SAN JOSE -- It was seven years ago when an outlandish idea bowled Martin Benik over like a faux-snow avalanche.
He was vacationing with a friend in Birmingham, England, channel-surfing in a hotel room when on the screen appeared a young man snowboarding on a synthetic fiber surface, shredding as if on real snow.
"I looked at my friend and said, 'Are you seeing this? Are you really seeing this?' " Benik said. "I hit him in the face with a pillow and said, 'This is something they don't have in the United States.' "
Benik never doubted his "Eureka!" moment and has dreamed of an all-year South Bay ski and snowboard slope ever since. It's an idea he hopes catches on with the city. So he's begun a campaign to raise $1 million to jump-start the project, which he estimates would cost $18 million.
His plan: an enormous mound of dirt, covered with a manufactured surface called Snowflex, atop the Singleton landfill site in southeast San Jose.
"I thought it was amazing that nothing like this exists around here," Benik said. "What I'm doing now is raising money to prove to the city that the community supports the idea."
Ultimately, the idea is to build up 15 acres into a hill about 140 feet tall, with 94,000 square feet of varying slopes and stunt features. The material, created by England's Briton Engineering, replicates the effect of snow using synthetic filaments -- sort of like a white, slippery AstroTurf -- with a misting system that curbs friction and a shock absorbing layer to break falls.
Benik said there are more than 75 Snowflex facilities worldwide, but the only site in the United States is in Lynchburg, Va.
"Why aren't there others? That's the million-dollar question," Benik said. "There should be."
Benik commissioned a video for the fundraising campaign, one that boasts a host of supporters including San Jose Sharks Capt. Joe Thornton and San Jose City Councilman Ash Kalra.
"Martin came to me a long time ago with the idea, really pouring his heart and soul into it, and I think it's a great idea," said Kalra, who represents a district neighboring the proposed site. "It's the kind of thing that ultimately creates character in the city. It's a very heavy lift, and will be very challenging to do, but it would be a regional draw, and any time you have the opportunity to create a regional draw it should be taken seriously."
San Jose Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen, the district representative, called the idea "very innovative" but was uncertain if it was a good fit.
"What's important to me is what the residents in the area want," she said. "I believe what they want is a park, some kind of open space. There's also contamination, and it could be very costly to clean."
The 90-acre Singleton property is a former dump. The parcel to the north of the proposed park features a flaming chimney that's perpetually burning off methane discharge. A proposal to build softball diamonds at the site was recently rejected in favor of greener pastures because a study found it would cost about $15 million just to prepare the land for such fields.
But Benik, a 30-year-old Campbell resident who works for the family construction company, said that's not an issue with his plan.
"We're burying the problem," he said, "leaving it there and encapsulating it with clean dirt."
He added that they also aim to capture the methane as a power source for the facility, which would include a lodge with a restaurant, bar and rental shop.
Matt Cano, the city's deputy director of parks and recreation, was approached by Benik earlier this year and said that, while the city has not conducted any "serious level of evaluation," building the slope atop the landfill "is viable in theory."
"When you do redevelop old sites like this you typically cap them," he said. "You don't haul the contaminants off to another landfill. In theory he's correct."
As far as neighbors of the site, Benik said he's made the rounds and found them curious and generally supportive.
The proposal was news to area neighborhood association heads when contacted last week, but they voiced no objection.
It's "not my cup of tea, but I can see where this could be a really good thing," Senter Road Creekside President Jim Larkin wrote in an email, adding that he will bring it before his neighborhood group at a meeting this week. "Overall I think it is something that I would support."
McLaughlin association President Daniel Peralta was also encouraging.
"That would be a great use for it, something for the youth, for kids to use," he said. "I'm all for it."
It's not Benik's first attempt at such a facility. He had investors lined up for a Morgan Hill site, but the recession chilled interest. He went into "stealth mode" until last year, when he resurfaced with an idea to build it at Lake Cunningham Park. But that site proved to be a flood plain so it couldn't be built there.
Now, he hopes his third try -- dubbed "Snow School" -- is the charm. And even if his campaign is currently a far cry from the $1 million he hopes to raise to impress the city, Benik said he's going forward no matter what.
"I believe in this, and I believe in the community," said the optimistic 30-year-old. "I believe the video is going to go totally viral and it's going to take over the world."
Councilman Kalra said maybe he's right. Maybe it's an idea whose time has come.
"Silicon Valley was built on crazy ideas that people doubt," he said. "Crazy ideas that eventually become global. ... The reality is it always takes risk and the community to make something happen, and a person crazy enough to lead the effort. That's why we have Martin."
Contact Eric Kurhi at 408-920-5852. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi.
SAN JOSE SNOW PARK
For more information or to donate to the Kickstarter campaign to raise money for an artificial snow park in San Jose, visit www.sjsnow.com