Snow me the money

Downtown ski resort turns campus into local attraction

By Matt Bayman

Photo: “The city ended up not only paying for all of the overtime hours incurred from plowing the streets and creating Mount UD, but set aside more than $100,000 for salt to be used for future storms.” – UD student Michelle Gephardt

University of Dayton sophomore Michelle Gephardt moved to Dayton from Stowe, Vermont in 2012. So when this year’s record-breaking snow hit the Miami Valley, she wasn’t as shocked as her roommate Sharnitha King, who moved to campus from Flagler Beach, Florida in June and had little experience with snow.

“In Vermont, the saying goes, we have nine months of winter and three months of bad skiing,” Gephardt said. “Snow is just a part of life (in Vermont), and it’s something we all expect to happen every winter.”

With her upbringing in New England, Gephardt admitted she watched in amazement from the window of her fifth floor dorm room as workers from the City of Dayton used plows to pile giant hills of snow in the parking lot of her dorm – as well as every other nook and cranny in downtown Dayton.

“When the snow started on Tuesday, the city workers seemed to know what to do,” she said. “They had already put salt down on Monday night and most of my friends made it to work and class without any trouble.”

On Wednesday more salt was scattered on the streets of Dayton and around campus, but the snow seemed to fall faster than workers could keep up with.

“By Thursday it looked like the city was running out of places to put the snow,” Gephardt said. “I watched one worker pile a hill of snow so high that it collapsed on his truck. It took rescue workers about three hours just to get him out.”

Around this time, King said she began to worry things were getting out of hand. News reports stated that not only was the City of Dayton running out of salt for the roads, but also places to put the snow.

“The news was saying the city was trying to buy salt from other municipalities in Darke County and Greene County, but nobody could spare any,” King said. “I called my mom to see if she could get me a ticket home, but it was too late. I was stuck.”

A Level 3 Snow Emergency was declared on Thursday evening and thousands of University of Dayton students, and residents of Dayton and Montgomery County, were not only stranded, but bored out of their minds.

Gephardt and King are both business majors, and with an entrepreneurial spirit and the old Chinese adage that crisis equals opportunity on their minds, the two women began to think about solutions to the problem.

“The City of Dayton obviously didn’t plan well for this year’s snow,” Gephardt said. “Something finally clicked for Sharnitha and me when the news reported that the city had not only run out of salt, but money to even pay their workers to move the snow.”

Gephardt and King began making calls to city officials, including the city manager, the mayor and numerous council members.

“We basically told them we had a solution to not only the money shortage, but also the problem of where to put all of this snow,” King said.

The plan was simple. City workers would use their snowplows to move as much snow as possible to the dorm parking lot – essentially creating a five-story mountain that backed up against their dorm building and sloped downward toward both Stewart Street and College Park.

“Skiing isn’t a cheap sport, but if you have good slopes and the right atmosphere, people will come from miles around to pay for and use them,” Gephardt said.

The plan worked.

Gephardt was able to contact her family and friends in Stowe and ordered enough skiing equipment to service an army.

It wasn’t long before national news outlets caught on to what was happening in Dayton, Ohio. CBS, Fox and CNN sent teams of reporters to cover what had become known as the largest manmade ski resort in the United States – third only to the indoor slopes found in Dubai and Tokyo.

“The more news coverage we received, the more people showed up and the more money we made,” King said.

Of course, King and Gephardt never intended to keep all of the money they earned from selling lift tickets and ski equipment at “Mount UD,” as it became known. Because the City of Dayton had supplied the plows and man-hours to create the mountain, which included six different slopes that were accessible via the elevators and rooftop exits at the duo’s dorm, more than half of the profits found their way into city coffers.

“The city ended up not only paying for all of the overtime hours incurred from plowing the streets and creating Mount UD, but set aside more than $100,000 for salt to be used for future storms,” Gephardt said.

Gephardt and King weren’t the only college students to profit from the slopes.

During the remainder of the winter, which saw four more snow storms, three new pubs that catered to skiers opened on Stewart Street. Other students made thousands from T-shirt sales.

Although Gephardt believed the best of her skiing days were a thing of the past when she moved to Dayton, she now looks forward to bringing her and King’s ideas to other cities and towns throughout the United States that fail to prepare for winter storms.

“This is going to be a franchise,” Gephardt concluded. “It’s been said that where there’s a will, there’s a way. Well, I say, where there’s snow and a lack of preparation, there’s money to be made, whether it’s in Stowe, Vermont, or Dayton, Ohio.”

Reach DCP freelance writer Matt Bayman at MattBayman@DaytonCityPaper.com

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