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Updated Mar 11, 2014 - 7:59 pm

Snowmaking saved Arizona ski area's season

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Faced with one of the area's driest and warmest winter on record, managers of the Arizona Snowbowl ski area outside Flagstaff says its new snowmaking capability saved its season.

Snowpack at the San Francisco Peaks outside Flagstaff is just 57 percent of normal, with winter snowfall of only 90 inches compared with the average of 260 inches.

Snowbowl had its 30 snowmaking machines running often in November and December, using 17 million gallons of reclaimed wastewater in December alone.

The ski season that began Nov. 29 was Snowbowl's first full season for using treated effluent to make snow.

"It was right by the skin of our teeth," snowmaking supervisor Carl McKenna said of opening day.

The ski area's website reported a settled base depth of 40 inches of snow Tuesday, and the Arizona Daily Sun reported that the ski area stopped snowmaking operations last week.

Arizona Snowbowl says the winter of 2001-02 was the last time it saw as little snow as it did this season. That winter, there were only 2,800 skiers. But by the time Snowbowl closes this season, they expect the ski area will have seen some 150,000 skiers.

"The year we're in now is the new definition of our worst-case scenario," General Manager J.R. Murray said. "This is a new definition of what our poorest season looks like. Each year we will make more snow, and the marketplace gets another year of education on how good our snow is.'"

But Snowbowl paid a price for all that artificial snow.

Each snowmaking gun costs about $30,000, and the 60 million gallons of treated effluent from the city of Flagstaff cost more than $100,000.

The resort also had to wage a costly legal fight to fend off challenges to its planned use of treated wastewater.

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