Why is Arizona Snowbowl submitting a new Master Development Plan (MDP)?
The Special Use Permit (SUP) that allows Arizona Snowbowl to operate on National Forest System lands requires that an MDP be prepared and on file with the Coconino National Forest (CNF).
The most recent MDP was accepted in 2005, and the projects therein were later approved under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Most of those projects have since been completed.
No new projects may be implemented without a master plan accepted by the CNF. Master plan acceptance marks the first step in authorization for implementation. Even after a MDP has been accepted, all projects within this MDP that have not been previously approved will require site-specific environmental analysis and “approval” per the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) before they may be implemented.
The new MDP identifies a 10-15 year vision for Snowbowl
What is the philosophy of Snowbowl's new owners? Please share the rationale for improving Snowbowl.
Snowbowl managing general partner and Mountain Capital Partners CEO James Coleman is passionate about skiing and believes in creating opportunities for everyone to ski and enjoy the outdoors. He is committed to offer skiing whenever the opportunity exists and make it easy for new skiers to try the sport. Coleman’s philosophy is: “Give people the freedom to ski."
Through marketing programs and online creative pricing models, Coleman is making the mountain resort accessible and affordable for all families and individuals.
Coleman believes improvements to Snowbowl will meet the ever-present demand for outdoor recreation on a year-round basis.
He and his team embrace the unique relationship Snowbowl has with the San Francisco Peaks and have great respect for the cultural significance that the Peaks have to Native American tribes. He values the opportunity to improve relationships.
By investing in mountain resorts, Coleman seeks to improve the guest experience and diversify to year-round activities.
With the implementation of the new MDP, Snowbowl will be able to create more jobs, and employ more people providing economic benefits to the greater Flagstaff area.
As a result of improvements, Snowbowl will be better positioned to build stronger communities through expanded and new partnerships.
What is the process for “approving” and implementing the MDP?
MDPs are not approved. They are planning documents that share the vision and identify future projects. A new MDP is “accepted” by the USFS, but no permission is granted for any projects to be implemented.
Projects are approved through the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process. Various categories of NEPA are available depending on the size and scope of the project or projects. The entire MDP or separate projects may be proposed for review under NEPA, potential approval, and implementation over the life of the MDP.
How many years is the MDP valid?
Snowbowl’s new MDP is projected to guide improvements through the next 10 to 15 years.
There is no expiration date on a MDP, but it may be amended or updated. Since the MDP is a planning document, its lifespan is based on the schedule of project completion.
How would implementation of the MDP projects impact visitation to Snowbowl?
Currently, Snowbowl‘s facilities are not appropriately sized to accommodate the recreational demand it experiences and the ski area can become overcrowded and strained with the normal daily visitation levels that are presently experienced at the ski area. This can seriously degrade the recreational experience at the resort.
A primary goal of the MDP, including the proposed projects at the resort, is to bring the guest facilities into better balance and to more comfortably accommodate existing levels of visitation—not necessarily to drive new visitation to the resort.
While the activity level at Snowbowl may still feel relatively high on busy days during holiday or peak periods, this visitation level should be much more comfortable at the resort following the implementation of proposed projects.
Snowbowl will continue to monitor daily visitation levels and, as it has done in the past, manage crowding through a variety of management and operations processes.
What will the impact be on traffic and congestion?
The MDP anticipates potential changes in traffic patterns and includes several improvements to enhance resort access and traffic flow at Snowbowl through the widening of the Snowbowl Road (adding a lane) where the road leads into the ski area and the addition of a roundabout (previously approved) and two new road connections just outside the Special Use Permit (SUP) that provide enhanced vehicular access to existing and proposed parking areas. These connectivity improvements will not expand Snowbowl’s existing SUP Boundary but will require an amendment to Snowbowl’s Forest Service Road Use Permit. In addition, pedestrian walkways along both sides of the road and a pedestrian underpass will be provided to reduce the number of pedestrians coming from the southern and western parking lots who would be walking on and/or crossing the road. Resort access will also be vastly improved with the provision of an additional mountain portal in the Fort Valley Glades area of the existing SUP area. This new access point will ease arrival congestion and confusion by helping to disperse guests with varying ability levels to different base areas.
Snowbowl has made significant strides in reducing traffic within the Highway 180 corridor including subsidizing public transportation through Mountain Express and encouraging carpool programs. Busy period traffic congestion on Highway 180 and within Flagstaff has dramatically improved in recent years.
Additional programs to modify transit behavior will include fee-based parking on certain days of the winter season.
Increasing occupancy per vehicle is key, along with making public transportation easy and reliable. Thus, Snowbowl will continue to promote carpooling, high vehicle occupancy incentivization, ride-share programs, employee shuttles and other creative solutions.
What about the tribes; will more lawsuits follow?
There are presently no active lawsuits.
Legal precedent has been established with regard to the use of reclaimed water for snowmaking and activities approved by the 2005 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Record of Decision (ROD).
The Forest Service has an obligation to consider tribal concerns while addressing the growing demand for outdoor recreation. The Land and Resource Management Plan for the Coconino National Forest identifies the need for, and direction to provide, Alpine recreation within the Snowbowl SUP boundary.
Formal and informal consultation with Native American tribes is occurring and will continue through the NEPA process and beyond. The State Historical Preservation Office (SHPO) will work with the CNF to conduct formal consultation as required.
Does Snowbowl have a strategy for improving tribal relations?
Snowbowl and local tribes enjoyed a positive relationship prior to legal action challenging snowmaking in recent years.
Snowbowl continues efforts to restore relationships with Northern Arizona tribes.
Many opportunities exist for tribes and the ski area to work together. Snowbowl is optimistic about future collaborations involving programs and projects. Specifically, the vision for recreational offerings under the MDP is that Snowbowl will seek to tell the story of the unique ecosystem and cultural significance of the landscape in collaboration with the tribes and the Forest. Woven into each recreational offering will be an interpretive narrative that speaks to the unique geology of the area, communicates the immense spiritual power of the mountain, and educates visitors about all the life zones of Arizona—from the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the top of the San Francisco Peaks. This will be achieved not only through interpretive signage but also in the design of the offerings, the fit and finish of materials, and the naming and messaging associated with the recreational amenities. To ensure education and interpretation on the mountain is engaging, accurate, and in line with the expectations of key partners, Snowbowl will develop a comprehensive cultural and natural resources interpretive plan, in consultation with tribal and Forest representatives.
In addition, Snowbowl seeks to provide employment opportunities for tribal members.
Will Snowbowl pursue environmental programs and practices similar to other ski areas?
Yes, there are many examples in the ski industry that will be reviewed and considered.
Snowbowl is proud of its land stewardship and existing programs.
Snowbowl’s commitment to sustainability has been recharged and refreshed through the MDP planning process. Opportunities to conserve and protect resources have been considered throughout the creation of the MDP document, including forest health projects, stormwater management and forest fire suppression.
With the increased stability of the business (resulting from the implementation of snowmaking), additional sustainability programs have been explored and will be implemented.
What will be the impact on dark skies with night skiing and tubing?
Initial drafts of the MDP included limited night skiing on the lower ski trails and tubing lanes, with consideration of the dark-sky principles and practices.
After many stakeholder meetings and discussions, proposed night lighting for skiing and tubing has been removed from the new MDP and is no longer proposed.
Lighting is proposed around base area buildings and parking lots for the health and safety of staff and guests leaving at the end of the day and will be low-level, dark-sky compliant lighting.
Will Snowbowl adhere to Flagstaff and Coconino County sustainable building guidelines?
Each facility will be designed for its unique purpose and location, and will include natural and Alpine architecture. Conformance with the Forest Service Built Environment Image Guide (BEIG) will also be required to ensure facilities fit within the context of ecological, physical, and cultural settings and incorporate the principles of sustainability as an integral part of architectural character.
Alternative energy will be evaluated for suitability and compatibility.
Because the ski area is located entirely within the Coconino National Forest, some elements of sustainable energy would be considered, depending on visual and physical characteristics.
Specific facilities have not yet been designed.
Will there be lift-served mountain bike trails? When?
Yes, lift-served mountain bike trails have been planned in the MDP.
Now that the MDP has been accepted by the Forest Service, Snowbowl will present a list of projects and proposed actions to the Coconino National Forest to carry forward into the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process.
The NEPA process begins with project proposals complete with details, plans and specific timeframes for each item.
Once the NEPA process ends and a decision/approval is reached, any projects approved are then detailed in specific construction plans prior to actual construction.
The entire process, including construction of Phase 1 trails, could take two or more years.
How is a Master Development Plan created? What are the key objectives of the proposed MDP?
An MDP analyzes current operational levels, challenges and opportunities. It examines physical space allocations and compares industry norms; it reviews terrain, lift capacity, lift queue times, skier ability levels, skier behavior, and all guest support infrastructure.
The objective is to improve the recreational experience for current visitation levels and respond to the demand for additional year-round family activities. Snowbowl is currently deficient in guest service amenities including restrooms, locker rooms, restaurants and almost all other facility categories.
What is the status of the previous/current MDP?
A few projects remain as a portion of the 2006 MDP and its approval that will be implemented in the next couple of years.
The projects include upgrading/realigning Aspen Chairlift, some additional facility space, a few ski trails, snow tubing, and completion of snowmaking on certain ski trails.
These “previously approved projects” are specifically identified and incorporated into the new MDP document.
How will Snowbowl be affected by climate change?
Despite projections of shorter and warmer winters, Snowbowl’s snowmaking system is state-of-the-art, designed to produce snow at marginal temperatures. Snowbowl’s production capabilities allow for large amounts of snow to be produced during short periods of cold temperatures.
Diversifying the mountain resort’s operations with year-round activities provides business stability by reducing the negative impact of low-snow winters.
Where will potable water come from for more facilities and more people?
Potable water volume meets the demand of the current business volume, which is the focus of the new MDP.
Additional potable water, if needed, would be purchased from the City of Flagstaff or provided by private wells.
How many more jobs will be created with the proposed projects?
The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will analyze both direct and indirect employment.
Each project has a construction component and an operational component. If and when proposed projects are approved and implemented, it is anticipated that approximately 85 new jobs will be created.
Will Snowbowl require additional reclaimed water for snowmaking on proposed new trails?
No, under the new MDP snowmaking acreage will remain the same as currently approved, with slight adjustments to distribution to cover newly proposed trails and "relinquish" previously approved snowmaking on other areas of the mountain.
The current annual contractual allotment of reclaimed water is sufficient for the completion of the snowmaking plan.