A Colorado native reviews a Florida snow hill

How does a theme park create winter in 70-degree weather?
Published Nov. 30, 2020|Updated Dec. 1, 2020

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As a native Coloradan, I’m familiar with several different types of snow.

There’s the light coating that dusts the ground and the trees in the spring and fall. Here in the morning, gone by the afternoon. There’s the soft, powdery snow that refuses to stick together enough to make a snowman, much less a snowball. There’s the just-right snow, wet enough to cling together, perfect for both building an igloo and skiing in the mountains. And, of course, there’s the man-made snow at ski resorts, a more icy variety.

So when an editor called for a volunteer to visit Snowcat Ridge, Florida’s “first and only alpine snow park,” according to its website, I jumped on the opportunity to see snow in the South. I moved to Florida in June, and having spent most of my life in icy climates, I miss the cold.

Park operators advise visitors dress in layers, so I prepared as if I were about to visit an ice rink, borrowing a coat, gloves and a hat from my roommate. Before driving up to Dade City on opening day, I donned a sweater and winter socks.

As soon as I arrived that sunny morning, it became clear that even in a winter snow park, Florida celebrates the season differently. As I watched another reporter head toward the park with just a light jacket, I decided to ditch my bundle of Northern-climate clothes in the trunk of my car. When I entered, Santa mingled with the press, clad in a Hawaiian T-shirt showing his sleigh and reindeer weaving through palm trees.

I checked the weather app on my phone. It was 73 degrees. As the day drew on, I began to sweat. With temperatures projected to reach the 80s, CEO Benjamin Nagengast said the park was at the upper end of the conditions under which it is able to operate.

Nagengast told reporters that the snow’s formula was “two parts magic, one part water” — a process that would take hours to explain. It also took five years of planning, and over a million dollars’ worth of research.

But heat wasn’t the only challenge facing the park. With the pandemic, it saw delays in shipping and had to navigate the health of its staff members. When Tropical Storm Eta swept through the Tampa Bay region, Snowcat Ridge lost power and its store of ice and premade snow.

On opening day, the hill was iced over but did not yet have snow, largely due to the high temperature, as well as the time it takes to build a snow base, marketing manager Winston McDaniel told me. However, the park’s Arctic Igloo, which includes a bunny hill for younger kids, did have a small amount of snow in the works.

Reporters were allowed to access the igloo to see the snow, but we were told the indoor dome was a work in progress, and not yet complete. There was a satisfying crackling sound as I curiously wandered around the igloo’s small pile of snow. As I held a chunk of the clear, crystallized substance in my hands, it reminded me of the makings of a snow cone, somewhat crunchier and icier than fresh, sticky, wet snow in the Centennial State.

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The snow hill at Snowcat Ridge was also a different beast than the sledding of my Colorado youth, but perhaps that’s for the best. While there are certainly tamer, grassy hills for sledding, my cousin once slid into a patch of cactus while visiting us during the winter. At the more popular mountain sites, kids must avoid both each other and the trees.

At 60 feet tall and 400 feet long, the tubing hill at Snowcat Ridge was something akin to a carnival slide, but with more lanes and inner tubes, rather than sacks. Riders were ferried up a magic carpet — a rubber conveyor belt of sorts that’s used at many ski resorts for transporting new skiers up the beginner’s slope.

The author takes a selfie at the top of Snowcat Ridge's tubing hill.
The author takes a selfie at the top of Snowcat Ridge's tubing hill. [ NATALIE WEBER | Times ]

At the top, I watched others approach the ride with a touch of nervousness. They let out excited screams as they raced down the slide. When it was my turn, a park operator instructed me to sit cross-legged in the inner tube and to hold its handles.

Before I knew it, my inner tube turned in a circle as I sped down the icy hill. Cool air radiated from the surface of the slide. Part of me worried I would fall out of my tube, but a puddle at the end of the hill broke my speed.

I’d love to see Snowcat Ridge in January, when it’s a bit colder and the park has had more time to build a snow base. But for nearly 80-degree weather in Florida, my initial expectations were far from realistic, even for an alpine snow park.

I’m still learning how to navigate fall and winter in a state that doesn’t have all four seasons. It’s been a pleasant realization that I can comfortably lay on a beach in November, rather than bundling up in a sweater, jacket and scarf.

Still, it’s nice to know that if I get homesick this time of year, there’s a theme park not too far away that offers the spirit of winter to the Sunshine State.


Snowcat Ridge, 27839 Saint Joe Road, Dade City, is open from 3 to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 3 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays this month. (It’s closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.) Hours change in January. Open through late March. Tickets are $24.95 and up. In addition to the snow tubing hill and Arctic Igloo, there is an Alpine Village, with vendors selling crafts, food and drinks. For more details, visit or call 813-576-1450.