Arizona Snowbowl is an alpine ski resort located on the San Francisco Peaks, 7 miles (11.2 kilometers) north of Flagstaff, Arizona. The base elevation of the facility sits at 9,200 feet (2,804 m) and the resort receives an average snowfall of 260 inches (650 centimeters). It boasts a 2300 feet drop, the largest in Arizona, and has 4 lifts servicing the mountain. Two lodges, Hart Prairie Lodge and Agassiz Lodge, are located at the ski area. Arizona Snowbowl has been in operation for almost 70 years.
Arizona Snowbowl is open year-round. Summer activities include:
- Scenic Skyride: During the summer months, the Agassiz chairlift takes visitors to an elevation of 11,500 feet (3,505 m) for views of the surrounding area including the Grand Canyon 70 miles (112 kilometers) to the north.
- Disc golf course: An 18 hole disc golf course winds among the ski runs.
- Hiking: Several hiking trails begin from Arizona Snowbowl providing access to the Coconino National Forest. Trails include the Humphreys Peak Trail, a 4.5 mile (7.2 km) hike to Humphreys Peak, the highest point in the state of Arizona at 12,633 feet (3,850 m).
The area is under the domain of the United States Forest Service, which has a mandate to allow multiple uses on its lands. In the 1930s, the Forest Service allowed the construction of a ski lodge and access road on the western slopes of the San Francisco Peaks. Full-scale development, with shops, restaurants, and lodges, was first proposed in 1969, but the opposition of several tribes and community groups prevented this initial project.
In 1979, the Forest Service approved a new lodge, a paved road, expanded parking, four new ski lifts and 50 acres of trails to be added to the existing ski area which would grow to 777 acres. The Native people of the area protested that this invasion imperiled their religious freedom. As the chairman of the Hopi tribe warned, “If the ski resort remains or is expanded, our people will not accept the view that this is the sacred home of the Kachinas. The basis of our existence will become a mere fairy tale.” Despite Hopi and Navajo protests, the Forest Service regional supervisor in 1980 approved the paving of an access road into the ski area. The Hopi and Navajo filed separate lawsuits to stop the development, while the Forest Service argued that religious rights would be unimpeded, and even facilitated, by the ski lifts. Three years later (the suits having been consolidated into one case, Wilson v. Block), the Hopi and Navajo were unable to convince the District of Columbia Circuit Court that the Peaks were "indispensable" to their religions, and the suit was denied. According to the judge, permitting the Snowbowl expansion may have "offended" their beliefs, but the Forest Service had faithfully met all the provisions of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978.
In July 2008, a panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the tribes, but this decision was reversed by the full court. The court granted the Snowbowl the go-ahead to start using reclaimed water to make artificial snow, and to add upgrades of 2 new lifts, 10 more trails, a halfpipe, and lodge expansions. The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court on January 5, 2009. The Supreme Court Justices officially rejected the tribes' appeal on June 8, 2009, and by default left the second ruling of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals intact, allowing the Snowbowl to go ahead with their proposed updates to the resort. Some are concerned about hormones and pharmaceuticals in the man made snow, but they are largely few in number.