Arizona Snowbowl Water Wasting Scheme: The Real Economics

The New York Times and Huffington Post reported on Arizona Snowbowl’s controversial plan to become the first ski resort in the nation to turn 100% treated sewage effluent into fake snow.  The plan is offensive to 13 regional tribes who hold the area sacred, and to those who worry that reclaimed water may be needed as an emergency water source in the future.

Credit Taylor McKinnon

In their articles on the Snowbowl debacle, both the NY Times and Huffington Post allowed Snowbowl to make claims that the ski resort’s profits will trickle down to Flagstaff, AZ, the community at the base of the mountain.  That’s simply not true.

  • There is no correlation between Snowbowl’s income and City tax revenue.  A study for the Hopi Tribe found no correlation between skier days, ski area open days, or snowfall and Flagstaff winter tourism activity. Snowbowl had a record year in 2011 (and in 2005), and yet Flagstaff is still in a recession.
  • Skiiers are only half as likely to visit downtown as other visitors, and less likely to shop. A recent study of 1000+ Flagstaff visitors (surveyed in town) revealed that 64% were “not at all interested” in skiing; only 7.4% participated in ski & snowplay activities.  70% visited downtown, and 45% went shopping.   In the same year, a Winter survey of visitors at Snowbowl, found that only 37% planned to visit downtown and 36% planned to shop.   Over half did not stay in a hotel overnight.    Snowbowl may contribute to Flagstaff’s economy, but it might contribute even more to downtown when its runs are closed.
  • Snowbowl is outside city limits, so it does not even pay City taxes. 

Snowbowl is one of the 10 oldest ski areas in the country, and has never had snowmaking.  There is no urgency to this issue that should force the city to commit its water before it has a sure supply for its citizens into the future. The region is predicted to run out of water by 2050.

Credit: Shelley McKever at Agile Indigo Studios

The Huffington Post questions the economics of any snowmaking, anywhere:

Snowmaking with any kind of water has been under scrutiny. In 2007 the Times of London weighed the conundrum of snowmaking: It’s needed in times of less water yet it requires a lot of water. “It is wasteful, energy-inefficient and environmentally indefensible,” the paper wrote. “A single ski resort needs as much electricity as a small village just to keep its snowmaking systems going, and they are insatiable consumers of water. To cover one hectare (or 2.5 acres) of a snow slope, which may last less than a day, a snowmaking system needs 880 gallons of water.”


Economic significance of Arizona Snowbowl to the Flagstaff and Coconino County, Arizona Regional Economy. Prepared for the Hopi Tribe by Bioeconomics, Inc., Missoula, MT. March 2, 2012. See pages 12-14.  Available at, accessed 9/27/12.

Flagstaff CVB Study “Winter visitor spending exceeds $15.8 million during 2008-2009 season”. Research conducted Dec 26, 2008-Mar 10, 2009. Available at, accessed 9/27/12.

Flagstaff Tourism Survey conducted between April, 2008-March, 2009 by AZ Office of Tourism, AZ Hospitality Research Center, Center for Business Outreach, and W.A. Franke College of Business at Northern Arizona University.  See pages 52-53.  Available at , accessed 9/27/12.

Special Report: Roiling the waters.  Arizona Daily Sun, March 14, 2010.  Available at, accessed 9/27/12.


Posted on September 28, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Ann Marie Zeller

    The ;snowmaking water would be subsidized by the people in Flagstaff, for every 1000 gallons of snowmaking $1.00 will be charged to potable water users.


  1. Pingback: Arizona Community Press – The Real Economics of Arizona Snowbowl Water Wasting Scheme

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