A ski resort with terrain for all levels and closeby lodging, lots of apres ski activities and a good ski school make for great vacations on snow.
Let’s bust the myth. Yes, Arizona has plenty of sunshine and a beautiful desert vista. But, here’s the dirty little secret: The White Mountains, San Francisco Peaks and Santa Catalinas sit high above the desert floor and collect plenty of snow to satisfy the skiers and snowboarders who live in Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff as well as the hordes of winter snowbirds.
Arizona ski resorts sort of fly under the radar because the winter sunshine is the main attraction. But, that sunshine works equally well on the mountain ski trails. Lift ticket prices are on par with other states, perhaps a bit less expensive. All of the ski resorts have ski schools and offer rentals.
Sunrise Park Resort is owned and operated by the White Mountain Apache Tribe and is the largest ski area in the state.
The resort is located amid the "getaway" zone for so many Phoenix residents (and for that matter, Tucson and even Albuqueque, NM). There are literally countless condos and second homes in the area, particularly in Pinetop-Lakeside.
The resort is nearby in Greer. Lodging is a wintertime cinch. Sunrise Park Lodge, near a lake, offers good dining, indoor pool and whirlpool, lounge and game room.
There are 65 runs matched to any skill level. You’ll also find a separate snowboarding area, cross country ski trails and a special children's area. Ski and ride off three peaks: Sunrise Peak, Cyclone Circle, and Apache Peak.
The peak elevation is – wait for it – 11,100 feet and it’s 9,200 feet at the base. Does that sound like desert terrain to you?
If you’re looking for scenery, Sunrise is your place. The Mogollon Rim of the White Mountains fills that bill and more. It stretches 200 miles from Yavapai County, AZ to New Mexico, and provides amazing views overlooking a huge forest of pine trees. The rim is a true geological wonder.
Sunrise has a snow tubing hill that provides some family fun (ages 5 and up) in a safe, separate environment.
Arizona Snowbowl is14 miles from Flagstaff, the state's northernmost major city and the home of Northern Arizona University. This is Arizona's largest ski resort. The Flagstaff ski season usually runs from November to April.
Located on the majestic San Francisco Peaks with a base elevation of 9,200 feet it is only 2 hours from Phoenix, and 70 miles from the Grand Canyon. What a great way to combine a day or two of skiing or riding while visiting what may visitors consider one of the wonders of the world.
The Arizona Snowbowl is located on the western slope of Mount Humphreys, the tallest point in the state. This is the most recognizable point on the San Francisco Peaks, which are north of the city. The Peaks are what remains of an eroded, dormant stratovolcano that was formed between 500,000 and 1,000,000 years ago. All skill levels are fine here and expert trails number about 13 percent.
There has been a long controversary about snowmaking here, largely in court battles between the Hopi Native American Tribe and the resort as the tribe considers the Peaks sacred ground and felt snowmaking would contaminate the mountain.
The courts ruled otherwise and the ski area, which operated when it could on natural snow for many years, suddenly took the leap into the modern ski area world a few years ago. Arizona Snowbowl ski resort receives on average 260 inches of snow. Today, a state-of-the-art snowmaking system covers more than 65 percent of its trails.
Arizona Snowbowl enjoys a 2,300 foot vertical drop and has 32 slopes spread over 777 skiable acres. There are 6 chairs and 1 surface lift. There is some lodging at the base of the resort, but there are plenty of chain and independent motels and a few hotels in Flagstaff and more than enough restaurants. A cross-country ski area called Nordic Village in the Peaks foothills offers 40 km of trails.
Snowbowl has the most beginner terrain in Arizona and is family-friendly. A ski school is a part of this ski areas services.
Tiny Elk Ridge Ski Area (formerly known as Williams Ski Area in the town of Williams), about an hour from the Snowbowl, is mostly an inexpensive family option with 2 lifts and a total of 11 trails on 37 skiable acres. No terrain park in Elk Ridge
It has 600 feet of vertical with a summit elevation of 8,150 feet. It's also a terminus for the Grand Canyon Railroad, a nice scenic ride.
If you are looking for a bit of bar room trivia, Williams was named for the famous trapper, scout and mountain man, "Old Bill Williams." A statue of "Old Bill" stands in Monument Park, located on the west side of the city.
But, here’s the bad news: While the ski area has new ownership since 2017, its promise of re-opening has been empty. Locals hope at least the owners of Snowbowl will manage it for night skiing, but no one is holding their breath. Looks like a “wait and see” if it will open again for real.
Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley is the southernmost ski resort where you can ski and ride – at least when Mother Nature wants to cooperate. This small ski area actually is right in Tucson in the Catalina Mountains high above the “Old Pueblo.”
There are 3 ski lifts and 21 ski trails over 200 skiable acres. Summit elevation of this ski hill is 9,157 feet. It’s part of the “Ski Islands” in the Coronado National Forest. The main lift runs year round for sightseeing.
You’ll need to rely on natural snowfall, but it’s a better bet than you might think as you won’t likely see much of it – if any – in Tucson. In fact, the ski area generally picks up about 180 inches a winter and is adept at moving it around. It's a fun place to ski or snowboard when the stars align.
The TV weather men and women are reliable about spreading the word when the conditions are ripe. The road from town to the ski area is windy but the views from the pullouts are dramatic. It was built in 1933 and is 27 miles long.
The tiny town of Summerhaven is just a mile away. Lots of Tucsonans have cabins here and there are a couple of stores and restaurants. The town was hit by a massive fire in 2004 that just licked the ski area, but has since been virtually restored.
Plan to buy your lift tickets at the window since conditions change quickly.
Summerhaven, a tiny community atop Mt. Lemmon, home of Mt. Lemmon Ski Area, makes for a great and quick winter escape from the city below. Less than an hour’s drive from Tucson, Summerhaven is the perfect place to enjoy a snowball fight, a hot cup of cocoa at one of therestaurants, or even a few nights right around the holidays.
During WWI, the ski resort was founded by a group of people passionate about skiing and is still loved by outdoor enthusiasts today.
Prescott is Arizona’s official “Christmas City” and for good reason too! Not only will you find the city illuminated by thousands of twinkling lights, but the city hosts a variety of holiday-themed events during the entire month of December.
The Gold Rush drew cowboys, prospectors, gamblers, and outlaws to the small town. These days, Whiskey Row is known for art galleries and candy shops in addition to the saloons that have made it famous. The town is just under a 2-hour drive from Flagstaff.
Flagstaff is best known as the gateway to the San Francisco Peaks mountain range and the Grand Canyon. You'll find downtown Flagstaff to be one of the best downtown scenes in Arizona. It’s big enough to offer a variation in vibe, food, drinks and setting, but small enough that visitors, locals and Northern Arizona University college students intermingle at nearly all times of the day.
Flagstaff has a rich history of railroad expansion which brought a number of colorful characters to the region.
Is there snow in Flagstaff? At 7,000 feet above sea level, and with an average annual snow fall of over 100 inches, Flagstaff is one of the snowiest cities in the United States.
There are 3 main resorts in Arizona: Snowbowl, Sunrise, and Mt. Lemmon. There is a fourth smaller resort called Elk Ridge near Williams which is closed at least for now.
Snowbowl’s high elevation and low moisture almost guarantee powder after a storm rolls through. Sunrise, located in the White Mountains, also gets its share of powder following a storm. Located in the Santa Catalina Mountains, Mt. Lemmon’s, highest point of the mountain is just under 10,000 feet that captures whatever snow falls in southern AZ. So, yes, it gets good snow in a normal year.
Arizona Snowbowl, Sunrise and Mt. Lemmon.
Best snowfall occurs in northern Arizona, although Mt. Lemmon high above Tucson in the south gets some nice snow dumps most years, with powder days, too.
AZ Snowbowl is a 2.5-hour drive north, but Mt. Lemmon (if it has snow and is open for skiing), is just under 3 hours from the capital city.
Arizona winter (Dec-Feb) temperatures range from high 68°F, low 47°F in Phoenix; high 66°F, low 42°F in Tucson; and high 43°F, low of 18°F in Flagstaff. Measurable snowfall can be found in the various regions of the state where Arizona’s ski areas are found like Sunrise Mountain in the east, AZ Snowbowl in the north, and Mt. Lemmon in the south.
Here's one for the record books: The coldest temp ever recorded in Arizona was 40 below zero in Hawley in 1971. Sunrise Mountain saw 400.9 inches fall in 1972-73. However, the record snowfall in Phoenix was 1 inch in 1932-33.
There are several airports in Arizona. Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix isthe state’s largest and best for heading to the ski resorts. Rent a car at the airport and drive 3-4 hours to any resort. Having a car is the most convenient option as you’ll likely be staying in a nearby town.
Mt. Lemmon and AZ Snowbowl are a 3-hour drive, while Sunrise is 4 hours. There is a major airport in Tucson as well.