Appeals court: No fake snow at Arizona Snowbowl |

Appeals court: No fake snow at Arizona Snowbowl

SAN FRANCISCO ” Operators of the Arizona Snowbowl won’t be allowed to use treated wastewater to make snow, a federal appeals court ruled Monday in a decision that found the effort violated the religious freedom of more than a dozen American Indian tribes.

The 777-acre resort north of Flagstaff rests on the western flank of the San Francisco Peaks, mountains that have spiritual and religious meaning to 13 tribes in the Southwest.

The tribes claimed plans to add a fifth chair lift, spray man-made snow and tear down and groom about 100 acres of forest to attract more skiers and extend the ski season violated their religious freedom and that the government did not adequately address the impact of wastewater on the environment.

U.S. District Judge Paul Rosenblatt of Phoenix ruled last year that tribes “failed to present any objective evidence that their exercise of religion will be impacted by the Snowbowl upgrades.”

The tribes appealed and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision, saying the planned expansion violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“We are unwilling to hold that authorizing the use of artificial snow at an already functioning commercial ski area in order to expand and improve its facilities, as well as to extend its ski season in dry years, is a governmental interest ‘of the highest order,”‘ Judge William A. Fletcher wrote for the three-judge panel, which heard arguments in September. He compared the practice to using wastewater in Christian baptisms.

For the third time in four years, the Arizona Snowbowl, which brings an estimated $10 million annually to Flagstaff’s economy, opened late this winter because of a lack of snow.

Two years ago, when 460 inches of snow fell on the mountain, the 68-year-old resort stayed open for 139 days and hosted more than 191,000 skiers. But last year, there was so little snow that the lifts ran only 15 days.

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