summer heat that can reach well beyond triple digits. So Arizona having ski resorts seems like an oxymoron right? Wrong.

Arizona is home to five different ski resorts across the state: Arizona Snowbowl, Sunrise Park Resort, Elk Ridge, the Flagstaff Nordic Center and Mt. Lemmon.

Last season, the lack of snow left these ski resorts struggling. This year the hope is that Mother Nature will provide enough snowfall to bring in visitors and generate a good profit.

Three of these ski areas, Arizona Snowbowl, Elk Ridge and the Flagstaff Nordic Center, are all located in the northern part of Arizona. Snowbowl is the most notable of the ski areas in Arizona, making it a benefit and a burden at the same time. Snowbowl is also the only area in Arizona to provide its own snowmaker in case snowfall is hard to come by.

Last year, Snowbowl and the state of Arizona received little snowfall, at least not enough to function a ski area.

“Last year we had our second driest winter on record and only saw about 140,000 visitors,” said Jason Stratton, director of sales and marketing at Arizona Snowbowl.

To the east of Snowbowl is Elk Ridge. Operators there are collaborating with the nearby town of Williams to bring in visitors. Tammy Fountain, the general manager at Elk Ridge, says that it doesn’t bring in the numbers of Snowbowl, but the people who do visit love the area.

“We’re the stepchild to Snowbowl, nobody really knows we’re around,” she said. “The people that do find us find that it’s quite the hidden jewel and they don’t want to tell anybody.”

Fountain said that Elk Ridge promotes its specials and weather conditions through its FaceBook page. However according to Fountain, it lacks the ability to make snow like Snowbowl.

One of the areas where Elk Ridge and the town of Williams collaborate is with the Polar Express Train that departs from Williams. The Polar Express is a train based off the children’s book that runs during the holiday season and goes from Williams through the moonlit wilderness, otherwise known as the “North Pole,” according to the Polar Express website. Fountain said that the train provides another outlet to attract visitors.

“We’re trying to really expand to get the whole town involved because it’s good for them and it’s good for us,” she said.

Without getting specific numbers, the Arizona Department of Tourism said that the state generated a total of $19.8 billion this past year with the ski areas being a part of that revenue. Kiva Couton, director of communications and public information officer for the department, said those specific numbers were not available.

Though the tourism office doesn’t specifically do marketing campaigns for the specific ski resorts, they do an overall advertising and brand advertising campaign that features everything visitors to Arizona can do, including skiing.

“We’re not specific to certain locations, but we are specific to the experiences people can have,” Couton said.

For Fountain, she prides Elk Ridge on appealing to families and the family experience.

“We’re more of the kids can’t get lost kind of feeling…,” she said. “The families can pretty much keep track of their kids without having to worry about how far up the chair lift they’ll go.”

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Chris Real is a reporter for the Arizona Sonora News Service from the school of journalism at the University of Arizona. Reach him at chreal@email.arizona.edu

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