Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Downhill All the Way for Texas Skiing

File this one under "truly ironic."

In a city duly named "Grand Prairie," here in north central Texas, a company has proposed building a 30-story indoor ski slope.

I'm not kidding.

Grand Prairie is called "Grand Prairie" because that's what it is:  a flat, plain, plane of scrubby land that sits between the bustling burgs of Fort Worth and Dallas.

Look at the top of the monitor or screen on which you're reading this.  That's what the topography of Grand Prairie looks like:  flat.

Is that a mountain of snow in Grand Prairie?
Not that there's anything particularly wrong with that.  But an indoor ski slope?  In the middle of Texas?  Open all year, no matter the weather outside?  Doesn't sandy Dubai already have one of those, and didn't we all think it was a goofy idea when they built it?

Developers who are proposing this new facility say technology has improved to the point where you don't need to be an oil sheik to fund such a project as an indoor ski resort in arid climates.  This is a sound business venture, they're saying with a straight face, complete with taxpayer subsidies to help make all the numbers add up.  And those numbers currently add up to a grand total cost of $215 million for the indoor ski slope and attached hotel.

The hotel is being designed to look like a cross between those sprawling timber-framed lodges in America's Rocky Mountains and Switzerland's elegant snow chalets.  It's even being called "The Grand Alps," as if anybody will confuse Grand Prairie's confection with the real thing.

Actually, the lodging part of the complex looks kinda like the Gaylord Texan resort in nearby Grapevine, and the Dallas Morning News has pointed out that the Grand Alps was originally proposed for Grapevine, before the mortgage meltdown, the Great Recession, and the evaporation of capital to finance such projects.

But good times are here again.  And to prove it, the hotel portion of the Grand Alps will be run by the cool-vibes Hard Rock Cafe company.  It will initially feature 300 rooms, and could be expanded in short order if the concept really takes off.  With conference rooms, restaurants, a wine bar, a rooftop swimming pool, and other amenities thrown into the mix, developers are hoping to create an ideal vacation destination for the legions of affluent vacationers from Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma who usually have to travel to Colorado and New Mexico for their skiing kicks.  In the wintertime.  With all of the other schleppers on winter vacation, all at once.

Of course, this being Texas, environmental considerations rank pretty far down the liability meter, just like they do in places like Dubai.  Air conditioning an indoor ski resort will be pretty energy-intensive in our north Texas winters, let alone our scorching summers, but apparently, the electricity grid in Grand Prairie is robust enough to handle it.

On the one hand, it's almost too easy to make fun of this idea.  But indoor ski slopes already exist in other parts of the world, such as India and Australia, which like the United Arab Emirates, are not exactly eco-friendly when it comes to mega-refrigeration projects.  Indoor ski slopes also seem popular in Germany and Japan, two relatively mountainous countries, so maybe much of the derisiveness about genuine skiers not being willing to trifle with such artificiality is inaccurate.

Perhaps the audacity of it all - a 300-foot-tall ski slope in a city that even honors the prairie by putting it in its name - will be enough to market the Grand Alps into a popular, albeit unexpected, destination.  Hey - down the street from the Grand Alps' location is a Ripley's Believe It Or Not, which itself simply adds to the irony of it all.

But as much planning as has already gone into this project, it appears the developers have forgotten to include one crucial component:  an on-site surgery center.

There is one, small public hospital in Grand Prairie, but it's several miles away from where the Grand Alps will be.  Maybe that's close enough, considering how far some tourists have to travel to reach medical care at real slopes in smaller towns in Colorado.  But if they're expecting 1.3 million visitors annually at the Grand Alps, and you want to keep your victims - er, visitors - on-site as long as possible, spending as much money as possible, isn't a surgery center more essential than amenity?

After all, after everybody's winter vacations, isn't it easy to figure out who's been skiing by the casts on their legs when they return?

Then again, on fake slopes like those that will be at the Grand Alps, I suppose there are far fewer trees to run into.

Update February 24, 2015:  Developers of the Grand Alps have put their project on hold, ostensibly because they couldn't reach a financial agreement with the city of Grand Prairie.  That's probably as good an excuse as any for pulling the plug on a project that faced considerable ridicule from the general public.

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