There’s a hill (a landfill, actually) just off Interstate 95 overlooking the Occoquan Bay that will soon be transformed into the first-of-its-kind indoor snow ski resort and family sports complex in the country. Picture it: An indoor ski slope—the longest indoor slope in the country at 1,700 feet long and 280 feet high—will serve as the centerpiece of the 450,000-square-foot development, which will also include multiple ski runs, a sky bar and event facility at the summit, a 100-plusroom hotel at the base, multiple dining and drinking establishments and a tubing slope. In the long-range plans, Fairfax Peak—the working title for the development—will also include a large wave/surf park, producing 6-inch to 8-foot waves, with other outdoor recreation facilities and activities such as a mountain roller coaster, biking and hiking trails, a ropes course and zip line and an area for radio control plane flying. Also on the drawing board is an Alpine Village with retail, entertainmentand potential accommodations.
The brain behind the behemoth of a tourist attraction is Niels ten Berge, one of the partners with Alpine-X, a McLean-based holding company focused on developing, according to its website, “family-centric active lifestyle communities and experience-based sports entertainment venues.”
Alpine-X is working with SnowWorld USA, a Delaware- based company that already has similar indoor ski complexes in locations throughout the Netherlands. This project would be the first U.S. location. Why bring it to Fairfax?
According to ten Barge, the Alpine-X team looked for a location that was close to a large urban center, on a large piece of (relatively affordable) land, without a two- to three hour drive that would force visitors to stay overnight.
“The developers see that there is a great regional demand for this sort of indoor skiing facility, from Philadelphia down past Richmond,” says Victor Hoskins, president and CEO of Fairfax County Economic Development Authority. “We are after a lot of young workers in this area right now [for Amazon], and we view this as a real family asset for the DC region.”
Barry Biggar, CEO of Visit Fairfax, the official tourism organization of Fairfax County, says that supervisor Dan Storck, who represents Mount Vernon District on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, approached him about the project when they put together a sports tourism task force in June 2017 (Biggar is a member of that task force). “If you look at the market for avid downhill skiers, you have a market base within about a 50- to 75-mile radius of in excess of 300,000 people who downhill ski annually and are crazy for it,” Biggar says. “So you already have a pretty significant built-in market for those periods of the year when they are not on the slopes. This also opens up markets such as a practice facility for ski patrols and a facility for development of military and first responders who have to deal with winter climates.”
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to move forward with the project in November. Now, Fairfax Peak is in the public engagement and environmental impact study stage and is aiming to break ground after that. From there, it will take about two years to build out the first phase of the project
The impact, both on the local economy and the tourism industry, is expected to be sizable. Fairfax Peak is projected to create over 15,000 jobs and $750,000 annually in sales and hotel taxes, according to Visit Fairfax. Attendance could be as high 400,000 guests a year, with most coming from the DC metro area
For Northern Virginians, it also opens up a day trip option for skiing, rather than heading farther afield to a ski resort. Plus, first-time skiers can get a more user-friendly, climate-controlled experience and then transition to the outdoors on a regional ski slope of their preference, ten Barge says.
These are challenging times for any commercial construction operation, says ten Barge, and a project like this has plenty of ups and downs that have to be dealt with. For example, building on the aforementioned landfill—the Lorton Landfill Complex—hasn’t been without some pushback from environmental groups. Scott Sizer, a coordinator on the public-private partnership for Fairfax County, says siting the project on a landfill gives needed elevation for the ski slope, noting that several of the SnowWorld developments in Europe are similarly located on landfills. The Lorton landfill was capped in 1992, and, Sizer explains, additional environmental study results are anticipated in spring 2021. “It’s a 30-year-old landfill, and so a lot of the decomposition we believe has happened,” he says. “We don’t anticipate seeing a lot of settlement as part of these studies”
As of now, an anticipated opening date hasn’t been announced for the ski facility and hotel—ten Barge notes it will likely open in phases—but local ski fans are already looking forward to hitting the slopes.