MN ski area considering synthetic slope

The Snowflex ramp and jumps at Virginia's Liberty University, the first Snowflex in the U.S. Liberty Mountain

A small ski area in Minnesota is considering building the country's second Snowflex synthetic slope in order to boost year-round revenue. Hyland Ski and Snowboard area, located just south of Minneapolis, is considering installing Snowflex, a white sheet of plastic bristles that's essentially Astroturf for skiers, to offer year-round recreation for their primarily teenage visitor audience.

Though relatively small in size, Hyland attracts an average of 160,000 skiers and snowboarders every year, with 75 percent of that population under the age of 17. Due to Hyland's growing usage and popularity, the Three Rivers Park District, which operates Hyland, is working toward a new strategic business plan intended to identify a revenue stream to fund some long-awaited improvements and expansion plans.

Because Hyland's winter operation alone is not expected to generate enough revenue to pay for capital improvements, staff are exploring alternatives for additional revenue, among those, the use of an off-season synthetic snow slope.

"Minnesota has a strong and successful alpine tradition with a handful of Olympic skiers to show for it," says park district assistant superintendent and project director Tom McDowell. "I don't know, but maybe Snowflex would take that up a notch."

Liberty University, in Lynchburg, Virginia, was the first in the U.S. to install a Snowflex. Liberty Mountain's Snowflex attracts approximately 71,000 annual visitors, with half of those not affiliated with the university. In Tom McDowell's opinion, "Hyland has the potential to be even more robust than Liberty."

Consultants on the project say that the proposed Snowflex slope would attract 50,000 additional visitors during the park's off-season, bringing in an expected $1.5 million in additional revenue. If the project goes according to plan, the estimated $4 million Snowflex project could be paid back in three years.

While the Snowflex project has been proposed to the park board, a decision will not be made until the staff has received substantial feedback from the local public. If a decision is reached by the end of this year, Hyland could potentially complete planning and start construction in the spring of 2013.

"The opportunity provided by the possible Snowflex installation is understandably exciting and at the same time a major financial decision," said Larry Blackstad, Chair of the Park board. "If the installation occurs, the reputation of the Three Rivers Park District as a national leader in outdoor recreation would be sustained."