Photo courtesy Arizona Snow Bowl
Arizona Snow Bowl, Flagstaff • 140 skiable acres on 2300′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 11,500′; Base elevation: 9200′. 5 Lifts: 2 triples, 2 doubles, 1 rope tow. Uphill capacity: 5000/hr. Terrain Mix: 37-42-21. Longest Run: 10,560′. Season: usually mid-December to March. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 250″. Snowmaking: currently under construction at the ski area.
The SKInny: This is a heck of a sizable mountain, unfortunately the ski area only covers a fraction of it. Snow Bowl is on one of the San Francisco Peaks, the volcanic massif that dominates the Flagstaff area. Yes, this is Arizona, and you can drive south and golf in the afternoon. But most importantly this is an alpine zone two miles above sea level, with beautiful aspen and fir and not a cacti in sight. It feels a lot like Durango or one of the other southern Colorado ski resorts. For years the knock on Arizona Snow Bowl has been the lack of snowmaking. That has been changing steadily over recent years; they now open earlier and post much improved conditions. It’s still a throwback in other respects; minimal grooming, old clunky lifts, stark facilities. This ain’t Aspen, and the regulars like it that way. What you will find is moguls and more moguls, and long lines on weekends. Something for everyone, from beginners to hotshots. Wanderers will be ok here, but bored after a couple of visits. Although best known for the high altitude mogul runs, the Hart-Prairie chair area is one of the finest all-novice areas in the USA. It’s a 650′ vertical with a few trails and a fantastic wide open alpine meadow. Skiers looking for that remote/untracked experience can hike another 800 vertical feet and take advantage of an incredible backcountry bowl. All in all, this is a beautiful destination with some terrific runs for all abilities.
Signature Trail: White Lightning, also Catwalk to Sundance.
Elk Ridge Ski Area, Williams • 30 skiable acres on 600′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 8150′; Base elevation: 7500′. 2 surface lifts. Uphill capacity: 850/hr. Terrain Mix: 30-50-20. Longest Run: 3960′. Season: usually early December to late March. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 150″.
The SKInny: Formerly Williams Ski Area. This is a throwback operation, similar in many ways to some of the old New England local ski areas. Smallish, average terrain: Nothing for the true beginner, nothing for the true expert. But– no crowds, no headaches, no stress. A great day of affordable skiing, with some open runs, tree runs, a fun mix.
Signature Trails: Wild West/Main Slope.
Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley, Tucson • 80 skiable acres on 900′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 9157′; Base elevation: 8250′. 3 Lifts: 2 doubles, 1 surface. Uphill capacity: 2000/hr. Terrain Mix: 20-38-42. Longest Run: 8500′. Season: usually December to March. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 175″.
The SKInny: No matter how many times you’ve skied the Lemmon, it is still a surprise when you arrive at ski slopes just an hour or so above the desert. Mt. Lemmon is run by/leased from the USFS Coronado National Forest. It’s small, conditions can be spotty, facilities are bare bones and the road can be a nightmare. Not a lot of terrain at Mt. Lemmon, but it does offer variety. Hit this after a storm, and you’ve got an experience to remember forever. Hit it on an off-day and it will be a ski trip you’d like to forget. But hey, you’re an hour from Mexico…why complain? Mt. Lemmon is definitely the destination for anyone who insists on golfing and skiing on the same day.
Sunrise Park Resort, McNary (Show Low area) • 600 skiable acres on 1800′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 11,000′; Base elevation: 9200′. 10 Lifts: 3 quads, 4 triples, 1 double, 2 surface. Uphill capacity: 16,000/hr. Terrain Mix: 40-40-20. Longest Run: 14,520′. Season: usually December to April. Mon-Sat plus Sunday mornings. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 250″. Snowmaking: 10%.
The SKInny: Arizona’s biggest ski area, some would argue that it is Arizona’s best, although the pedal-to-the-metal expert will opt for Snow Bowl. For the average skier accustomed to courderoy, Sunrise rules. Although not a high-end resort, it is a legitimate resort with generally skiable conditions in-season. Powder days are fabulous, but too few to make this a destination-type resort. The main knock on Sunrise is the clunky lifts. Another negative is of the 10 stated lifts, all ten are seldom running. Still, it is an excellent ski area for skiers of all abilities. Liftlines tend to be short or non-existent; slopes are uncrowded. Best area in the state for wanderers, families, etc. Covers three separate mountains — rates as one of the best in the southwest when conditions are “on” and everything is open.
Signature Trail: Tempest, Superstition.
Lift Tickets at Discount: This is a “clearinghouse” of sorts that many ski areas use to raise cash by selling discount tickets in advance, called Liftopia. If you haven’t used this service, it is important to knowfor certain that you are going on a specific date. The deeply discounted tickets must be purchased in advance; generally up to two days out. The sticking point is that some ski resorts only make a limited number of tickets available to Liftopia for any given day, so they might be sold out if you wait too long…so, as soon as you are absolutely, positively sure that you will be skiing on a certain day, click this link to get deeply discounted tickets. I’ve used this service many times, but again, ONLY when I am absolutely certain I will be skiing on a specific date. You need to have access to a printer to print out your receipt, and you have to take identification with you to the mountain. I’ve knocked a third off the price of some tickets. Not every area participates, but it’s well worth checking if you’ve got a date nailed down.