Arizona Snowbowl depends on recycled water.

Flush to fluff

If it weren’t for manmade snow, there’d be little snow at all for Arizona Snowbowl ski resort this season. But thanks to the use of reclaimed water, the resort remains open for business with seven lifts and more than 30 trails.

That same idea of using treated wastewater to make snow is being tossed around in Big Sky, so Yellowstone Club Environmental Manager Rich Chandler headed south recently to see what “recycled snow” is all about.

Chandler learned during his visit to Flagstaff and Snowbowl that natural snow had delivered only about 25 inches of total snowfall by early February this year, so without snowmaking, things would be looking pretty dismal.

Groundwater is off-limits for snowmaking at Snowbowl, which sits on a dormant volcano, so the resort pipes its water in via a 14-mile supply line from Flagstaff’s wastewater treatment plant. The snowmaking program began in 2012, and since then the ski season there has been extended significantly. 

Snowbowl General Manager J.R. Murray noted that before manmade snow came along, the resort relied on nature alone for 70 years. 

“Lack of predictability threatened the viability of the resort, and snowmaking solved that,” Murray said on Feb. 26. “This year, for example, we have received only 63 inches of natural snow, with most of that in the past two weeks. We would not have opened until last week, whereas we opened November 21 this season.”

Last year, Murray said, Snowbowl remained open until May 7. “The manmade snow lasts longer than natural. It is the first on the ground and the last to melt.” 

One thing that struck Chandler as interesting during his visit to Snowbowl was the resort’s use of the term “recycled water” versus the terms currently thrown around in Big Sky—effluent, or reclaimed wastewater, which could have negative connotations. 

“To me, the ‘recycled’ term is consistent with how we accept and manage so many other resources such as cardboard, glass, plastic and aluminum,” Chandler wrote to the Lookout. “For example, your water bottle made out of recycled plastic could have had a previous life as a plastic gas can. It doesn’t matter to the end user what the reincarnated plastic was in a previous life. Water should have similar observations and value.”



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