The local forecast was a toasty 85 degrees and sunny — yet somehow there was snow and ice.
At Snowcat Ridge Alpine Snow Park, those contradictory climate conditions are the norm.
Florida’s first-ever snow park is now open for business, at 27839 Saint Joe Road in Dade City.
The wintry theme park was officially unveiled during a grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony last month.
There are three main attractions on the 20-acre site.
The most prominent of them is called Snowy Slopes.
It’s a 60-foot-tall, 400-foot-long snow tubing hill featuring single, tandem and family-style snowtubing.
While the adrenaline-charged attraction doesn’t actually feature snow per se, there is a thin layer of ice spread along the 25-lane downhill slopes, where speeds can reach up to 25 mph.
And, it’s not a hike up the hill, as riders are transported to the top via a pair of moving walkway conveyor lifts.
Meanwhile, the ‘real’ — or more precisely ‘manmade’ — snow is found at the park’s Arctic Igloo attraction, a 10,000-square-foot enclosed circular space that is covered in snow, which is thick enough to build snowmen, and make snow angels and snowballs.
The 50-foot-tall rounded igloo also features a bunny slope for kids age 3 and younger.
And, just because you’re heading to this snow park in Florida — don’t forget to bring your jacket. Temperatures in the dome hover at 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
Situated between the steep slopes and snowy igloo is Alpine Village, an expansive concourse area that exhibits a line of local vendors offering an assortment of food, drinks, beer, wine, craft goods and holiday gift shopping.
The open walking space also features a campfire seating area — perfect for roasting s’mores and drinking hot cocoa — along tables and benches that offer a scenic view of the slopes. It takes on added importance in the evening hours, where a nighttime music and light show takes place atop the slopes.
Snowcat Ridge, which broke ground in March, has been in the making for some five years, according to Benjamin Nagengast, the park’s CEO.
The attraction sits on land adjacent to other popular attractions the Nagengast family operates: TreeHoppers Aerial Adventure and Scream-A-Geddon Horror Park.
Turning Snowcat Ridge from vision to reality took millions of dollars in investment and “a lot of engineering and research and feasibility,” Nagengast said. “A lot of folks didn’t think it was possible, (but) it is possible,” he said.
The looming question everyone asks: So, how do you make it snow in Florida?
“Two parts magic, one part water,” Nagengast quipped, when describing the snowmaking process.
He also joked that it would take a two-hour lecture to explain the process. Then, he said, “suffice it to say that we use a lot of new technology to be able to do it, without using very much water at all, actually, and we’re able to keep the snow cold.”
Snowmaking machines and cooling systems are running throughout the park 24 hours a day.
Since work ramped up in early Spring, the project experienced various construction and equipment delays amid the coronavirus pandemic and tropical storm scares, Nagengast said.
The park recently endured a setback when Tropical Storm Eta blew through, knocking out the power.
The incident caused the park to “start from scratch” in producing snow, ice and other frozen materials, he said.
The park’s CEO put the journey toward getting to opening day into perspective: “There’s been a lot of different challenges in keeping our staff safe, and there’s been plenty of additional expenses, but I will say we’re very happy that Florida has taken a stance to make sure that people are safe, while still being able to get outside and enjoy facilities like this.”
Daily attendance will be capped at the park — with the aim of creating a more intimate, enjoyable experience for visitors and families, while at the same time adhering to COVID-19 health and safety protocols recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“When you’re out here on Saturday, you will not see thousands of people,” Nagengast said. “We actually keep that number down to make sure that we give a top-notch experience to our customers and make sure they have a great time,” he said.
Initially, the park will prioritize serving locals, and then market to tourists visiting the region.
That strategy has worked with the family’s other attractions, the CEO said.
“We love tourists, but for us, we’ve always found that whenever we service that local population, then the tourists find out about us and they tour it as well,” Nagengast said.
Local tourism officials, meanwhile, are buzzing about the park’s potential to attract visitors to the county, the greater Tampa Bay area, and Central Florida as a whole.
Pasco County tourism director Adam Thomas was seen donning a thick scarf despite the warm conditions at the park reveal.
When the county last year rebranded it’s marketing destination as Florida’s Sports Coast, he joked, “We really weren’t anticipating to add snowtubing and snowball fights to our destination’s repertoire of activities.”
Thomas underscored his excitement: “What’s more unique than a mouse, a rollercoaster and a beach? A snow park in Florida, right? How amazing is that?”
VisitFlorida regional partnership manager Jen Carlisle was similarly enthusiastic about how Snowcat Ridge fits into the area’s tourism and visitor portfolio of attraction.
It is, she said, “a huge win for our tourism state and our tourism economy.”
“Florida is renowned for its beautiful weather and diverse array of destinations and attractions, and while we get to enjoy summertime all year round, with Snowcat Ridge we now have the best of winter right here at our fingertips in Florida’s Sports Coast,” Carlisle said.
The project, she added, “will surely enhance the unique Sunshine State vacation experience for all, and for many years to come.”
Snowcat Ridge is a winter snow park, giving visitors a chance to go snowtubing, engage in snowball fights, make snow angels and have other wintry fun.
Where: 27839 Saint Joe Road, Dade City
When: Operates daily, except Christmas, from around November through March
Park hours in December are 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday; 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., on Friday and Saturday
Cost: Tickets start at $24.95.
Info: Visit snowcatridge.com, or call 813-576-1450.