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Artificial ski slopes in Florida: Can it work here?

Artificial ski slopes in Florida: Can it work here?

By Paul Brinkmann

A conceptual rendering of the proposed $309 million extreme sports resort.
A conceptual rendering of the proposed $309 million extreme sports resort.

Dry slope skiing is more common in Europe, but Florida developer wants to dive in.

The idea of skiing in Florida drew laughs, cheers and skeptics this week when Jacksonville businessman Larry Walshaw said he wants to build a 14-story slope near Kissimmee.

A common reaction: Doesn’t he realize it gets really hot in Florida?
Snowflex slope in France

The good news is, Walshaw’s Xero Gravity sports resort won’t use snow; it proposes to use Snowflex, a very real artificial surface that is more common in European training facilities than in the U.S. It’s almost like AstroTurf for skiing; it uses a fine mist of water to keep it slippery.

The bad news is, there are only a couple examples of Snowflex in the United States. Some skiing bloggers have lamented that fact for some time now.

I found three examples of Snowflex in the U.S.:

–Liberty Mountain Snowflex Center, Liberty University, Lynchburg, Va.
lRelated Massive ski ramp proposed for new $309M Kissimmee resort

–YMCA of the Rockies Summer Tubing Hill in Winter Park, Col., about an hour west of Denver.

–Utah Olympic Park training facility, a half-hour east of Salt Lake City.

Liberty University’s facility is the largest of the three. I found a Washington Post article and other media about Liberty’s facility when it opened in 2012.

The Liberty facility was built at a cost of about $8 million, and was never intended to turn a profit. That’s because Liberty is a dry (no alcohol) university founded by conservative pundit and preacher Jerry Falwell – its leaders wanted many alternatives to keep students busy on campus.

Drew Sherwood, general manager of the Liberty location, acknowledged in a recent news article that the facility would not be sustainable on ticket sales alone, according to the Lynchburg News & Advance.

Comments

I went skiing at the Liberty Snowflex several times. It’s totally awesome! My kids learned how to ski there. I would love to see one in Florida.
luiscarlosmp
at 8:25 PM February 14, 2015

Invented by Brian Thomas of Briton Engineering, Snowflex attempts to simulate the slip and grip effects of real snow. It has multiple layers to cushion skiers and snowboarders if they should fall.

After doing a little more research on Snowflex, I asked Walshaw why he thinks he can be successful with a large private facility. For more on Walshaw’s proposed resort, see previous Sentinel coverage in multiple stories.

“Snowflex is not very large in the U.S., which is fine with me, because it has been proven in other markets,” Walshaw said. “Most of the other examples are standalone skiing or tubing facilities. It’s very difficult to charge people enough to make that profitable. The difference is, our plan in Kissimmee would have many action sports alternatives, like the sky diving cages, surfing wave pools, etc.”

Walshaw said he went to Lynchburg to test out the Snowflex surface there and loved it.

And if you didn’t read our previous stories, Walshaw’s proposal is only that — a proposal. He has a contract to purchase 75 acres near the Target store on Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway.