The U.S. Forest Service's multiple-use mission is being put to the test as it tries to balance religious and recreational issues in the proposed upgrade of the Arizona Snowbowl ski area.
Snowmaking is on tap assuring decades of "consistent" winter seasons, says the Forest Service.
Also proposed are new lifts, night lighting, expanded lodges and 70 more clearcut acres of new skiing terrain
That's a stark contrast to the vision of traditional Native Americans, who say the ponderosa pine and aspen ridges are religious shrines and that the craggy summits are the abodes of powerful spirits.
As the public comment period on the Snowbowl plan ends later this month without meetings on the Hopi or Navajo reservations, the Forest Service will be under pressure to prove that it is adequately considering the religious and cultural significance of the Peaks.
The last time the Snowbowl came in conflict with Native American beliefs, the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that the existence of the ski area on the Peaks does not prohibit the practice of native religions.
But native activists such a Klee Benally, a Navajo who practices his religion on the mountain, are skeptical that cultural and spiritual values will be protected by the Forest Service or federal law.
The Navajo call San Francisco Mountain the "House of Light" and say they are one of four mountains marking the cardinal points of the universe. The Apaches say the mountain features prominently in a great deluge recounted in their mythology.
"There is no other place like it in the world. You have to understand the Navajo way of life is connected physically, spiritually and psychologically to these sacred mountains," said Benally, a member of the Dineh Bidzhiil Coalition.
Activists also asked the Forest Service to expand the comment period to 120 days, she said.
But the Forest Service says the 45-day comment period is sufficient and will end Nov. 14 after two meetings are held in Flagstaff. The next meeting will be held Oct. 26 from 2 to 5 p.m. at Flagstaff High School.
Here's highlights of the proposal (it notes this was proposed after the snowbowl was open only 4 days in 2001-2002)
Links on the Forest Service page on the snowbowl