Published Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Column by ALEX MCRAE
Ok, fans, here’s our sports trivia question of the day:
Why did the owners of a ski resort just outside Flagstaff name their place the Arizona Snowbowl?
Answer: Because they knew people wouldn’t pay $55 bucks for an all-day lift ticket to glide merrily down the slopes of the Toilet Bowl.
Which is basically what the Arizona Snowbowl is. Mostly because its slopes are often covered with artificial snow made from authentic human urine. Not to mention everything else flowing from the discharge valve at the Flagstaff municipal sewer treatment plant, which is where the Snowbowl gets the water that made the yellow snow that recently made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
The fun began on Christmas Eve, when resort officials fired up the snow guns and covered the mountain with fresh fakeflakes. When customers arose on Christmas morning eager to hit the slopes, they were stunned. Instead of a blanket of pristine white, they found themselves facing what looked like a sea of pee.
Reservations were canceled. Fingers were pointed. Curses filled the air. Things got so bad, even the New York Times dashed out to cover the story. Snowbowl customer Kaelan Monroe told The Times conditions were “kind of disgusting,” saying, “The snow is crusty and icy and doesn’t look very clean.”
To its credit (an expression rarely used these days) The Times attempted to mitigate the impact on the Flagstaff economy. Instead of saying “Skiers won’t go near yellow snow,” The Times headline said:
“Discolored slopes mar debut of snow-making effort.”
The headline reminded me of a story by the late, great Lewis Grizzard. Grizzard said while working as executive sports editor of the Atlanta Journal, he almost choked when a veteran writer turned in a high school football story that began:
“Chamblee’s exciting come-from-behind 21-14 victory over rival Druid Hills was somewhat marred by the death of its coach.”
Yeah, if having your coach die during the game doesn’t mar that victory, nothing will.
Under Arizona law it is already illegal to drink (and presumably serve) “reclaimed” water, a euphemism for used urine. In fact, environmental officials made Snowbowl owners put up barriers to keep the free-range urine from floating into nearby forests that are home to “fragile” alpine plants.
Swell. Plants were protected, but precious children were still hitting the slopes, falling down, swallowing and wallowing in stuff you wouldn’t serve to your most despised in-law. Stained snow was probably even tracked into five-star restaurants and low-rent gift shops.
The best part is, it took years of legal wrangling to even get permission to use the reclaimed water.
When the stained snow first appeared, Snowbowl officials insisted the discoloration was caused by rusty residue in pipes that carried water from the sewer plant to the slopes.
But maybe not. Former Snowbowl employee Grayson Lookner told The Times that he was instructed to drag snow gun equipment into the forest before draining the pipes so the residue would not leave a yellow stain on the slopes.
After the disaster made headlines Snowbowl officials attacked the problem with thousands of (a) gallons of Lysol and (b) publicity dollars and, by early January, announced they had cleaned up both their snow and their act.
General Manager J.R. Murray sent an email blast to present and potential customers, saying:
“The skiing is great! The pipes are now cleansed.”
Hopefully business will pick up at Snowbowl. But the place should really rethink its advertising scheme. Serious skiers are surely more likely to be lured by the promise of “fresh powder” than claims of “the cleanest snow ever made from human waste.”
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