ONE, TWO or MORE INDOOR SKI RESORTS TO OPEN?!?!

ONE, TWO or MORE INDOOR SKI RESORTS TO OPEN?!?!

Seems like about all I’ve talked about since the close of last ski season was:

Updated info on Phoenix Mountain (It’s a dead issue – Click here to read about it (if you HAVE to!)

The Town of Seven Devils and their shananigans pertaining to Hawksnest (Nothing new, no need to read anything, anywhere.)

…and now I find myself reporting about, and answering emails about perhaps not one, but TWO different (maybe more) indoor ski resorts. We sent out a "skiMail" blast last week reporting about a new indoor ski resort just outside of Asheville called "Canton Wintersports Center" and posted a quick story and press release about it (Click Here to read it) or visit www.uSki365.com and now comes yet another bit of information that seems to be creating quite a stir. Before I share THAT bit of information, I will now go on record to say the following:

1. There has been so much malarkey of late that after I post this story I will not be sharing any further "news" about FUTURE resorts for a while.

2. I will be sharing something of GREATER value and that is news of what all of our great (and EXISTING) resorts have been doing during the summer.

3. This story is long.

Having stated that, I felt that I HAD to at least relay the news on the street because many of you would just think that we’re simply uninformed. Believe me, we get a lot of emails from news media and a lot of you guys to keep us in the know. Okay, on to the SECOND story about yet another proposed indoor ski resort. This one is purported to be going up in Dawson County, Georgia. We received no less than two dozen emails about it in the last three weeks and one guy wrote, "I was watching NBC, Channel 11 (in Atlanta) tonight and they reported on a new, indoor ski area that is under construction as we speak. It will be huge and they plan to open by next season (2008-2009)."

S-L-O-W D-O-W-N my uninformed friend!

(a) It is NOT under construction and…

(b) It may never see the light of day.

(c) If it DOES get built, it probably won’t be to the extent that the developer is selling AND it won’t open until later than 2008!

The newest word on the street has been reported on by numerous Atlanta area news media and after you read the storyline…keep reading because I’m smelling something a little strange. (Of course it could just be something I stepped in out at my horses.) Here’s the "scoop".

Developers want to build an indoor ski resort on 400 acres off of Georgia 400 in northeast Georgia’s Dawson County. More on that in a second. What I am still not 100% clear about is the fact that apparently another developer proposed a very similar sounding project to Cobb County in Georgia just three or four months ago. I’ll give you the whole "pitch" in a second, but according to Bob Weatherford, an alderman on the Acworth City Council in Cobb County said a developer made a similar pitch in his city.

"They approached us about it," he said. "We have a piece of property on Interstate 75 at Highway 92."

The developer approached Acworth City Manager Brian Bulthuis about zoning issues and locating the development in Cobb County’s fastest growing city "because it is closest to the interstate," said Weatherford, also president of the Cobb Municipal Association.

"It was proposed at like 15 stories; it exceeded our height requirements for that zoning district," Weatherford said. "I understand that they’ve been looking all over."

Once the developer realized the city of Acworth wasn’t interested, they went elsewhere, Weatherford said.

"I don’t believe they got as far as asking for anything," he said. "The city manager brought it to us and told us about it. We actually didn’t have time to digest it. I had mixed feelings about it. I don’t know if it will draw that many people or not."

(For the record, the Dawson County project and the Cobb County one…were NOT proposed by the same developer.

Will our demographics support such as facility 365 days a year? That IS the question, but get this – developer Steven Winters says his project has been in the works for more than seven years. He says the project will incorporate an area of Lake Lanier, about 48 miles northeast of HotLanta. He has a name for it – Mount Pegasus – and it would be an estimated $1 billion ski dome. Plans also call for two ice rinks, four hotels, 30 restaurants and 800,000 square feet of shops and homes.

Here’s the full specs:

Called the Falls at Lanier Highland, the proposed resort would be built on land between Georgia 400 and Georgia 53. It would be a 2.1 million-square-foot project that would include retail stores and hotels and generate about 2,500 jobs.

The proposed $1 billion indoor ski resort promises 6,000 tons of man-made snow.

It will house two quarter-pipes, a half-pipe, and a super pipe.

It will host a mogul field, the world’s only indoor snowmobile track AND a one mile Formula One snowmobile track.

According to Winters it will also provice two ice rinks — one of them will be to NHL specs.

Winters has told county officials that he believes the project, which includes its own wastewater treatment facility, would have an annual impact of $100 million, bringing more than 2,000 jobs to the county.

WHEW…ANYONE ELSE GET DIZZY FROM THAT WHIRLWIND OF SALES PITCH???

The Dawson County Development Authority has taken the proposal under serious consideration and a decision is expected later this month.

HERE IS WHERE THINGS GET STRANGE(R)

All you have to do is do a little reading between the lines to see that this story sounds an awful lot like the Pheonix Mountain malarkey of two years ago…except for the new twist of a Ski Dubai looking, indoor resort. I WILL say that somebody is going to build an indoor ski facility. It’s only a matter of time and our friends in Canton may be the first to do it…but it sure seems that Atlanta or Charlotte would be a more likely choice of locations. Charlotte has already constructed an artificial whitewater facility where no rushing streams existed…so why not a ski resort?

What makes these current deals come off a bit strange is the fact that even some of those people contacted are skeptical.

Right now, Winters’ dream park is merely a presentation before the county’s development authority, Dawson County Commission Chairman Mike Berg said.

"I’ve talked with the guy three times, but I really don’t know who he is," Berg said. "He’s definitely a mystery man."

Berg also said he wasn’t aware of any completed feasibility study on the project.

"Right now, the Dawson County Board of Commissioners knows about as much as everyone else about this project," he said.

Berg added that Winters told him that the city of Adairsville in Bartow County was offering a package that included free land as an inducement to land the proposed development.

"I told him he needed to be talking with the city of Adairsville," Berg said. (Hmmmm…Berg wasn’t too impressed :-) )

Here’s where perhaps even more snake oil is added in. A city of Adairsville spokeswoman said that the only knowledge that Adairsville City Manager Larry Pratt has about the project is what he learned during the recent media frenzy about the proposed development in Dawson County. (Oops, somebody forgot that we’re living in a world of instant communication!)

Another possible slip up is the story that got out somewhere that someone told someone else that the proposed 2.1 million square foot Dawson County, Mount Pegasus resort was being developed by someone who was heavily involved with the Ski Dubai resort. Ummm…one phone call MIGHT be all of the involvement that they had with Ski Dubai. Lucas Marchand, operations manager for Ski Dubai, said Winters was not personally involved in the development of that project. Marchand DID say, "I can confirm though that he is in contact with Dave Winnett from Acer Snowmec (Ski Dubai designers) and Phil Taylor from Team Leisure (Ski Dubai consultant) about various other similar projects."

W-h-a-t (pause) e-v-e-r!

We can tell you that news outlets have provided all of the momentum necessary to get people stirred up. …and we should also say that there is no data confirming that Winters ever said he or any of his team were involved in the Ski Dubai project. Hey and the guy has a great last name for a snow related project, doesn’t he?

Winters himself said recently, "People are just finding out about the project, even though the project has been on the drawing boards for several years."

"It’s not just about snow, it’s not just about entertainment, it’s really a life experience," Winters added.

"It’ll be a million square foot indoor ski dome with five runs. For the snowboarders, we’ll have two quarter-pipes, a half-pipe, and a super pipe; a mogul field. We’ll have the world’s only indoor snowmobile track — we’ll have a one mile Formula One snowmobile track," said Winters. "Two ice rinks — one of them will be to NHL specs."

Add to that, four hotels, 30 restaurants and 800,000 square feet of shops and homes. It would sit off Georgia 400 and Highway 53, along Lake Lanier. It would be as large as two Six Flags Over Georgia parks placed side by side.  (Hey he has a nice artist rendering!)

"Beautiful piece of property, with a beautiful view of the mountains," said Winters. "It has Lake Lanier, and we have something that can grow in the future."

Winters has been working on the project for seven years. He has foreign investors on board and predicts $100 million in revenue each year. Plus he said that the project will generate 2,000 jobs.

Anyone else getting dizzy again?

OKAY, HERE’S WHERE I WILL TAKE MY TONGUE OUT OF MY OWN CHEEK…

While some of the details sound a bit outlandish (I’m cooling my skepticism), DREAMS can come true. Every reality begins with a dream. For the record, ski domes are a growing tourism phenomenon, with about 15 large indoor ski venues in the world and dozens of smaller ones. If Winters’ project happens, Mount Pegasus would be four times larger than the largest ski dome built so far, Ski Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, at 250,000 square feet. Mount Pegasus would measure 1 million square feet, with a 2,500-foot-long slope and a 300-foot vertical drop.

The first indoor ski facility in the United States, a $1.3 billion project called Meadowlands Xanadu, is planned to open in 2008 off the New Jersey Turnpike, a few miles from Manhattan, and next to the existing pro football, hockey, basketball, horse racing and concert venue, called the Meadowlands. Developers in Fort Worth, Texas, are also planning a nearly $700 million outdoor artificial-snow ski slope for snow boarders. So if New Jersey can pull it off, SOMEONE down South will as well!

Steve Winters, said Dawsonville is a great spot for Mount Pegasus because it’s "within 100 miles of 6 million people" with disposable income and little access to snowy peaks.

Winters said the project is backed entirely by equity capital from European and Middle Eastern investors.

Winters’ company, SRW International LLC, specializes in shopping centers, he told the authority. He has 30 years of experience in retail, but has hired 26 designers, architects and experts that have built ski domes in Europe and Dubai to consult on his project.

The proposal has attracted the attention of state economic development officials.

"This is the kind of project that we’ve been hoping for," said Charlie Gatlin, state deputy commissioner for tourism and marketing, who attended the Aug. 28 meeting. Tourism officials have struggled with the perception that Georgia is a "pass-through state," for folks connecting to flights at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport or driving through to get to Florida. "We want points of destination," he said.

Gov. Sonny Perdue has appointed Gatlin to help build a package of "Kia-like" incentives for the project, which would create about 2,000 jobs, Winters estimates. The Kia auto assembly plant now being built in West Point, Ga., will create an estimated 2,900 jobs.

Winters’ plans to build the ski village — seven years in the making — were nearly derailed in May when Perdue vetoed a crucial tax incentive that foreign investors were waiting on to cement funding deals for the project.

Had Perdue approved House Bill 451, Winters’ project would have qualified for $250 million in sales tax refunds over a 10-year period, or 25 percent of his project’s budget.

On June 13, after a June 8 Atlanta Business Chronicle article on the veto, Perdue and other state officials like State Sen. Chip Pearson, R-Dawsonville, who also chairs the Senate’s Economic Development Committee, met with Winters, renewing his hope for putting the project in Dawsonville.

Said Winters: "The governor discussed working a shuttle out from the airport because it would be that much of a draw, with the ski dome, outlet mall and Lake Lanier."

Winters estimates the development would get 3 million to 4 million visitors a year, and generate $100 million in revenue.

OKAY…OKAY…anyone got a calculator?

At the LOW end of Winters’ estimate that would mean that 8,219 people A DAY, 365 days a YEAR would be visiting the resort. Ummmm, has anyone seen the numbers on a Tuesday or Wednesday in MARCH at the outdoor ski areas of the region? Additionally, all salesmanship aside, figures on the high side of Winters’ estimate would put the ski resort in the top 30 or so visited "theme parks" in the world. Ummmmm….no.

Regardless of some fuzzy-math-like-numbers an indoor ski resort will happen at some point and maybe even within the next two to three years. With decent attendance you have to wonder what kind of effect it might have on the ski areas of the Southeast. My guess is – not much. The best ran ski areas will continue to flourish and those that are not providing a good product will suffer somewhat. You might even see a lone failure result from skier visits going elsewhere. That remains to be seen.  Basically, anything to do with tourism pretty much dictates "Build it and they will come" even if not to the level that some super sales reps think.

However there is NOTHING like driving into the higher elevations and catching some wind in your face and powder under your skis…and you only get that in the mountains. (Of course it was only 40-some years ago that people thought you could only ski where natural snow fell!)

You have to hand it to Winters, who gives you the feeling of what P.T. Barnum had to be like when he was founding "The Greatest Show on Earth". When describing his Mount Pegasus project he stated further claims that his indoor ski runs would include what he termed as "double-diamond difficulty". Winters still has to clear several hurdles before he can break ground on the project.

He may wait to see if the state’s lawmakers reintroduce the tourism bill that would give him a large sales tax break.

Winters is also looking for bond money or other inducements and road money and he still needs to get zoning and permitting approvals. The earliest he could open the ski dome, pending approvals, would be 2009 or 2010, he told the Dawson County Development Authority board on Aug. 28.

He said to expect the look and feel of Beaver Creek in Vail. "We’ve thought hard and long about the look we wanted to give this project."

OKAY…THAT’S IT. I just visited Beaver Creek last February and I can tell you that you just could not put a dome over that place. It will be interesting when and if it all plays out WHAT THE FINAL project actually looks like and whether the public will support it.

FINAL THOUGHTS…

I don’t have the inside information on the Winters or Westmoreland project, but the more you hear about them, the more you get excited…and the more questions arise. One news reporter wrote me yesterday posing a question to us that should be posed to the developers. She wrote, "Mike, I want to remain ‘off the record’ but from what I read about the Canton resort, it seems like they are saying that if enough condos are sold – they will build the indoor ski center and if a lot more are sold, they will build more winter sports amenities. Is that your take?"

I have to say that I don’t know anything more than any of you, so anything that I might say would be nothing more than my opinion – for whatever that’s worth. Unlike a lot of Hollywood stars who seem to think that being famous gives them some special insight to being politically smarter than the rest of us…I will not fall prey to the that and say that just because we run a ski website, that doesn’t make us all-knowing about all things related to skiing. (It doesn’t make us Nostradamus either!)

All we can say is that the Dawson County Project is currently only a dream and the Westmoreland project has some level of "teeth". Westmoreland owns the property that he is building on and while the likelihood of Phase II and additional Phases might depend on the success of initial real estate sales, they are not providing any further information publicly. County Alderman have had their phones ringing off the hook, so according to our contacts they will have their official spokesperson, Charlie Crawford provide news interviews within days. If we have something more concrete to share, we will…and until then…the next news you read here will be about our EXISTING RESORTS OF THE SOUTHEAST.

Until Next Time!

Be sure to check out www.SkiSoutheast.com  for more news and stories for all of the Southeast’s ski areas.

Be sure to email photos, snow reports and comments to: mail@skiSoutheast.com

Photo credits – 11Alive.com News

Mike is the Editor and founder of SkiNC.com and SkiSoutheast.com. Since September of 1996 he has written more than 2800 articles promoting all of the ski areas of North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland. While attending to the thousands of emails, photo submissions and On-Snow reports that come in all season long, Doble also owns and operates a full service web design and marketing company that has more than 800 clients in 30+ states and several countries. He shares that it was his passion for all things snow that prompted him to start the ski network and since that time the website has gained popularity through it's webcam and weather content as well. Mike is the father of four daughters, is an avid snow and water skier, football freak of his alma mater (the University of South Carolina) and hearty promoter of all that is Western North Carolina to West Virginia and Maryland. Mike spends his off time with his horses, playing golf, tennis and boating on Watauga Lake with his family and friends, coaching local soccer teams and oh yes...Snow Skiing!