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February 27, 2006

More on the Awful Arizona Season

Sunrise officially closed on Sunday, marking a season in which Apache and Cyclone never even opened. Apache and Cyclone are my personal favorite places to ski on the mountain and are typically the best places to get freshies and stay away from the crowds.

Arizona Snowbowl in Flagstaff still has not opened, but that is kinda difficult to do when you only receive 20" of snow all year and have no snowmaking. Starting shortly, the resort should have snowmaking capability up and running now that the lawsuit is settled with the Indian tribes and Sierra Club that tried to stop it.

I am working to get some more details from Snowbowl on the improvements going on up there and Sunrise on the 2005-06 Season and hope to post additional info shortly.

Posted by Justin at February 27, 2006 01:31 PM


That's not really the case--the lawsuit was by no means settled. Rather, the snowbowl one the first trial, but the tribes promised to appeal. Current estimate for snomaking: 2011.

Posted by: booyah at February 27, 2006 02:55 PM

The full text of the snowmaking decision is here, but the following snippets are from the final decision:

13. Skiing has occurred in the Snowbowl area since the 1930s.
14. In 1979, the Forest Service conducted an extensive process pursuant to the EPA to evaluate proposed upgrades to the Snowbowl, which included the installation of new lifts, trails and facilities. The 1979 Forest Service decision approved 206 acres of skiable terrain and facilities to support a comfortable carrying capacity of 2,825 skiers.
15. The Forest Service's 1979 decision to approve the Snowbowl upgrades was challenged in the courts by several Indian tribes.
16. In Wilson v. Block, 708 F.2d 735 (D.C. Cir. 1983), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 956 (1983), the Court upheld the Forest Service's decision and found that the project did not substantially burden the tribes' exercise of religion. In addition, the Court upheld the more general question of whether to permit skiing in the area. Since the Wilson decision, the tribes have continued to use the Peaks for religious purposes.

The ski area expansion was actually approved but not implemented in the 1979 Wilson decision which the tribes also lost. Notice that the 2005-06 season has resulted in the first ever year that Flagstaff has not had a single ski day at Snowbowl. While the wastewater snowmaking proposal is new, this entire process simply amounts to the tribes continuing the fight against the original Wilson decision and trying to ensure the demise of Snowbowl.

Funny thing, the White Mountain Apaches are part of this lawsuit. The peaks are not "religious symbols" to them. The peaks are simply competition. I have an idea for the White Mountain Apaches--hire Jack Abramoff.

This is the way the tribes play politics and the tribes have equated using reclaimed water to genocide. This case will be heard shortly by the 9th Circuit and if the decision is affirmed (which it will be in all probability), that should be the end of this and the snowmaking will begin. But regardless of snowmaking upgrades, the additional thinning and cutting of new runs can occur now.

Posted by: Justin B at February 28, 2006 09:46 AM

As promised, the Navajo appealed the decision today:


FLAGSTAFF (AP) -- The Navajo Nation on Monday appealed a federal court's decision to allow a ski area to use treated wastewater to make snow, arguing that federal environmental policies were not followed and the tribe's religious freedom was violated.
"The district court ruling makes no sense," Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. said in a statement issued Monday. "The entire mountain is a shrine, not just parts of it. The government's own documents show the sacredness of the San Francisco Peaks to our people. We, all of the tribes, have emphasized this many times but the court does not hear us."

Ramon Riley, cultural resources officer for the White Mountain Apache tribe, said the project would have a negative impact on the Apache way of life.

Posted by: booyah at February 28, 2006 11:23 AM

One more note--the White Mountain Apache use reclaimed water to make snow at Sunrise.

Posted by: booyah at February 28, 2006 11:25 AM

That is what bugs me about it. The White Mountain Apaches have their nice little resort that gets way more visits because Snowbowl's opening is always so sketchy. Snowbowl is not making snow and the biggest beneficiary is Sunrise because they get the increased skier visits, despite being 4 hours as opposed to 2 from Phoenix and having no real amenities to offer save Indian gaming at Hondah.

What does the Sierra Club have to gain in all of this? This is as much a recreational use of the mountain as looking at it, or hiking or camping.

So we have a coalition of folks that simply don't want skiing or competition lining up with the Navajos to bring a suit to stop a valid recreational activity from occurring on public land. Whether you support snowmaking or not, the EIS from 1979 has allowed for the expansion all along to 206 acres. That issue is settled by the 1979 ruling, that snowbowl be able to add lifts and expand terrain.

The bigger issue is reclaimed water use at Snowbowl. The Apaches and most other resorts use reclaimed water. So the environmental impact is negligible. The only issue this hinges on is whether the Tribes own the mountain since their religion claims it is sacred.

But notice how Sunrise/White Mountain Apaches and the Sierra Club are using the Navajo's religious beliefs to attempt to stop the resort from expanding. The entire city of Flagstaff benefits from the resort. The amount of the benefit may be disputed, but there is some benefit. And Sunrise/WMA will see fewer people over it. That is what this is about and that is the core of the lawsuit. Not wastewater. Not expansion. Just a whole bunch of folks ganging up on Snowbowl to stop their expansion. And if Snowbowl expands, it means better access to skiing for a city of almost 4M people.

Posted by: Justin B at February 28, 2006 11:40 AM