FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — For 10 years, a coalition of Native American groups and environmental activists in this Western mountain community has tried to stop a ski resort from spraying artificial snow — made from wastewater — on land that 13 tribes consider sacred.
Until now, it’s lost every one of five major legal actions against the U.S. Forest Service, which first approved the sale of wastewater to the Arizona Snowbowl resort in 2004. Since the winter of 2012, the privately owned Snowbowl has prospered through the cold but dry winter season with the frozen flakes, manufactured by four snow-making machines on the San Francisco Peaks, 11,500 feet above sea level.
The cultural argument — as one activist put it, “What part of ‘sacred’ don’t you understand?” — has failed in the legal arena. Now the Hopi tribe is trying to stop the faux snow with arguments that could carry more weight outside Native American culture. Tribal officials are arguing that the snow is bad for the environment, and for people too.