Imagine my surprise when, while scrolling through the many projects seeking backers at last year’s Texas-China Investment Summit, I discovered that some crazy folks wanted to build America’s first indoor ski resort right here in Austin. I wasn’t super optimistic about this project last year, but I’ve been wrong many, many times before, so I figured a little digging was necessary.
Earlier this week, I met with the team behind the proposal, Alibek Tupushev and his business partners, Monique Stevenson and Patrick Towne, to discuss their plans in further detail. The name of the project at the moment is SnowLand, and Tupushev’s company is TASAT Corporation — home of the slightly nonfunctional website I mentioned in last year’s story.
The first question you’re supposed to ask at these sort of interviews is about money. Tupushev, who earned a PhD in economics in his home country of Kazakstan, names a cost of $18-20 million for the construction of the company’s entry-level facility, which is honestly a bit less than I expected. The secret to this relatively reasonable price tag — at least by the standards of something as technologically advanced as an indoor ski resort — lies in its clever design.
SnowLand is modular, with some of its insulated panels and other components potentially prefabricated. A basic starter module contains more than 53,000 square feet of space, and Tupushev says it could be built within a six-month window, with the option of adding on additional modules later without interrupting the function of the original facility. This allows the project to immediately start generating revenue, something he says is important for attracting investors — certain parties have expressed interest, Tupushev says, but the team hasn’t yet secured funding for the development.
This is also why the company’s plans for SnowLand include additional industrial freezer space behind the scenes, creating a second stream of revenue by allowing nearby grocers or other companies to use the facility as cold storage. It’s an odd approach that makes some sense in the end — after all, if you’re going to keep a building that cold, you might as well do something else with it. Ski Dubai uses its melting snow to cool the air at the attached Mall of the Emirates, for example.
Though this type of project might appear fundamentally catastrophic from an environmental perspective, Tupushev claims the building’s insulation and refrigeration technology will actually be LEED compliant, allowing for 50% economy on energy consumption. I’ll leave someone else to crunch those numbers, but at least him and his team recognize that Austin’s a place that asks these sorts of questions.
Tupushev says he’d build the first SnowLand wherever he can, and names Florida and California as possibilities — but he also says Texas, specifically the Austin area, remains his first priority. Him and his team say they’re interested in building somewhere with an enthusiastic local government. Places like Cedar Park or Bee Cave, he says, may provide more incentives for building such an attraction, but they haven’t yet settled on a particular site.
His team also has plans for a higher-end facility that integrates a hotel, or even potential apartment living space, along with other commercial facilities — whichever plan they decide to build is dependent upon the investments they attract. With the modular nature of the technology, they say an existing hotel could possibly even be retrofitted with a SnowLand facility, which might be the most unique rehab of all time. Can we add this to the downtown Radisson’s upcoming rebranding project?
Sure, there’s a lot of “potentially” and “possibly” getting thrown around here, but the audacity of the SnowLand plan is what attracted me in the first place. In a region with indoor skydiving, artificial surfing, and the world’s largest bouldering gym, is an indoor ski facility really that much of a stretch for Austin’s booming adventure sports market? It’s certainly a bolder move than a $350 million indoor waterpark.