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Officials expect heavy snowfall will boost Flagstaff economy

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FLAGSTAFF – “Get mom!” one man tells his toddler as they launch snowballs near Northern Arizona University’s campus in Flagstaff on Sunday.

Families broke out their sleds, built snowmen and pelted one another as a storm dumped one of the heaviest snowfalls the area has seen in years.

The winter weather continued Monday with an expected 4 to 10 inches of snow accumulation in some areas, according to the National Weather Service in Flagstaff.

The weather was so severe, Flagstaff Unified School District closed schools, NAU cancelled afternoon classes and many offices had skeleton staffs.

While inconvenient for many residents, the snow meant good times for families ­– and a potential boon for businesses.

“We rely on our winter economy,” said Julie Pastrick, president and CEO of the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce.

A spike in snowfall drives up business across all industry sectors, Pastrick said.

That includes everything from gas stations and hotels to Arizona Snowbowl.

“Up until the last 10 days, our winter season was about average,” said Jason Stratton, director of sales and marketing at Arizona Snowbowl. But with a reported 59 inches of snow in the past seven days and still falling, Stratton said the ski resort has seen a significant spike in attendance.

Lee Cowan, owner of Ski Haus Rental, said customers have flocked to the store.

“It’s just mind blowing for a lot of different people in the southwest to see snow like this,” he said.

The ski and snowboarding rental shop is scrambling to find enough employees after cutting its staff a week ago because of low demand, Cowan said.

“It’s not just a ski and snowboard shop that’s going to be stoked. It’s going to be all the hotels that are booked, all the restaurants, all the employees,” Cowan said. “This is good for the economy here and good for the environment.”

And although Flagstaff has seen a relatively dry winter thus far, visitors already have contributed more to city coffers this year compared to last year.

The Flagstaff tourism tax or “BBB tax”– bed, board and booze tax – collections were up 18 percent in January compared to the same month last year.  The city collected $560,604 in January.

This tax is the extra 2 percent in addition to the regular city sales tax that you pay on purchases from every restaurant, bar and hotel in the city. February figures are not yet available.

January hotel occupancy also was up about 20 percent over the previous year, according to the Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Flagstaff officials said they expect to see more visitors now that the snow is falling, spokeswoman Joanne Hudson said.

The bureau’s conducted a “Winter Visitor Study” in 2009 that indicated people visiting for snow play had an economic impact of $11.2 million in direct spending and $1.36 million in tax revenue for state, county and local governments. Skiing brought in another $15.8 million in direct spending, the report said.

The bureau conducted the study before Arizona Snowbowl could make manmade snow. Now that the resort can open from November through early April, officials said they expect higher numbers, Hudson said.