Despite a sometimes stormy history, Arizona Snowbowl, near Flagstaff, has been attracting skiers, snowboarders and other winter enthusiasts for 76 years.
© Arizona Historical Society
A skier prepares to tackle one of Arizona Snowbowl's runs in this photo from the resort's early years. Today, Snowbowl has 40 runs and six lifts.
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By Kayla Frost
Throughout its 76-year history, Arizona’s most accessible ski resort has weathered many storms — and not just blizzards. Arizona Snowbowl has repeatedly been the center of controversy, primarily because of its battle with Native American tribes. Nevertheless, it has persevered as one of the oldest continually run ski resorts in the country.
When Snowbowl opened in 1938 on national-forest land, it was little more than a two-person rope tow powered by a car engine and accessible only via a dirt road cleared by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Although its setup was primitive, its location on the flanks of Agassiz Peak, a 12,300-foot mountain 15 miles from Flagstaff, was dazzling.
Alpine festivities, such as the 20-30 Club’s Snow and Ice Fiesta, helped Snowbowl quickly grow in popularity. But the resort’s history is full of ups and downs. In 1941, the CCC built a beloved lodge, but it burned down 11 years later. In 1944, Snowbowl didn’t open at all because of World War II gasoline-rationing. But it survived — unlike other ski resorts — and over the years, owners played hot potato with the resort, often discouraged by low-snow seasons. Plus, Snowbowl struggled to compete with larger, higher-budget ski resorts in other states.
Opposition from Native Americans, particularly Navajos and Hopis, has been the biggest obstacle to Snowbowl’s expansion over the years. The tribes believe that the mountain is holy, so harming it in any way is sacrilegious. Nevertheless, in 2009, Snowbowl won a long legal battle against tribal members and environmentalists to use treated wastewater for artificial snow, which was sprayed on Agassiz’s slopes for the first time during the 2012-13 ski season.
For more information about Arizona Snowbowl, call 928-779-1951 or visit www.arizonasnowbowl.com.
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