1/12/06 – In an opinion issued late Wednesday, federal judge Paul Rosenblatt dismissed the plaintiffs' claims that the Snowbowl's plans would burden their ability to freely exercise their religions. The judge further wrote that a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs would put the forest service in a, quote, precarious position, because of the millions of acres of public land in Arizona considered sacred to Indian tribes. Rosenblatt also pointed out some inconsistencies in the plaintiffs' arguments. The White Mountain Apache Tribe, for example, allows artificial snowmaking at its Sunrise Ski Resort, which is located on a mountain some tribal members hold sacred.
The case also hinged on the forest service's mandate to manage public lands for multiple uses. The judge wrote the government has a compelling interest in managing the public land for recreational uses such as skiing, and for improving safety at the ski area.
The forest service has said it will continue working with Indian tribes to address their concerns. The Arizona Snowbowl has said snowmaking is essential to keeping the ski area financially viable.
For Arizona Public Radio, I'm Daniel Kraker
Full text of Judge Rosenblatt's opinion: