29 August 2010

What I really think about snow-making at Snowbowl [UPDATED]

UPDATE 24 December 2021:

After nearly 25 years as a passholder, and almost 40 now since the day I first learned to ski, in a blizzard on the Prairie, I've found that it is all-too-easy to armchair QB Snowbowl while failing to recognize its vast organizational and technological complexities, all of which are wholly and entirely weather (read: wind) dependent. 

It's days like today, when 15" of thick, spreadable, cream cheese fell from the sky overnight, and wind and rime compelled the operators to shut down almost the entire resort, one chair after the other, throughout the morning, which tempt even the most faithful to unrestrained snark and prolific grumbling. 

And yet, we return, year after year, storm after storm, not just because Snowbowl is the only game in town, but because, when Snowbowl is good, it's very good, despite the fact that "snow making" did nothing to mitigate the 'Bowl's persistent wind-closures.

Sometimes, like today, when the Upper Bowl is open from Rustler to Larry's, and the out-bound meadows are wide, skippable, and fresh, and the snow-snakes have all been fully oblated by repeated ample dumps, it is even very Very Good.


Tomorrow night our City Council will hold one last session wherein public opinion on the subject of selling well- or reclaimed-water to the Arizona Snowbowl for artificial snow-making will be heard. I'm not planning to attend. I have a feeling the whole thing's a done-deal. Not to sound too-much the cynic, but money talks, ya know; it's sorta the way things roll in Flagstaff.  Nevertheless, for posterity... and just in case someone with their finger more on-the-pulse or better able to get-the-ear of our oft' misguided but generally well-intentioned Council happens upon this post... I wanted to state my case.  For the record, you know.

I love to ski.  Anyone who knows me knows that.  But that's an easy thing to say: "I love to ski."  Anybody who's ever skied has probably described the experience with the same words.  But, really, in my case, it's the truth: I love to ski. That is simply the best way to express my fondness for skiing.  I love it.  Absolutely totally love it.

I learned to ski at the Arizona Snowbowl in late 1984.  I don't remember what month of that season I first made the trip up the road, whether it was November or December.  But it was during my senior year in high school.  I was a late bloomer. My buddy Derrill and I learned together.  And every year since, pretty much without fail, we still make at least one trip up the mountain together for a day skiing.

I've had a season pass at Snowbowl for 10 or 12 years now... ever since I could afford such an expensive luxury.  And I've always felt that it was a $400.00 gamble... some years it snows a lot, some years not so much.  Ya take what you can get on the Peaks.  This is, after all, Arizona.

I think I'm a fairly decent skier.  I ski with a lot of folks who are a lot better than me.  Folks with names well-known on the mountain... unlike my own.  And they school me.  Regularly.  But I can hang, much of the time.  And even if I can't, even when I flail, even when I flail huge, I've still almost always got my stoke on.  Because I love to ski.

When Snowbowl's open, I'm there every chance I get.  Every Opening Day (and sometimes well before that I'm hiking up Ridge for first tracks on Upper White Lightning).  Every Snow Day.  Every weekend.  Every holiday.  I never take personal days from work.  Except to ski.  When Snowbowl's open in November, I'm there in November, rejoicing.  When they're open until April, I'm there until April, rejoicing again.  I'm there every chance I get, thick or thin, wet and cold, sunny and baking, I'm there.  Sometimes a full day, sometimes a half day.  It doesn't matter.  I'm up and down that road so often every season that I get seriously sick of driving it.  But I do it.  Because I love to ski.

Love to ski.  Wish I could ski more.  If I could choose to do anything other than hang out with my family, I'd choose to go skiing.  When I grow up and finally get to retire from my job-job, I want to join the ski patrol.  I'm serious.

All that being said, I nevertheless stand AGAINST the proposal currently before the Council to sell water (any water) to the Arizona Snowbowl for the purposes of making artificial snow.

Here's why, in a nutshell:
  • This is Arizona.  It will always be Arizona.  Arizona will never regularly be a great place to go skiing.  
  • Water is valuable, too valuable to misuse.  Drinking water especially.  Especially in Arizona.
  • Reclaimed water (effluent) still has lots of drugs and metals in it.
  • Snowbowl, it's employees, and the city arguably stand to benefit more from the area becoming a year-round, four-season resort than they do from extending the ski season by a month or two via snow-making.
  • Those with a vested interest in the Snowbowl LLC are the only ones who stand to benefit in any material way from the introduction of snow-making at the ski area.   
  • There is no way to gauge any variation in Snowbowl's impact on the local economy between lean, short-season years and years of abundant snow and long seasons.  Lengthening the season with snow-making will have no measurable effect on the local economy.
What do I think Snowbowl should do?
  • Fix the always-slipping-on-powder-days cable/bull-wheel assembly on Agassiz and stop paying for all this litigation.
  • Resubmit.  Go get another EIS, one that includes mountain biking and interpretive hiking and whatever... and become a real four-season resort so you can employ people year-round and sell over-priced hot dogs and hot cocoa year-round, too.
  • Accept the fact that, despite the aging infrastructure and cigarette-smoking Phoenicians, Snowbowl works pretty-much okay just the way it is and that we're lucky to get whatever snow we get whenever we get it.   And we ought to just enjoy it. As it is.  Remember: this is Arizona.


daralyn said...

Totally. And in your bullet points against snowmaking, don't forget that a) getting water up there (regardless of the source) will require tremendous amounts of fossil fuels, and b) making snow is extremely LOUD and will most certainly disturb the local wildlife.

chris p said...

My "local skier profile" is real similar to yours, and I agree with your opinions, although more consistent tourist traffic arguably benefits multiple local businesses. I just don't consider this to be a positive because I don't own one of these establishments and more tourists just mean less convenience and freedom in what's left of our little mtn city.

Anonymous said...

Some strong opinions here. Just to offer a counterpoint, I would like to see a more consistent ski season. With two kids on ski team, ski passes, and season ski rentals I'm into it for $3000 every winter, snow or no snow. The potable water option came from the Dept. of Agriculture not SB. They've embraced it because it would allow them to discount the latest lawsuit. And really, we're spraying reclaimed water all over our school lawns, gov't buildings, and ball fields. Cite the studies that show the metal and drug concentrations, than just stating it as fact. Don't believe everything you read in the media or the Noise.

Joe H.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with this post. I've been a pass holder since I was a kid--and I think the snowmaking proposal is among the most divisive things to ever happen in Flagstaff. Snowbowl? Yes. Snowmaking? No.

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