Snow Machines, Clear Cutting and More Ski Trails Controversy at Arizona Snowbowl
October 16 2002 at 10:01 AM
roger (no login)
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.
Arizona Snowbowl officials are trying to get more Phoenix-area residents to weigh in on their proposal to add snowmaking equipment. Because 76 percent of Snowbowl skiers and snowboarders are from Phoenix metropolitan area, the ski area wants more of them to respond to the Forest Service's request for comment on the proposal.
The Forest Service will travel to the Hopi reservation on Monday, Dec. 9, to hold two public meetings on its plan to upgrade the Arizona Snowbowl ski area.
The time and location of the meetings have not been set at this time. The Hopi Tribe is coordinating those details, said Coconino National Forest spokeswoman Raquel Poturalski.
After two public sessions in Flagstaff, and the submission of thousands of letters, calls and e-mails, the official 45-day public comment period ended Nov. 15.
But because the Hopi Tribe requested a public meeting before Nov. 15, comments from the two meetings will be included in the draft environmental report being compiled, said Poturalski.
The Navajo Nation has not requested public meetings on the plan, she added.
The Forest Service expects to begin environmental studies on the proposal in the spring, with a final recommendation to the Coconino National Forest supervisor within two years.
For meeting times and locations, interested persons are asked to call the Hopi Nation at (928) 734-2441.
This is the question asked on the front page of the Arizona Snowbowl website. With little new snow falling recently, it appears that the Snowbowl has to resort to offering special deals to attract skiers. From Jan. 27 to Feb. 2, you can get 2 for 1 lift tickets at the Snowbowl. Only two lifts are operating, and no beginner terrain is available.
I'm told this has been one of the coldest Winters in recent history back East, though still not that much snow in most spots. I sure wish El Brat would push this bubble of heat out of here and give us a blast of Winter!
Incidentally, I noticed last week that the Snowbowl web site was advertising that rooms were available to would-be skiers for as little as $9 a night! I've decided I'm in favor of artificial snow-making up there after all.
LOS ANGELES (AP) - El Niño has fizzled so far this winter and some forecasters question whether the weather phenomenon will make a significant impact on rain totals.
The U.S. Climate Prediction Center previously predicted a 53% chance of above-normal precipitation in February, but some forecasters now believe it will be between 43% and 48%, decreasing to 38% in March and April.
While some forecasters still believe El Niño could bring torrential rains like the storms of 1997-98, time is running out.
NOAA climatologist: El Niño has had less punch than its 1982-83 and 1997-98 predecessors
February 7 2003, 7:35 PM
The moderate strength El Niño , which has influenced the 2002 Atlantic hurricane season and U.S. fall and winter weather, appears to be weakening, according to scientists at the NOAA Climate Prediction Center. They said the United States is expected to feel its impacts through early spring 2003.
NOAA's El Niño Diagnostic Discussion, released February 6, reports some weakening of El Niño during January 2003. Recent evolution of the Pacific Ocean temperatures near the equator, together with statistical and coupled model forecasts, indicate that El Niño will continue to weaken between February and April 2003. Near-normal sea surface temperatures should return to the equatorial Pacific during May through October 2003.
"The 2002-2003 El Niño has had less punch than its 1982-83 and 1997-98 predecessors," said Jim Laver, director of the NOAA Climate Prediction Center.
Actually, I'd heard El Nino occurred every seven years--by my recollection, it was the Spring of 1997 that brought the literal seas of Mexican poppies to the Arizona deserts after the wet Winter of '96-'97. Seven years after that would be NEXT Winter, not this one. Is the 7 years I heard incorrect? What do climatologists have to say about it?
El Niño conditions will make for a warmer, wetter Southern California from now until April
February 12 2003, 10:39 AM
LONG BEACH (AP) — El Niño is not through with Southern California this year, weather forecasters say, and neither is the first storm of the year.
Although the heavy rain that hit the region before dawn Tuesday had subsided by evening, another band of showers churning up the coast was expected to hit Los Angeles and surrounding areas Wednesday. Those showers could continue off and on until the weekend, forecasters said.
The storm, which brought Southern California its first rainfall of 2003, coincided with a gathering of top officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who gathered in Long Beach this week to talk about the weather. Their conclusion: El Niño conditions will make for a warmer, wetter Southern California from now until April.
April is usually the wettest time in AZ, at least in my years here. We may get some precip yet.
In 1991 SoCal was in a horrific drought, with no rain all winter. That March then proved to be one of the wettest on record. So there's still time, and in the Southwest, we can get into a pattern where we get hit hard for a few weeks, or not at all.
Luke AFB, just west of Phoenix, hit 91 yesterday. I spent the weekend up in the Four Peaks Wilderness east of Phoenix... with scattered snow patches and some ice, but very nice overall. These stretches of great winter weather sometimes cause trouble, for when a storm really is coming in, hikers tend to ignore the warnings. I recall an April rescue we had near Sunflower (45 miles NE of Phx) in deep snow, a few weeks after temps had broached the 90 mark. Stuff happens.
Arizona Snowbowl scheduled to open Friday, November 26
November 23 2004, 5:41 PM
FLAGSTAFF - Arizona skiers have something to be thankful for this holiday weekend as Arizona Snowbowl gears up to open Friday.
Last weekend's snowstorm brought between 15 and 31 inches of fresh snow to the slopes, bringing the ski area's total snowpack to 23 inches near the base lodges and 58 inches at mid-mountain, said Snowbowl spokesman Dave Smith.
"It was heavy, wet snow, which was what we wanted," said J.R. Murray, the general manager for Snowbowl. "Heavy, wet snow is better for building a base."
The opening is considered early -- Snowbowl operators traditionally shoot for mid-December to open for the season. The last time Snowbowl was open by Thanksgiving was 2000, and it was one of only two times in the past decade.
Heavy snow now falling at Humphreys Peak and Arizona Snowbowl
December 29 2004, 2:21 PM
FLAGSTAFF - With weather forecasters predicting at least 6 wet inches of snow for the Flagstaff area and much more at higher elevations, city and state officials were busy Tuesday making sure they were ready.
Weather forecasts called for rain mixed with snow late Tuesday with just rain during the night. That was expected to turn to snow during by noon today.
"It's a fairly warm system and most of it's coming up form the south, most of the moisture is coming up from the southwest," said Bob Fogarty, a National Weather Service meteorologist. "So, it's bringing warm air with it."
Higher elevations were expecting much more snow. Arizona Snowbowl was expecting up to 2 feet of white stuff, meaning the ski area will likely continue its strong early ski season.
Climbers ascending Humphreys Peak are advised to bring snowshoes and winter mountaineering equipment, and to wary of dangerous avalanche hazards.
FLAGSTAFF – The Southwest Regional Office of the Forest Service has upheld the decision to approve snowmaking and improvements at Arizona Snowbowl; Snowbowl officials say the decision recognizes the importance of recreation on public land and underscores the agency’s mission of multiple use.
Although the ski area will not be able to make snow until the 2006-’07 season, planning and engineering of snowmaking infrastructure will begin.
“This is an important day in the history of Arizona Snowbowl,” said General Manager J.R. Murray. “The future is bright for the 68-year-old ski area. This is good news for Arizona winter enthusiasts.”
After a complex two-and-a-half year public process involving scientific, social and cultural research, Coconino National Forest Supervisor Nora Rasure approved the Preferred Alternative of the Environmental Impact Statement in March. The decision was appealed and reviewed by Regional Forester Harv Forsgren, who announced today that he will uphold Rasure’s decision.
“We applaud the Forest Service for its commitment and thoroughness in conducting the EIS process,” said Snowbowl Owner Eric Borowsky. “It was exhaustive and involved thousands of public comments. We want to thank the many supporters that participated in the process.”
Over 190,000 skier and snowboarder visits were recorded at Snowbowl during the 2004-‘05 season. “Nature handed us outstanding conditions this year, but soon we’ll be able to have predictability in our business and our guests can count on Snowbowl every year,” said Murray.
The ski area operates under a special-use permit issued by the Coconino National Forest. It occupies less than 1 percent of the San Francisco Peaks and is surrounded by the Kachina Peaks Wilderness, which includes Humphreys Peak, highest point of Arizona. Nearly 99 percent of the mountain is set aside for environmental, cultural and non-motorized recreation such as hiking.
FLAGSTAFF - The future of Arizona Snowbowl, local skiing and Southwestern tribes' religious rights hangs in the balance in a Prescott courtroom.
If the Forest Service and Snowbowl win, it'll mean steady skiing, sledding and snowboarding seasons, increased annual revenue for outfitters and the tourism industry and the use of reclaimed wastewater to make snow on the San Francisco Peaks.
Snowbowl would become first ski area in the world to make snow wholly with reclaimed water, general partner Eric Borowsky stated in court documents.
If tribal, environmental and activist groups win, it'll be a major victory for Native American religious freedoms pertaining to sacred sites and for the Navajo Nation in a decadeslong battle.
A victory for the tribes would also likely spell the end of commercial skiing near Flagstaff because Snowbowl has found it tough to make a profit with years of inconsistent snowfall, its business manager, J.R. Murray, has said in the past.
FLAGSTAFF - Skiers report good conditions during Snowbowl's opening day.
After one false start, Arizona Snowbowl opened Wednesday morning to small crowds reporting better-than-expected snow.
All of the lifts were open after noon, drawing an estimated 500 to 600 skiers and snowboarders, General Manager J.R. Murray said, though some of the trails high on Agassiz Mountain remained closed because of bare trails. Snow depth ranged from about 10 to 36 inches.
In a unanimous decision, the judges said there is no evidence that denying the operators of Snowbowl the ability to use sewage for artificial snow would force the facility, located on U.S. Forest Service land, to shut down. They said there is no "compelling governmental interest" in having artificial snow on the San Francisco Peaks.
More to the point, the judge said the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act requires government agencies to use the "least restrictive'' means of interfering with any religious practice.
"The record in this case establishes the religious importance of the Peaks to the ... tribes who live around it," Judge William Fletcher wrote for the court. He said that "from time immemorial" the tribes have relied on the purity of the water for their religious beliefs.
He said permitting the use of treated effluent would be the equivalent of the government requiring that Christian baptisms be done with reclaimed water.
Arizona Snowbowl owner Eric Borowsky has vowed to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court if the Forest Service agrees to do so, saying this case will set a national precedent giving Native Americans control over the use of all public lands if it is allowed to stand.
Fletcher also said there is no evidence that denying the use of artificial snow made from treated sewage would cause the facility to close. But he also said even if that were the case, it hardly was a secret to the current owners, who bought the facility in 1992, that Snowbowl is located in a desert and there would be dry years.
Even if the owners can convince the U.S. Supreme Court that the federal religious protection law do not apply, that would not provide them the go-ahead for snow making. Fletcher said the Forest Service did not consider whether there would be any danger to someone who ingested snow made entirely from treated sewage water.
Monday's decision, which overturns a trial court's ruling against the tribes, may break new legal ground: Attorney Howard Shanker who represents the tribes said he believes this is the first time the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act has been used successfully to block government action.
The ruling comes just hours after the resort, located on about 770 acres, shut down at 4 p.m. Sunday due to lack of snow.
Statement from Eric Borowsky, General Partner Arizona Snowbowl, regarding the court ruling
March 12 2007, 11:46 PM
FLAGSTAFF, March 12, 2007 - After years of hard work, expense and personal hardship, the employees, skiers and families of the Arizona Snowbowl are clearly devastated by the ruling handed down today by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which in part overturns a previous ruling by an Arizona Federal Judge. The decision which ruled in favor of the (defendant) the U.S. Forest Service on four counts, but overturned the previous ruling on two of the counts. The U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Justice Department will decide whether or not to appeal this ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Even more disappointing is the fact that long standing law governing the use of America’s public lands and the intent of the U.S. Congress would no longer apply if this ruling stands. Unfortunately, once again, the NEPA process has been abused and the taxpayers of our country held for ransom by a small group of activists who believe that they personally own our nation’s public lands. If this ruling is allowed to stand, then our national policy and congressionally mandated multiple use doctrine on public lands is dead for all practical purposes. The ramification of this ruling, if left unchallenged, will be devastating to the taxpayer’s access and use of its lands.
It is beyond comprehension to me that we now live in a nation, where an Indian Tribe (White Mountain Apache) can make snow from virtually untreated sewer water, spray it on a “sacred mountain” and operate without question or environmental review. And the hypocrisy of the Hualapai Tribe building a scenic walkway at the Grand Canyon for tourism and economic development. No non-Indian permittee on public land would even consider such a project. Environmental groups would oppose any new commercial enterprise on the Grand Canyon rim but did not oppose the Hualapai. The political position of several of the Indian Tribes, with less than stellar environmental records, who are involved in this matter is nothing short of hypocritical.
Yet, when the Arizona Snowbowl follows the entire NEPA process in concert with the U.S. Forest Service and is proposing to use A+ reclaimed water that is currently used across our nation to irrigate parks, golf courses and is currently injected back into our drinking water supply. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has approved this use but a liberal court finds that we should ignore the science and regulations, the environmental history and historic health record and instead reduce opportunities for recreation and access to the public’s land.
It is my sincere desire that the U.S. Congress take immediate action to make this opinion mute and that the U.S. Justice Department and U.S. Forest Service take this matter all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to insure that every American can enjoy our public lands. To do so will insure once and for all that radical groups who hold utter contempt for the public’s rights will no longer be able to abuse the process to achieve their ultimate goal of control of our nation’s resources.
Snowbowl intends to vigorously pursue further judicial review.
Arizona Snowbowl opens for business before mid-December
December 13 2007, 7:49 PM
FLAGSTAFF - Arizona Snowbowl opens the slopes today for the 2007-'08 season, but today's skiers aren't the first ones on the runs.
Passholders and their friends made the first runs of the season on Wednesday.
After two years of paltry skiing because of below-average snowfall, snow storms on back-to-back weekends have coated the ski area with snow depth ranging from 34 inches at the base to 56 inches at mid-mountain.
Today's official opening is in line with the ski area's goal of a mid-December opening.
Federal court rules that Arizona Snowbowl can make snow with reclaimed wastewater
August 14 2008, 2:08 AM
FLAGSTAFF - The operators of Arizona Snowbowl are entitled to use recycled sewage water to make snow on the San Francisco Peaks despite objections of Native American tribes, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today.
Opponents are weighing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which may or may not decide to hear the case. Meanwhile, Snowbowl’s operators could possibly start construction in March 2009, pending further appeals.
In a split decision, the 9th Circuit acknowledged arguments by the tribes that the use of artificial snow will decrease the “spiritual fulfillment” they get from practicing their religion on the mountain, which is owned by the U.S. Forest Service.
Flagstaff, AZ - Arizona Snowbowl, on behalf of its skiers and supporters is very pleased that its position and that of the U.S. Forest Service has been upheld, once again by the Courts. Snowbowl looks forward to starting construction of the snowmaking system, and plans to proceed in cooperation with the Forest Service once the weather and other conditions permit. The project will benefit Flagstaff as a whole with respect to the creation of construction jobs and an increase in winter visitors once the project is complete.
We are happy to announce we will be open for daily operations starting Friday, December 16. Lifts will be operating normal hours, 9 am to 4 pm. We will continue to pack and groom the snow. All resort amenities will be open.
Arizona Snowbowl opened for the season on Dec. 20, 2012, with new snowmaking equipment
December 23 2012, 2:28 AM
FLAGSTAFF - Arizona Snowbowl opened Thursday to hundreds of skiers, brilliant sunshine and powdery natural snow, plus the newly acquired capability to keep the slopes open until spring.
Snowmaking equipment the culmination of a decadelong legal battle to use reclaimed wastewater on federal land that Native Americans consider sacred promises good skiing into March. Some years, there was no guarantee of skiing at all. Snowbowl has operated for 75 years.
"Isnt it awesome?" Surprise resident Rosie Schuette said as she bundled up carside in the morning shadows for the first of what will be weekly pilgrimages to the San Francisco Peaks. There were times when there was no snow and I went to Colorado instead.
FLAGSTAFF - Years after a northern Arizona ski resort submitted plans to make snow and boost business, a pipeline is ready to carry treated wastewater to a mountain that American Indian traditionalists consider sacred and has been a popular recreation spot.
For the owners of the Arizona Snowbowl, the option to use snowmaking equipment means it no longer will be at the mercy of the weather and can ensure that the skiing and snowboarding season won't be cut short.
"It's always been, `will you open?' and `when you open, how good will it be?" said Snowbowl general manager J.R. Murray. "That's always been Snowbowl's biggest challenge."