Plans revealed for America's largest indoor ski slope – on a landfill

Lucy Aspden
Fairfax Peak is set to become the largest indoor slope in America

Another week in the ski world means another announcement of a new indoor ski slope in a bizarre place – this time on a landfill site in Virginia, USA.

Officials from Fairfax County in northern Virginia, have revealed plans for a new indoor ski slope that, if approved, could be the longest of its kind in North America.

The project, known as Fairfax Peak, would be built on the site of the county’s interstate 95 landfill in the Lorton area. The site currently recycles and disposes of materials such as plastic bottles, cardboard and steel cans, as well as electronics and household hazardous waste.

Alpine-X, a Virginia-based company, has submitted a proposal to build a 450,000-square-foot snow-sports centre (nearly 41,800 square metres), with plans for a 1,700-foot/518-metre long, 280-foot/85-metre high ski slope.

Fairfax County is a key commuter location for Washington DC, 20 miles away from the site of the proposed slope across the county border.

The current Fairfax County landfill site

It has also been suggested that a mountain rollercoaster, an increasingly popular year-round attraction for ski resorts, could be built from the summit of the centre down into the neighbouring Occoquan Regional Park.

The recycling site is currently being closed down, which includes capping the site and planting vegetation on the surface; a long process that takes approximately two years. Once the site is returned to its natural state, and if the proposal for the indoor slopes is accepted, Alpine-X suggests it could complete the first phase of construction by 2022.

The new proposal for the site will be a stark change from its current use. In addition to the main slopes, plans include a terrain park, a beginner slope, a tubing slope, restaurants, shops and bars.

It’s reported that the main slope will be built in compliance with FIS standards so it could be used for international ski and snowboard competitions.

In recent years there has been an influx of indoor and artificial ski slopes being built around the world. A 800-metre dry ski slope in Serbia became the largest in the Europe last month. It overtook Hillend in Edinburgh, however the Scottish centre also announced it will undergo a multi-million pound makeover in the coming years, including the construction of a mountain rollercoaster and a zipline. In Copenhagen an artificial dry ski slope has opened on the roof of a power plant this year.

However, the rest of the world’s efforts are nothing when compared to the ongoing development of skiing in China, where numerous indoor and artificial slopes have been built.

Artist impressions of the new Fairfax Peak visitor centre

In 2017 the world’s largest indoor slope was built in Harbin, near China’s northern border with Russia. Harbin Wanda Indoor Ski and Winter Sports Resort includes six different runs, the longest being 500m in length. Although its slope isn’t the longest indoor piste in the world, it is the largest centre in terms of sheer size and the area it covers – roughly 80,000 square metres. In 2019 plans were revealed for a new indoor ski slope in Shanghai, Wintastar Shanghai, covering a whopping 227,000 square metres, with the ski slope itself spanning 90,000 of those.

The growth doesn’t stop there, last summer a year-round dry ski slope opened in the mountains near the city of Qingzhou – it’s now reported that China has 26 indoor slopes in total.

Slopes of this kind are less common in the USA. The country is home to some of the most snow-sure ski resorts on the planet and many are currently celebrating a historic year for visitors numbers, surpassing 59 million, thanks to record-breaking snowfall at the start of 2019.

Fairfax Peak’s only competition in the USA comes from Big SNOW, America’s first indoor ski slope set to open this year as part of the new American Dream shopping centre in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Plans to open the 800-foot (242 metre) slope have been delayed numerous times. The slope at Fairfax would be more than double the size if plans are approved.

The rise of man-made ski centres and slopes is often cited as a just one way the ski industry is preparing to combat the effects of climate change and global warming on the ski industry. Facilities like Fairfax Peak provide a long-term strategy to stay sustainable when winter weather becomes more unpredictable.