Ski Resorts in Virginia

a ski run in Fairfax County was proposed at the I-95 Landfill Complex
a ski run in Fairfax County was proposed at the I-95 Landfill Complex
Source: Fairfax County, Fairfax Peak: One of the World's Longest Indoor Ski Slopes may be Built on Fairfax County's I-95 Landfill

Virginia's ski resorts require three things: snow, a hill with topographic relief, and customers. Only the topography is reliable.

Climate change could alter the pattern of snowfall, and create warmer winter temperatures. Wintergreen Resort tries to open by the second week in December, making snow for the 26 runs with water from a 5-million gallon tank. If warm temperatures force a delay in opening until after the December holiday season or a closure in early March, the economics of operating a ski resort in Nelson County would be dramatically impacted.1

The demand for skiing drops as the population ages and older people choose less-active recreational sports. One business risk for Virginia ski resorts is that customers may choose to visit other ski resorts with better snow conditions, such as Seven Springs/Whitetail Mountain/Ski Liberty in Pennsylvania or Canaan Valley in West Virginia.

artificial snow outlines the ski slopes at Massanutten Mountain
artificial snow outlines the ski slopes at Massanutten Mountain
Source: Virginia Geographic Information Network (VGIN), VBMP 2011 WGS Web Mercator (VGIN)

The most unusual ski resort in Virginia is at Lynchburg. In 2009, Liberty University spent $8 million to cover Candler Mountain with a form of artificial turf to create a synthetic snow surface. The Snowflex Centre is a gleaming white hillside offering artificial skiing 12 months of the year, and was designed to provide recreational diversions at a school that bans the use of alcohol. Public use helps fund operations at the site, one of just two artificial skiing/tubing mountains in the United States.2

There are no snow-covered mountains in Fairfax County, but there are people with money who want to ski. The solution: build an indoor skiing arena with its own snow-covered mountain. The Fairfax County Sports Tourism Task Force announced plans in 2019 to partner with a private corporation, SnowWorld USA, to create a public-private partnership and build a facility on the slopes at the county landfill in Lorton.

The proposal was to use the hill created by the pile of municipal solid waste at the I-95 Lorton landfill. That would provide a height of 280 feet, with a 20-degree angle slope, which ski advocates began to call "Fairfax Peak." Fairfax Peak would resemble the SnowWorld facility at Landgraaf, in the Netherlands.3

the success of the SnowWorld facility at Landgraaf led to a proposal to build a similar indoor ski ramp and entertainment complex in Fairfax County
the success of the SnowWorld facility at Landgraaf led to a proposal to build a similar indoor ski ramp and entertainment complex in Fairfax County
Source: Alpine-X LLC, PPEA Proposal - Fairfax Peak, Sports Entertainment and Active Lifestyle Community (p.38)

The justification for the county's involvement was expressed clearly by an elected supervisor:4

Sports tourism is a great revenue generator and a way to diversify our tax base.

The COVID-19 pandemic delayed action. In 2021, Fairfax County officials extended deadlines for Alpine-X to submit the Fairfax Peak proposal until December 2023. The developers suggested that prices for using the longest indoor ski slope in the United States (1,700-foot in length) and other associated facilities would be less expensive than traditional ski resorts:5

Most resorts are seasonal and exclusive in the sense that they're extremely expensive and they take a lot of time. We've taken a different approach. We're really building where everybody lives. So, we're going to be super affordable.

At the time, the closest ski resort to Northern Virginia customers was Ski Cherokee at Linden in Warren County. It was designed to be a family ski area, attracting day-trippers from the DC area. Snow was manufactured, since the highest elevation was only 2,200 feet. Three lifts carried customers up the mountain.

Ski Cherokee lasted only three years
Ski Cherokee lasted only three years
Source: DC Ski, Ski Cherokee

A real estate developer invested $1 million in the facility, but a year later Whitetail Resort opened in Pennsylvania just 30 minutes further away. The developers there invested $40 million to offer superior facilities.

Ski Cherokee lasted only three years. A major shortcoming was the inability to generate and maintain enough snow. The site had previously been an apple orchard, because it was below the cold zone at the top of the mountain and above where cold air was trapped at the bottom. Though the use of chemicals allowed snowmaking at around 34 degrees, Ski Cherokee experienced three warn, rainy winters before closing. Dry summers limited runoff to be collected in ponds, and objections from neighbors delayed drilling wells to pump groundwater.

The terrain was good for low-intensity skiing, but not for thrill seekers. The more-challenging ski runs at Whitetail Resort offered a wider range of experiences. By one assessment, Ski Cherokee failed because:5

...it was way too flat. From the top to the lodge, which made up 3/4 of the length of the mountain, was a beginner run. They simply picked a bad mountain.

Snow in Virginia

evidence of ponds for manufacturing snow at Ski Cherokee were visible in 1997
evidence of ponds for manufacturing snow at Ski Cherokee were visible in 1997
Source: GoogleEarth

a run cleared for Ski Cherokee is still visible today, west of the CCC Road
a run cleared for Ski Cherokee is still visible today, west of the CCC Road
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

Links

Fairfax Peak was intended to include an entertainment complex, centered on an indoor ski slope
Fairfax Peak was intended to include an entertainment complex, centered on an indoor ski slope
Source: Alpine-X LLC, PPEA Proposal - Fairfax Peak, Sports Entertainment and Active Lifestyle Community (p.41)

References

1. "Wintergreen ski season opens a week early," InsideNOVA, December 10, 2018, http://www.insidenova.com/news/state/wintergreen-ski-season-opens-a-week-early/article_28ef0cdd-6d4f-5abf-9762-2a8d5c4557e3.html
2. "Five years since opening, Liberty University Snowflex still flies high with student and public fanbase," Lynchburg News & Advance, October 6, 2014, http://www.newsadvance.com/work_it_lynchburg/news/five-years-since-opening-liberty-university-snowflex-still-flies-high/article_141df0b8-4cf2-11e4-951d-001a4bcf6878.html (last checked October 10, 2014)
3. "'Fairfax Peak' could rise in Lorton under plan to turn landfill into indoor ski slope," Prince William Times, May 29, 2019, https://www.princewilliamtimes.com/news/faifax-peak-could-rise-in-lorton-under-plan-to-turn/article_2a72af7a-822b-11e9-a4c2-ff475d54c4a1.html; "Fairfax Peak: One of the World's Longest Indoor Ski Slopes may be Built on Fairfax County's I-95 Landfill," Fairfax County, May 29, 2019, https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/publicaffairs/fairfax-peak-one-worlds-longest-indoor-ski-slopes-may-be-built-fairfax-countys-i-95-landfill; "PPEA Proposal - Fairfax Peak, Sports Entertainment and Active Lifestyle Community," Alpine-X LLC, December 21, 2018, p.38, https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/procurement/sites/procurement/files/assets/documents/ppea%20proposal_redacted.pdf (last checked November 18, 2020)
4. "No mountain? No problem. Indoor ski resort eyes Fairfax County for first U.S. facility," Washington Business Journal, March 25, 2019, https://www.bizjournals.com/washington/news/2019/03/25/no-mountain-o-problem-indoor-ski-resort-eyes.html (last checked March 30, 2019)
5. "Alpine-X plans on track for indoor ski resort in Lorton," InsideNOVA, September 30, 2021, https://www.insidenova.com/headlines/alpine-x-plans-on-track-for-indoor-ski-resort-in-lorton/article_8aa1cb6e-21e9-11ec-9403-a3cdf6249e82.html (last checked October 3, 2021)
6. "Re-Inventing The Small Ski Area," Ski Area Management, May 1990, https://www.saminfo.com/archives/1999-1990/1990/may-1990/item/1805-re-inventing-the-small-ski-area; "Ski Cherokee," DCSki, https://www.dcski.com/lostareas/viewlostprofile.php?id=3 (last checked December 29, 2020)

proposed ski run in Fairfax County at the I-95 Landfill Complex
proposed ski run in Fairfax County at the I-95 Landfill Complex
Source: Fairfax County, Fairfax Peak: One of the World's Longest Indoor Ski Slopes may be Built on Fairfax County's I-95 Landfill


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