The legal battle over whether fake snow can be sprayed by a ski resort in Arizona’s 12,000-foot-high San Francisco Peaks has a new venue: the Flagstaff City Council. Tribal elders, U.S. senators, federal judges and senior Obama Administration officials all have weighed in on the controversy of artificially applying frozen water to land where the Hopi, Navajo and 11 other tribes trace their origins. Many Native Americans believe it is sacrilege for skiers and snowboarders to use the area for recreation, and more so for the ski resort owners to tamper with the natural surroundings. The Arizona Snowbowl resort says it’s just trying to run a business.
The Snowbowl ski area is located on 777 acres in the Coconino National Forest. Tribes have been battling the resort since the 1970s. For the second time in 20 years, the U.S. Supreme Court last year refused to hear their case, and now the matter will be reviewed by the Flagstaff City Council. Local officials are to vote on whether to pump potable recycled water to the resort to make snow. It’s unclear whether this will be acceptable to the Tribes, who were infuriated by a previous plan to use treated sewer water.
“This mountain is where life began; it created us,” says Rex Tilousi, a leader of the Havasupai tribe. Native Americans journey to the peaks to collect herbs for traditional healing and worship deities they believe dwell there. Dumping artificial snow there, says Mr. Tilousi, is “like bombing a church.”
For the operators of Snowbowl, artificial snow is necessary to ensre a steady ski season, which is the basis for hundreds of local jobs. “If you don’t have snowmaking, the question is not if you will go out of business; it’s when you will go out of business,” says Eric Borowsky, the resort’s owner. “We only occupy 1% of the peaks. Can’t we share this?”
After years of environmental review detailed in a 600-page report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, which oversees the federal land that the resort sits on, approved the artificial snow plan in 2005. If the new plan to use potable water goes through, the federal government may contribute funds to off set the cost increase compared to the use of treated sewage. Arizona Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl sent a letter in March condemning “the use of taxpayer dollars to subsidize snowmaking at Arizona Snowbowl.” At the same time, they called on the government to grant Snowbowl permission to start its expansion “immediately.”