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December 20, 2005

Snowbowl Snowmaking Update

The hyperbole is overwhelming. I won't go into all of my rant of business interests versus the environment, etc., but being as A. this is a ski blog (hence the name) and B. I live in Arizona, I thought I would provide at least a small glimpse into what is going on in the courthouses of Arizona by several tribes hell bent on denying my use of BLM land in Arizona for skiing.

Arizona Snowbowl in Flagstaff needs to make snow or face going out of business. The drought for the last decade has taken its toll and in order to ensure a reasonably normal season, the resort wants to add snowmaking. Pretty standard fare for a ski resort. This year, Flag still has zero snow and the ski season is 1/3 of the way over. Since Flag has a huge water shortage, they want to use treated wastewater. We are not talking water with floaties or raw sewage, but water of the quality that is normally released back into our rivers every day by treatment plants.

The local tribes are hacked. It seems that their religious beliefs claim that the peaks are sacred. How hacked you might ask? Try this quote on for size:

The Hopis believe that the Creator communicates to them through spiritual intermediaries called kachinas, who live in the peaks from early August until midwinter.

The importance of the snowmaking issue prompted one Hopi spiritual leader to even testify where some of the tribe's most sacred sites are on the peaks, a heretofore taboo subject.

Shirley testified that putting treated wastewater on the Snowbowl ski area would be, for traditional Navajos, akin to "a child watching his mother get raped."

I would never advocate the raping of someones mother in front of a child. Wow. My activity of skiing on these peaks is akin to grabbing some Navajo's mom, probably by the hair, and forcing myself on her. Wha-what?

Let's get real. First, the local Indian tribes don't own the land. If it were on their reservation, then they should be given paramount importance and decide what is in their best interests. And judging by what they have done with their reservations, they would have a ski resort (see Sunrise, AZ) and a casino (see Hondah Casino, Bucky's, Gila River, etc.). So if we accept their status as a semi-independant nation, they have the freedom to regulate their own activities within their borders. Build all the casinos you want on your land. Good times. You need casinos to bring economic prosperity to your lands, fair enough and we will ignore the impact gambling has on our society and even not force state regulatory oversight onto you.

I am sorry that your religion teaches that creation started on these mountains and now I like to ski on them. Some folks just north of you believe that in order to get into heaven, you need multiple wives. I am all kinds of down with not having skiing in Flagstaff, but if you shut down my resort because of your religious beliefs, I will have no recreational activities during the winter. In the name of religious freedom, if you shut Flag down, you better let me have 3-4 wives so I have something to do during the winter in line with my new found religious beliefs.

I have a thought. Why doesn't the tribe buy out the ski resort? Why not raise the money and buy the place and shut it down? Why use the courts to try to take away the rights of all Arizonans to enjoy our public land (actually only 1% of the four peaks area) to appease the interests of a small group of people's religious beliefs?

The tribes are holding the economic interests of the entire community hostage and then making comments about raping someone's mother? Every time I see a bus load of grandparents riding to the Indian Casinos to lose their Social Security check to the tribes, I would say that is more akin to the raping of one's mother.

There are two ski areas in Arizona of any conscience. (Sorry Williams and Mount Lemmon) We are on the verge of having one go out of business over a "creation myth" of the Navajos. So now I have to drive another several hundred miles to enjoy the sport I love. Maybe I should quit skiing and start playing Texas Hold'em at the local Indian casino.

Posted by Justin at December 20, 2005 10:24 AM


  • Not BLM but National Forest.
  • Making snow at snowbowl does not make it winter in Flagstaff.
  • Sunrise has snowmaking but closed in February anyway.
  • Mismanagement will likely mean loosing more money with snowmaking (think of huge capital and operating expense).
  • Snowbowl does not even stay open during self proclaimed "average season" of mid December to mid April when snow is there in ample amounts.
  • Season passholders contributed about $90,000 per day of operation this year yet they close because they cant keep beginner slope open.
  • Don't assume avid Snowbowl skiers uniformly support snowmaking, many do not.
  • Locals may be more supportive if they were more supported by snowbowl. Discount passes are available in Phoenix but not in Flagstaff, an anti-local discount.
  • Sure is a fun place to ski, even when the area is not open (if they don't padlock the road that accesses the public land their permit sits on and the surrounding public land).

Posted by: Bill at April 8, 2006 09:15 AM

There is little doubt that Snowbowl has some major operational problems. First off, it is located 15 minutes from a major college and has uphill capacity sufficient for only a small fraction of the people that want to show up on a good powder day. Many times, they have shut the road on folks because the area was full to capacity and turned people away. When you drive from Phoenix, that is not a good thing.

The area's lifts are slow, they offer hardly any terrain, and the snow is hit or miss. But that is not to say that the area does not serve a major purpose or have a major impact on the area.

The choice here is whether the area remains viable at all. Obviously the Hopis and the Navajos want the place shuttered and have since before their lawsuit in 1979. The White Mountain Apaches want it closed too because it competes with them.

So let's boil the argument simply down to snowmaking. Does it impact the environment to use treated water to make snow? The answer definitively has been given by the Forest Service during the Environmental Impact Study as well as is widely accepted by the 90% of the resorts that make snow and that answer is no. The ONLY issue here is that the Hopis and the Navajos don't want it on the peaks. The other parties to this lawsuit and the environmental yahoos, etc., have lost on their contentions about snowmaking. They are hangers on and funding the tribes efforts to effectively do what they couldn't in 1979, and that is shut down the resort.

Whether you like the resort, its management, its business practices, or skiing at all, the fact is that no other party has demonstrated that their concerns are more compelling than the mountains of evidence that snowmaking has negligible if any impact on the area that offsets the positive economic impact and the right of Snowbowl to expand their operations. I am not in love with Snowbowl's management or the area, but it represents the closest and best opportunity for the people of northern Arizona and Phoenix to ski.

Posted by: Justin B at April 8, 2006 12:00 PM