Demonstrations Disrupt Snowbowl 75th Anniversary Parties

14 Feb

BY MITCH KULLOS —

Crowds gathered in Heritage Square at 5 p.m. on Feb. 9, not to celebrate the Dew Downtown event, but rather to protest and bring awareness to the various forms of environmental negligence levied against the Arizona Snowbowl. The ski resort has been celebrating their 75th anniversary for the past week at various bars and restaurants in downtown Flagstaff; these events were disrupted at nearly every venue by passionate protestors demonstrating their views on Snowbowl’s celebration.

Klee Benally leads the drum circle during an Arizona Snowbowl protest, the protest took place at heritage square in downtown Flagstaff on Saturday. Arizona Snowbowl has been using reclaimed water to blow snow onto the mountain which started in December of last year. (Photo by Jeff Bucher)

Klee Benally leads the drum circle during an Arizona Snowbowl protest, the protest took place at heritage square in downtown Flagstaff on Saturday. Arizona Snowbowl has been using reclaimed water to blow snow onto the mountain which started in December of last year. (Photo by Jeff Bucher)

With such frequent protests, protesters are assumed to have been working with or inspired by the organization Idle No More. Often, the protestors carried signs and banners voicing their cause to remove Snowbowl from the San Francisco peaks, which is considered to be sacred by local indigenous tribes. This debate was recently reignited by the use of 100 percent wastewater recycled snow on the mountain. The coordinated protest events began with a downtown street march on Monday and culminated with a flash mob protest in Heritage Square on Feb. 9.

Members of the protest gave statements of why they were participating, their purpose and evidence supporting their cause.

Klee Benally of Protect the Peaks, working in unison with Idle No More, gave his opinion on the environmental and cultural ramifications of the ski resort.

“Racism and cultural intolerance is nothing to celebrate; environmental degradation and public health threats are nothing to celebrate,” Benally explained. “Folks from the community, some university students and people who actually used to work at Snowbowl have joined us for the past few nights while Snowbowl is celebrating their so-called 75 years of existence.”

Benally continued to specifically explain the many myths often propagated regarding Snowbowl and its operations.

A protestor displays a sign during an Arizona Snowbowl protest, the protest took place at heritage square in downtown Flagstaff on Saturday. Arizona Snowbowl has been using reclaimed water to blow snow onto the mountain which started in December of last year. (Photo by Jeff Bucher)

A protestor displays a sign during an Arizona Snowbowl protest, the protest took place at heritage square in downtown Flagstaff on Saturday. Arizona Snowbowl has been using reclaimed water to blow snow onto the mountain which started in December of last year. (Photo by Jeff Bucher)

“Snowbowl claims to be operating for 75 years but in all reality a court cause in the eighties Wilson vs. Block . . . reaffirmed the lower court’s ruling allowing the ski area to develop . . . that’s only one of the many myths around Snowbowl. There are many myths like people . . . think that Snowbowl drives the winter economy. The Forest Service’s own environmental impact statement concludes that Snowbowl would never be a significant driver of the winter economy,” Benally said.

While these myths have been deemed factual by Snowbowl supporters, a grey area remains when considering the ski area’s founding and effect on the economy. However, these myths, as many protesters believe, have been constructed to counter the two main issues surrounding Snowbowl. The peaks are religiously important to many indigenous tribes as well as environmental concerns regarding the recycled sewage water, commonly known as reclaimed water, being used for snowmaking.

Speaking to these subjects, protestor Hailey Sherwood explains the cultural disparities and religious outrage by many indigenous populations.

“I think Snowbowl is perpetuating racism and colonization of native people,” Sherwood said. “I think they’re extremely unsustainable given that we live in the high desert and water is very scarce.”

The conversation soon turned to solutions.

“Ultimately, I think the Forest Service should discontinue the special use permit that Snowbowl has because I think it should be sanctioned as a sacred site and legalized recognized as that,” Sherwood said.

Fat flakes fell on the protestors picketing the use of recycled snow on the San Francisco Peaks at Dew Downtown. Despite the snow and the event being put on by Snowbowl and Mountain Dew, the demonstrators took to the amphitheater with Rudy Preston giving information regarding the recycled snow. Halfway through his presentation, Snowbowl representatives cut the sound. Rudy seemed unaffected by this change and introduced a traditional round dance, which many onlookers joined to demonstrate support for the cause.

DSC_0808After the demonstration, Preston reflected on the protest.

“Overall, I’m quite happy with it just because we got a chance to get on stage and inform people about what’s in that water. It’s pretty dangerous stuff and I think people need to know it’s illegal to eat the snow up there,” Preston said.

While the outcomes or desired results from these protests remain to be seen, it is important for the community surrounding Snowbowl to have a reasonable discussion regarding the best interests for the town, the people and the environment.

Visit IdleNoMore.ca, TrueSnow.org and ProtectthePeaks.org for more information concerning environmental and cultural concerns regarding the San Francisco Peaks.

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