Sale of Snowbowl in Play during Permit Delay

by CYNDY COLE, Sun Staff Reporter
Arizona Daily Sun
03 July 2010     

Snowbowl Decision, in Brief (Arizona Daily Sun; 03 July 2010)

  • Arizona Snowbowl received final clearance Friday to build snowmaking infrastructure on the San Francisco Peaks.
  • After USDA unsuccessfully attempted to broker a sale (see related story), the question now is what water source Snowbowl would use to make snow for skiers, probably in the winter of 2011-2012.
  • Legal challenges remain a possibility.

If Snowbowl uses reclaimed wastewater from the wastewater treatment plant, the cost is lower, and Snowbowl already has an agreement in place, but there is a lawsuit pending against it.

If it uses potable water, the cost is higher, a federal subsidy will be sought by Snowbowl, and the Flagstaff City Council would have to approve a new contract.

Sale of Snowbowl in Play during Permit Delay

Negotiations during the past year regarding the fate of Arizona Snowbowl has been tumultuous and far-ranging.

Current U.S. Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan asked the nation's highest court not to hear the case opposing snowmaking in May 2009, when she was working as solicitor general.

The Supreme Court did decline to hear the case last June, but a final decision remained in limbo, held up at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Snowbowl was first approved for an upgrade by the Coconino National Forest in 2005.

So Arizona Snowbowl and its attorneys persistently lobbied Agriculture to try to get the permit even as the USDA sought a solution suitable to area tribes.

Here are some highlights of those secret negotiations, based in part on documents obtained by the Arizona Daily Sun.

—Snowbowl owner Eric Borowsky proposed the federal government pay for upgrades at the ski area, pay to build a pipeline to import water from near Twin Arrows east of Flagstaff for making snow, or buy the ski area and land at the base of Snowbowl Road for $47 million, in conjunction with regional tribes, or about 10 times more than Borowsky paid for the place.
"We discussed at length that if the Navajo Nation does buy the Arizona Snowbowl, it is very important to position the purchase as a business transaction rather than USDA pressure," Borowsky wrote to Kathleen Merrigan, deputy secretary at the USDA in August, 2009.
His general manager was to give tribes a tour of the ski area without signaling to employees that the place could be up for sale.

—Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley asked Merrigan to end skiing at Snowbowl, or for federal money to help the tribes buy Snowbowl.
"The ideal resolution would be to stop skiing in the area," he wrote in an August 2009 letter.
Failing that, Shirley seemed to support a new source of water for snowmaking, but also to say the use of drinking water for such activities could be controversial.
"Many people in the region, including many tribes, have an interest and stake in the allocation of such a scarce resource as fresh water. In short, the Navajo Nation and those tribal leaders from other tribes with whom we have had contact unanimously agree that if you could stop the proposed use of reclaimed sewer water on a mountain that is sacred to well over 300,000 people, your efforts would likely resolve the current dispute."

—Attorney Howard Shanker, working on behalf of the Navajo Nation, proposed the federal government pay the cost of Snowbowl's buildings at the ski area, at far less than the $47 million Snowbowl had set for a price tag, and that the tribes reimburse this cost.

—By November 2009, Borowsky's letters to the USDA took on a less-patient tone, and he repeatedly asked for permission to build, saying he had taken every step the agency had asked and that the ski area would not financially survive without snowmaking.

Federal judges hearing the case earlier came to split decisions on that last point, of financial viability without snowmaking, and the balance sheet for Snowbowl remains sealed to the public.

"My intent or interest was not to sell the ski area," he wrote to Merrigan.

He stated a bank had rescinded financing for development at the ski area until he had final permission to build.

"The Navajo Nation does not want to buy the ski area and we do not want to sell the ski area."

An associate of Borowsky's noted in a letter that the USDA was pressing Borowsky to sell the ski area to the tribes.

Cyndy Cole can be reached at 913-8607 or at



Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law.