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December 12, 2006

Snowbowl Letter Regarding Snowmaking Posted to their Site

Arizona Snowbowl General Manager posted a letter about the snowmaking controversy. It says in part:

The opposition groups are determined to delay us as long as the process allows, or to run us out of business. We hear them say that the ski area is acceptable in its current form. However, without change and predictability the ski area cannot be successful and they know that. Their actions and protests are hypocritical. If we attempted to slander, misuse the facts, and challenge their daily lives we would be labeled anti-Native American and persecuted in the media. Yet they not only get away with it, they continue to receive front page media attention!!

I believe we will succeed. We may have to wait the process out. We retain hope that during the summer of 2007 we will be constructing the snowmaking system and are ready for the 07-08 season. As you know we await the ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Unfortunately, the court has no deadline. Depending on the outcome we will move forward with our plans or defend yet another appeal. There is really no benefit for us to meet the local opposition head on with rhetoric or rallies as it will not influence the Court.

Read the letter. Points I have been making since last year. Skiing is a healthy active outdoor activity. It promotes tourism for communities that in some cases (see Alta, Telluride, etc.) would be ghost towns without the advent of their resorts. Flag is not one of those towns, but benefits greatly from having winter recreation.

The local (and in some cases distant) tribes want Snowbowl out of business. Some of them want it because Snowbowl directly competes with their own resort (Sunrise) and some want it because they claim the mountain is sacred. The tribed tried in the 70's to sue the area out of business and were slapped down by the Supreme Court. Now they claim they don't have a problem with the resort as it currently exists. It is a lie. Plain and simple.

The tribes are willing to lie, cheat, and steal to put Snowbowl out of business. They have gone so far as placing a urine filled commode and toilet paper on the mayor of Flagstaff's car outside a forum in which he expressed support for the expansion.

Because of "white guilt" as some call it, the local tribes are free to express outwardly racist sentiments, damage property, spread lies, and do anything that they can to win this battle. Instead of trusting in the judicial process, they have not only engaged in obstructionist lawsuits that so far have consistently been determined to lack merit, but have engaged in a deceitful war in the media. On top of it, they have enlisted the help of environmental groups and the White Mountain Apache tribe that have their own agenda to shut the resort down. None of them take into account the hundreds of thousands of skier visits during a good snow year or the population in Phoenix that uses the area as the only opportunity for winter sports within reasonable driving distance of Phoenix.

The prolonged legal battle continues to take away my opportunity to ski with my family two hours from my home and forces me to drive an extra ten hours round trip to Brian Head or four hours to Sunrise. How is my driving an extra 600 miles round trip better for the environment than using water that would be discharged into local rivers anyway to make snow and ensure that the ski area remains viable? But as long as I drive to the White Mountain Apache's reservation and Sunrise, that extra 400 miles of driving does not impact the environment because it means I am spending money at their Casino ski area. Yeah, that is good environmental policy. Smart move Sierra Club.

Posted by Justin at December 12, 2006 03:18 PM


Wow, as a longtime skier (at Snowbowl and everywhere else mentioned in your article) I have to say that your argument for snowmaking at AZ Snowbowl is pretty weak.

First of all, comparing Snowbowl to Telluride or Alta is disingenous at best. The issue is snowmaking, not the "resort". Alta has very limited snowmaking and it does just fine, Telluride is located in one of the most beautiful valleys in the world and has a booming economy in winter AND summer--the ski resort is only part of the reason, and snowmaking has little to no effect on the economy there. To say that these towns would be "ghost towns" w/out the resorts is ignorant at best. Look at Ouray, CO for an example of what TRide would be like w/out the resort. Ouray seems to be doing ok, and that even considering that Ouray has much worse weather and considerably worse access than Telluride. Alta is only twenty minutes from one of the fastest growing cities in the west and a valley that supports around one million residents--and you think that it would be a ghost town? Hell no, not even close.

You need to realize that it is not only "the tribes" that are opposed to snowmaking on the SF Peaks. Yes, their tactics are pretty lame a lot of the time, but the point is that we shouldn't be promoting the expansion and development of a small resort on a sacred mountain in Arizona of all places, where the natural snowfall may be insufficient to support it anyway. Snowmaking should be a bandaid that resorts can use to cover up lean spots in low snow years, not a life support system that provides the bulk of the snow, year after year.

Posted by: soren at December 13, 2006 02:08 PM

First, this is a history of Alta, Utah:

By 1873, Alta's decline had begun with decline in the value of silver through demonetization as well as widespread severe economic problems which were compounded by the local problems of inaccessible ore, expensive smelting processes, and extensive water in the mines. By 1880, the population of the town had fallen to only 300, and production fell from a peak of $13.5 million in the 1870s to 1.3 million.

Alta experienced a boom in 1904 with new discoveries being made by the Jacobsen Brothers in the Columbus Mine. While the old townsite was never reoccupied, the miners were housed in bunkhouses built and maintained by each separate mining company at the center of their operations. The production of silver ore peaked in 1917 and declined steadily thereafter. By 1930 Alta was virtually a ghost town with only six registered voters.

In the late 1930s Alta began its second life. With Sun Valley, Idaho, as a model, a group of interested businessmen and skiers organized the Salt Lake City Winter Sports Association, which negotiated with the U.S. Forest Service and raised $10,000 for construction of a ski lift at Alta.

Ghost town.

How about Telluride? Let's have a look at the history of Telluride:

Silver prices crashed in 1893, followed by the first World War in 1917 and the end of Telluride’s mining boom. Gold prices were fixed during the war and many men left the mines to join the armed forces or work in war-related industries. By the 1960s, the place was barely more than a ghost town, and the population had dwindled to less than 600 residents.

Now let's read my quote:

Skiing is a healthy active outdoor activity. It promotes tourism for communities that in some cases (see Alta, Telluride, etc.) would be ghost towns without the advent of their resorts. Flag is not one of those towns, but benefits greatly from having winter recreation.

Yeah, I said that Telluride and Alta would be ghost towns without their resorts, because they were ghost towns. You sir are what we refer to as an "asshat". They were old mining towns that had nothing to offer but the mines until the resorts came. I did not compare Snowbowl to those resorts. I in fact made it a point to state that Flag was not one of those towns, however, Flag benefits from the resort.

You want to debate the history of Alta and Telluride? That they were old mining towns that were destroyed by the falling prices of silver in the early 1900's? That they became ghost towns? Or do you want to debate the merits of snowmaking?

Posted by: Justin B at December 14, 2006 07:29 PM

An "asshat"? Wow--that is some sophisticated argument.

My point is that you can't compare Flag to Alta and Telluride--you can't say that snowmaking at AZ Snowbowl will magically turn Flagstaff into some sort of skiing hot spot.

Alta and Telluride do little to no snowmaking (in fact, my friends that make snow at Alta are often out of a job by Jan 1st). These resorts thrive because they have lots of skiable acres and tons of natural snowfall. AZ Snowbowl will never have a huge effect on the Flag economy because it doesn't (and won't) have the terrain and because it doesn't (and won't) get the snowfall. When I lived in Flag there were entire seasons when Snowbowl would be totally closed or open for only a weekend or two because of lack of snow. Snowmaking is not the answer. Like I said earlier, snowmaking is best used to fill in during dry spells at the beginning of the season or to assist in parts of the mountain that become dry. To base your entire season on it--which AZ Snowbowl will likely do during the common "no snow" winter in Flag--is ridiculous.

I am sure that Mr. Murray and Company will eventually succeed and snowmaking will happen at Snowbowl. I am also sure that there will still be those years when the resort only operates for a few weeks all season because of warm temps and lack of snow (the real stuff). Flag will always be a great town and will continue to grow with or without AZ Snowbowl. (Oh, and I'll be skiing the SF Peaks with or without Snowbowl as well.)

Posted by: soren at December 15, 2006 09:58 AM

I do not make the comparison to Alta or Telluride. I only want to say that skiing is universally good for the economy as it brings in upper middle class folks that spend money, rent rooms, and often buy property. It always has something to add. It is a net economic plus to any community. Flag doesn't "need" skiing. However, Phoenix does. Phoenix needs to offer a wide variety of recreational opportunities to attract businesses and build their economy as well as compete with other western cities. Even sucky skiing that is 2 hrs away is better than good skiing in Telluride that is 10 hours away for people that cannot afford the time off or the travel to go to a major resort mountain.

Skiing is an extremely expensive sport and we have to make it accessible to major urban areas in order to continue to be viable. Flag is never gonna be Alta, but to people that live in Phoenix that may never ski at Alta, it is Flag or no skiing. And without snowmaking to get the kiddie hill open (which is what they do at Sunrise first, then slowly move up the mountain), Flag cannot teach new skiers. Any experienced skier doesn't want to ski man-made ice, but to a newcomer, they can learn to ski on that surface.

I cannot and would not compare Flag to Telluride or Alta. First, Alta is an experience in and of itself. It is Mecca for skiing and in my mind, nothing compares to Alta. 600+ inches the last three years? 2000+ vertical feet? Nah, I wouldn't even venture to make that comparison. How do you compare Vail to Sunrise or Aspen to Williams? The fact is that any ski area that has consistent snow will consistently attract people to ski there. Especially when it has a major advantage of being closer than its alternatives. I say that without Flag, we lose an area that offers skiing two hours from the 6th largest metropolitan area in the country. And to do it because some group claims their religion is offended by it is insane.

The final thing I will say is that Snowbowl has the right to exist as determined by the US Supreme Court in 1979/80. They already have additional lifts and runs approved from their existing MDP. The only thing that they applied to do is add snowmaking that almost every resort in the country has. Alta has it despite 500+ inches per year. Sunrise has it. It is necessary to run a ski resort. Snowbowl is already at a disadvantage because of their location in Arizona, but cannot compete with Sunrise without snowmaking. And that is why the WMA opposes it. They want to shut them down so that the entire population of Arizona has to go to their mountain instead of one that is two hours closer. That makes the sport less accessible to your average Joe and that is not good for the sport, the industry, the state of Arizona, the people of Arizona, or anyone but the WMA tribe and the Hopis. These are public lands owned by all of us. Why should the WMA tribe and the Hopis be the only ones that can use them?

Posted by: Justin B at December 15, 2006 03:03 PM