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.


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.
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.

$309M extreme sports resort planned for C. Fla.

FROM: The Orlando Business Journal

Breaking: $309M extreme sports resort planned for C. Fla.
Feb 11, 2015, 11:50am EST Updated: Feb 11, 2015, 4:55pm EST

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


Richard Bilbao
Reporter- Orlando Business Journal

Are you ready, X-Games? Central Florida will be home for snowboarders, surfers and fans of all sorts of extreme sports if Xero Gravity Action Sports LLC’s turns its plans to build a $309 million sports facility into a reality.

The Atlantic Beach-based company announced Feb. 10 it plans to build a sports resort in Osceola County that will offer myriad sports-related facilities and activities, as well as hotel and restaurant accommodations that could result in drawing more than 1 million annual visitors and generating millions of dollars in economic impact for the region.

According to a release, here’s a list of what the proposed resort would contain — sit back ’cause it’s quite the project:

“The resort will include a 14-story ski and snowboard mountain with nine snow tubing lanes; 5 acres of real surfing with up to 10-foot waves and a boogie boarding area; a 25,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor skateboard park; a USA-BMX sanctioned race track; two skydiving pods; a 20,000-square-foot indoor dodge-ball trampoline arena; a rapid river; rock climbing up to 140 feet; zip-lining throughout the park; two 14-story competition waterslides by WhiteWater; 20-foot to 120-foot free fall jump zones; an interactive four-story climbing/zipline/ropes challenge course; and snowball fight arena.”

In addition, the project is expected to have a 250-room Hyatt-flag hotel with a rooftop pool and bar, a 2,000-seat amphitheater, swim-up bars and grottos, swimming pools, cabanas, day spa, retail and training facilities, restaurants and sports bars and the International Action Sports Hall of Fame, said the release. Also, more than 1,000 new jobs will be needed to operate the facility.

Executives with the company said they are in talks with Osceola County officials regarding the project, as well as undergoing the “due diligence” needed to secure the property. If approved, the resort is expected to open by 2018.

The facility is expected to sit on 75 acres of land owned by Central Florida Investments Inc., the parent company of Westgate Resorts, near the intersection of U.S. Highway 192 and State Road 535.

“Our company is creating the next step in the tourism sports industry,” said Larry Walshaw, CEO and founder of the company, in a prepared statement. “We are developing a one-of-a-kind sports and entertainment resort which provides unique hands-on experiences. We will be hosting televised pro and amateur competitions, think X-games, with sports shows and clinics, and we will have daily competitions at all venues for visitors who like to compete.”

Central Florida has seen many proposed extreme sports parks come and go, but there’s no doubt the region has the land and tourist draw to make the right project successful. It’s just a matter of if Xero Gravity can make the project a reality and make it work.

Check back as this is a developing story. More to come later.

Xero Gravity’s sports resort developer shares new details

FROM:  The Orlando Business Journal
Exclusive: Xero Gravity’s sports resort developer shares new details
Feb 17, 2015, 2:33pm EST Updated: Feb 17, 2015, 3:19pm EST

Orlando Business Journal

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

Larry Walshaw may be a name Orlando remembers for a long time if he can pull off building the $309 million sports resort complex in Osceola County.

His development has created quite the buzz as it includes a 14-story skiing and snowboarding mountain, a surf wave pool, skydiving pods, a resort hotel and multiple other athletic facilities. The resort is planned just behind the intersection of U.S. Highway 192 and State Road 535.

However, the negotiations on that land — which is owned by Central Florida Investments Inc. — have yet to result in a sale, said owner David Siegel of Westgate Resorts, in a previous story.
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So we checked back with Walshaw of Xero Gravity Action Sports to get some more details on the project. Here’s what he has to say:

Whats your source for financing? Due to the size of this project, the financing has to be broken into multiple capital sources such as bonds secured by incentives from the county, private equity, mezzanine financing and long-term debt.

Has that funding been secured? No. Until we’re able to secure the land and obtain certain soft commitments from the county, capital cannot be obtained. Now that we have a comfort level that the county and community are behind this project, we can comfortably go out to the capital and private equity markets for funding. We are just getting started here. If we are to make this project a reality and provide a long-lasting benefit for the county and the region, it will take a concentrated effort of all interested parties to bring this home.

What still has to happen for your project to become a reality? Complete the capital raise, full design and construction drawings, obtain county approval, and bond approval.

Central Florida’s seen projects like this come and go — why should locals believe yours is a reality? They shouldn’t until we give them more than just pretty drawings showing a great idea for the community.

If 2018 is the opening date, when will construction begin? We hope to break ground by the end of this year or early 2016.

How long should it take to build? Two years

What future expansion/growth opportunities do you still have in mind? At the Osceola location, we have adjacent land that is available to take us over 100 acres. Nationally, we are in discussions with Houston and Los Angeles, and globally with entities in China, Dubai and Australia.