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Proposal to build Bay Area ski park not getting air

By Rachel Estabrook | 6 Mar 2013

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This flier is exciting many Bay Area skiers and snowboarders, but the developer has not finalized a location for it. (Photo: Bay Area Snow Park Facebook page)

This flier is exciting many Bay Area skiers and snowboarders, but the developer has not finalized a location for the proposed park. (Photo: Bay Area Snow Park Facebook page)

Thousands of Bay Area skiers and snowboarders flock to Tahoe every winter weekend, even though it’s an expensive and time-consuming trek. So, one developer is trying to bring a slope closer to home by building a year-round ski hill somewhere in the Bay Area.

It would use a turf-like surface to mimic powdery conditions, and the idea is generating significant buzz in social media and on local blogs. But there is one problem: The company hasn’t found a city willing to host it.

The developer, Martin Benik, negotiated with Morgan Hill in 2009 and 2010 to build near the east side of 101 but withdrew because of the high price of an environmental review required for the proposed site, according to reports in the Morgan Hill Times.

More recently, in December 2012 Benik met with San Jose’s parks department and posted a flier online stating that the project was “Coming soon to Lake Cunningham Park,” a public park in the eastern part of the city. But the parks department rejected the proposal to focus on other parks priorities that the City Council adopted a few years ago, again leaving Benik without a place to build.

San Jose’s Parks, Recreation & Neighborhood Services spokesperson Matt Cano said his department was not involved in the publication of the flier and did not authorize it. Cano said the city turned down the project because it is “just not something that is aligned with our current priorities,” which includes a new dirt bike park and off-road bike trails at Lake Cunningham Park.

Benik declined requests to comment, but in January the online flier and the snow park’s Facebook page were changed to say that the facility is “Coming soon to the Bay Area.”

The online posts are part of Benik’s campaign to build a groundswell of support. He has also taken to Instagram and created an online petition. While it’s not clear how many people have signed the petition, the Facebook page has 2,297 fans and Benik’s proposal to San Jose’s parks department asserts that more than 2 million people on various social-media platforms said they support the project..

As a model for the project, the developer is looking to a facility built at Liberty University in southwestern Virginia, a place that gets even hotter than San Jose in the summertime. Built in 2009, the Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre offers skiing, snowboarding and a tubing hill that use a technology called Snowflex, trademarked by English inventor Briton Technologies. Its surface is a white, turf-like carpet with water spritzed up intermittently to allow skis and snowboards to glide easily.

Drew Sherwood, who manages the Liberty Mountain facility, describes the surface as being like the backside of Velcro. “There’s thousands and thousands of bristles in there, and they’re stitched in a downhill motion, which helps you be able to go fast.”

Sherwood says the facility has been successful in drawing students and area residents, but it is not highly profitable because the university allows many visitors to use it for free. He thinks similar hills would get a lot of use in areas that have high populations of skiers and snowboarders.

In addition to a hill, the proposed Bay Area facility would include a quarter- or half-pipe and freestyle features such as boxes, moguls, and jumps, as well as places to eat and shop.

According to the proposal presented to San Jose’s parks department, the developer estimates the project will cost about $18 million and plans to appeal to potential customers to help fund it, offering rewards like day or season passes, votes on the park’s design, access to private events and branded clothing in exchange for financial support.

Benik has not released these and other details on its Facebook page, despite persistent questions from fans about where exactly the park will be located, when it will open and how much it will cost to use. On March 1, the Facebook page administrator wrote, “We are working on more proposals for multiple locations, and are in a holding pattern for permits for a large event we are going to host in the next 6-8 weeks.”

In response to questions on Facebook about the purpose of the online petition, a post signed by Benik on January 11 states: “We plan to use this petition with other Cities in the Bay Area. This gives us a political leg to stand on at city meetings. Then it’s not just us saying it a great idea, it is all of you!”

Cano, the San Jose parks spokesman, said the developer has not presented a petition to the city. He added that he has not done a thorough review of the proposal since it is not on the city’s agenda, and that his office did not consult with anyone in Morgan Hill’s city government when making its decision. Referring to the proposal, “We haven’t analyzed all the numbers in here,” Cano said, “and we haven’t done outreach with other jurisdictions because it’s just not a project we’re working on right now.”

Cano said San Jose’s parks plan resulted from a “really extensive community process” The City Council adopted it in late 2009. “It’s been a few years since then but it’s still very valid,” Cano added.

“We have 51 areas in the city of San Jose that don’t have parks within walking distance of their homes,” Cano said. “We have 50 or more sports fields that we need to build in the city of San Jose for soccer or softball. We have hundreds of miles of trails that we’re trying to build out. We have a couple hundred million dollars of infrastructure backlog of existing facilities that are in need of repair.”

The developer can take the proposal directly to the San Jose City Council, but Cano predicts the council would also deny it in deference to the already-approved parks priorities.

In the meantime, fans of the project continue to pose questions and express excitement online. One, Alexander Jelinek, whose Facebook page says he lives in Santa Cruz, echoed the most common sentiment when thinking about the prospect of a ski hill in an area that reaches 100 degrees in the summer.

In late January, he wrote: “I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this.”

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