Looking for a quick couple’s getaway or fun adventure the whole family can enjoy? How about hitting the slopes? No matter where in Arizona you live, you’re never too far from one of Arizona’s three ski properties — one each in the north, south, and east. Each serves skiers of all skill levels and ages during the winter, with seasons that run from November to April, weather permitting. All three offer season passes, special day rates, and complete packages to fit all budgets. Better yet, they’re also open for summer outdoor recreation. Here’s the scoop on these cool experiences.
Arizona Snowbowl, Flagstaff
One of the oldest continually operated ski resorts in the country, Snowbowl, located 14 miles north of Flagstaff, opened in 1938 below the San Francisco Peaks in the Coconino National Forest. Surrounded by tall ponderosa pines, the hills have long offered a favorite escape for Northern Arizona University students.
More recently, the ski resort also is catering to families by broadening the runs and adding more packages and recreational opportunities, including a third terrain park that serves both freestyle skiers and snowboarders alike.
With eight lifts serving 48 trails on 777 skiable acres, Snowbowl boasts the tallest peak in the state — Humphreys Peak at 12,637 feet. When the snow is good, it competes with the best of what Colorado and Utah have to offer, and machine-made snow fills in any gaps.
New owners are adding more snow-making on the popular Ridge Trail and also the first quad lift. Also, future development could include snow tubing, a zip line, and more hiking and biking trails.
You’ll be able to find a ski shop, ski rentals, lift tickets, lessons, and other outfitting needs at two base lodges — Hart Prairie and Agassiz lodges — along with burgers or craft beer on outdoor patios, or hot chocolate in front of a roaring fireplace. The ski park also offers adaptive-use programming for those with various disabilities. After skiing, guests can head to historic downtown Flagstaff to cozy up over food and beverage.
Snowbowl operates the closest accommodations, Ski Lift Lodge, which rents rustic cabins and rooms in the woods (reservations required).
Sunrise Park Resort, Greer
The largest ski resort in the state, Sunrise, owned and operated by the White Mountain Apache Tribe, boasts three mountains, nine ski lifts, and 65 runs on 800 acres of skiable area. It opened in 1970 as part of an economic development program for the tribe, providing jobs for its members.
Sunrise Mountain was developed first, followed by Apache Mountain in 1982, and Cyclone, which is the steepest, in 1983. The attractions are great snow, small crowds, and mostly sunny days, warm enough that you often can ski in jeans. The high-speed detachable lift up Sunrise means skiers are on the slopes in seven minutes, equating to more skiing in less time. For beginners, a shorter lift has replaced the long-used towrope for a friendlier, more teachable experience at the base of Sunrise.
The most developed ski resort of the three, Sunrise always has attracted guests, many from Phoenix or Tucson, with weekend events. There’s also cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, tubing, archery, horseback rides, fishing, kayaking on Sunrise Lake, and a new zip line.
Sunrise Park Lodge offers a free shuttle to the park and back, and fine dining at its restaurant. The chef is a French-trained Apache-Navajo, whose dishes, such as acorn stew, are indigenously and seasonally inspired. Reserve the Chef’s Table to taste 11 different courses.
Mount Lemmon Ski Valley, Tucson
The southernmost ski area in the country, Mount Lemmon, opened during World War II. Started by noted journalist Lowell Thomas and a few buddies, including Art Devlin, who became a future Olympic ski jumper and TV commentator, they formed a ski club and invited friends to join. At the end of that first season, they celebrated with a big party at The Arizona Inn. At the time, the road didn’t even go all the way up the mountain; it stopped at Soldier Camp.
Today, Mount Lemmon, about an hour’s drive east of Tucson, is managed by Graham Davies and owned by his parents, George and Jean Davies, who bought the property in 1970. Back then, skiers straddled a poma lift up the mountain to ski three runs. The first chairlift replaced the poma in 1975. Now there are two lifts and 22 runs, the majority for the intermediate to advanced. Along the winding route up, you’ll pass cyclists and seven different elevations with varied landscapes.
With no access to snow-making equipment or the appropriate water source to operate it, they rely completely on Mother Nature for their snow at about 9,000 feet. Absent of snow, they offer the Sky Ride up the mountain and hiking trails back down through the aspen, pine, and fir forest. They also operate a ski shop that sells sweatshirts all year long because it’s 30 degrees cooler up there than in Tucson down below. At the base, you’ll also find a snack bar, fudge shop, and restaurant that serves German-inspired dishes (though a favorite is the chili and corn bread).
Guests can expect to have a good old-fashioned time at this more rustic and relaxed ski venue, which sometimes offers live music and always hosts a Friday night dinner at its Iron Door Restaurant.
If You Go
Flagstaff in January: Visit Flagstaff in January for Dew Downtown, Arizona Snowbowl’s urban ski and snowboard competitive event, complete with a snow-packed terrain park set up downtown.
Holidays at Sunrise: During the holidays, Sunrise Park Resort has music, sleigh rides, dog-sled races, and ice sculptures. Show up in a Santa Claus costume for discounted tickets. Try night skiing with fireworks on Saturday nights. Follow them on Facebook to find upcoming events.
Fall at Mount Lemmon Ski Valley: Celebrating Oktoberfest at Mount Lemmon Ski Valley is a 30-year tradition that has extended to four weekends in a row of family fun. They hire a German band, set up picnic tables in the ski area, serve German beer and brats, pass out hula hoops, and more.
Year-round: For additional fun, try year-round tubing in Williams at Elk Ridge Ski and Outdoor Recreation, or cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and fat-tire biking in Flagstaff at the Flagstaff Nordic Center.
This article was first published in Arizona Highroads in November/December 2015. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.