By Charlie Parke
Arizona Community Press | www.azcommunitypress.org
Arizona Snowbowl has been used as a ski area since 1938 and received permission to expand into the resort that stands today in the 1980’s. Snowbowl has become a tourist destination for skiers in the southwest and a lasting source of controversy with native tribes, locals and environmentalists. The location amid the San Francisco Peaks has long been considered ideal but how to use such a natural resource causes division.
The San Francisco Peaks mountain range has a history dating back centuries with native tribes. The Forest Service identified the Peaks as a “traditional cultural property,” one “associated with cultural practices or beliefs of a living community that are rooted in that community’s history, and are important in maintaining the continuing cultural identity of the community”. The Forest Service noted the Peaks “are the most sacred place of both the Navajo and the Hopi and the tribes…The tribes’ religious practices require pure natural resources from the Peaks, including, in particular, spring water”.
Snowbowl owners argue that their expansion brings tourism to Arizona. The tribes and environmental organizations argue that Snowbowl has taken environmental and health risks to maximize profits. Natives question the use of their sacred land and value its natural purity while Snowbowl’s owners use fake snow to keep it open longer and change the landscape to make “improvements”. Protestors have stated “for the past two years, Snowbowl excavators cut into our mother, making way for the ski slope extensions and the reclaimed wastewater infrastructure. Then and still, we cannot ignore the overwhelming rumble of thousands of old-growth trees crashing into the torn earth.”
Many in the surrounding communities are upset by the use of artificial snow using treated sewage effluent from the City of Flagstaff to extend Snowbowl’s ski season. As the volume of natural snowfall in a given season varies with weather this allows vacations to ski when nature would have left the mountain snowless. Tribes have challenged the use of the fake snow as their religious practices require a connection to the mountain’s purity-hardly present during the use of what opponents refer to as “Poop Snow”.
Another question raised in the debate is whether Snowbowl actually helps with tourism or the surrounding community. While Snowbowl is near Flagstaff it is outside the city limits thus paying no taxes to the city. The Coconino Forest Service Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which compares the economic impact vs other ski resorts, states “In contrast with a number of other ski resorts in the Rocky Mountain region, the Arizona Snowbowl is not a dominant driver of growth and the economy in its host community.” An interview in Flagstaff Business News suggests that Snowbowl fills a niche in the Flagstaff economy by providing employment and tourism in the area.
From February 1 through 10th Snowbowl will be celebrating their 75th anniversary with events and entertainment. The 10-day celebration kicked off on Friday, February 1st with a celebratory torch light parade at Hart Prairie Lodge. While the parade was going on up at the lodge Protect the Peaks held a march in downtown Flagstaff “to insure that we honor 500 years of resistance!”. Throughout the week Snowbowl will be hosting events in at different locations in Flagstaff including Collins Pub & Restaurant. Protect the Peaks supporters plan to be at most of the events to raise awareness of the long-term costs of Snowbowl’s actions. On Friday afternoon there will also be a solidarity march in downtown Phoenix “calling for an end to the use of waste water snow making”.
Protestors state “We have been compelled by the goal of protection for this sacred mountain, for protection of this rare alpine wilderness area, for protection of public health, for protection of the animals who make the Peaks their home, for protection of the endangered San Francisco Peaks Groundsel, and protection for all those who know their sacred links with these mountains.”