San Francisco Peaks: Arizona’s Snowbowl Opens to Protests Over Thanksgiving Weekend

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The polar vortex has not made it to Arizona despite record low temperatures and storms elsewhere in the United States, and Thanksgiving weekend marked the second straight year that the sacred San Francisco Peaks were coated in ski snow made from treated wastewater.

About 50 people protested the opening of the Arizona Snowbowl resort on November 28 as people skied down slopes covered in snow comprised of treated sewage that had been purchased from the city of Flagstaff.

“The US Forest Service, Snowbowl, and City of Flagstaff have made it clear that a couple of small ski runs covered with a foot of treated sewage and marginal economic profit are more important than the cultures of 13 indigenous nations, public health, and the ecological integrity of the holy San Francisco Peaks,” said protester Klee Benally, a volunteer with the conservation group Protect the Peaks, in a statement from Indigenous Action.

“It saddens me deeply that respect alone did not stop reclaimed wastewater from being sprayed on the peaks,” said Flagstaff resident Rudy Preston in the statement. “And to add injury to insult, I watched them spray the wastewater snow all over picnic tables at the lodge eating area which a week later had melted down to this strange gray powder coating everything. On opening day I witnessed at least 50 people eating lunch in this stuff. They don’t even have respect for their own customers.”

The San Francisco Peaks are sacred to at least 13 tribes. For years they have been trying to stop the company that owns Arizona Snowbowl, outside Flagstaff, from using reclaimed wastewater for its artificial snow. But earlier this year, having persevered so far in court, the company contracted to buy treated sewage water for 20 more years.

RELATED: San Francisco Peaks to Get 20 More Years of Sewage Snow

This may have contributed to a recent decision by businessman James Coleman to buy the facility, the Arizona Daily Sun said in an op-ed on November 28.

On opening day, 20 percent of the ski runs were sheathed in artificial snowpack, the Arizona Daily Sun said, with just three of 40 runs open and all of it made of wastewater, according to Indigenous Action.

Aside from the sacredness of the San Francisco Peaks, the potential dangers of using treated wastewater for recreational activities is also a concern. Flagstaff environmental officials are studying antibiotic-resistant bacteria, their presence in recycled wastewater and their impacts on human health, according to a September report in the Arizona Daily Sun.