Arizona Ski Area Guide -- Very Complete

  • 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's changing for 2004-5, so the place should 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.


Best all-around Skiing Guide for Women...

Mom has a pretty raw deal on the average ski trip. They're expected to make sure every child is geared up and ready to go...settle the arguments, feed the family, prepare the snacks, pack the chapstick, and so on...and then ski the black diamonds with dad after the second lesson.

Sound familiar?

The book, Skiing: A Woman's Guide by Maggie Loring and Molly Mulhern Gross ought to be mandatory reading for every ski mom. It not only provides the basics for managing the gang, it also gives a step-by-step instructional guide from a woman's point-of-view. This link is to amazon.com, where you can usually pick up a used copy for about two bucks. Mom, it's the best two bucks you'll spend all winter.

Key

Hotshots are skiers who can ski anywhere, anytime, in any conditions, and generally enjoy showing off those skills. Wanderers are skiers who like to go exploring, to essentially get "lost" and move from face to face, seldom skiing the same trail twice. Newbies are the girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband who has never skied before, but gamely insists on going along. Obviously, Blues represents intermediate skiers, while Blacks refers to experts.

A note about ski area statistics: Although it's hard to believe, some ski areas are (gasp!) less than truthful with their numbers. Like the guy who lies about his, uh, shoe size, some ski areas believe that inflated numbers make their resort sound more appealling. When these numbers are obviously questionable, we put a note: (?!) and will attempt to verify the legitimacy of the claim.

A Signature Trail Is mostly subjective. Whether it's history, reputation, the view, or degree of difficulty...it's the run you have to do, even if it isn't necessarily the best the resort has to offer. If a ski area calls a trail by two names (one at the top, and another at the bottom) in an effort to claim more trails, we go by the upper name. If a trail is called "Upper Whatever" and "Lower Whatever," we simply list it as "Whatever" in this index.

More

Use this to get Lift Tickets at Discount: There 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 usually best to know for 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, usually when I am absolutely certain I will be skiing on a specific date. Some resorts offer "flex" tickets with which you can specify the date, and some have a few different tiers of pricing. In other words, you might be able to get a lift ticket that can be used on different days, but you'll pay a little more for that privilege. 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 -- even half off -- the price of some tickets. Not every area participates, but it's well worth checking before you head to the slopes.

A tiny portion of your Liftopia purchase helps fund this website, at no added cost.

If the ski resort business interests you, I strongly recommend a book by Hal Clifford called Downhill Slide: Why the Corporate Ski Industry is Bad for Skiing, Ski Towns, and the Environment. It provides an inside look at the marketing logic behind clocktower villages, and the dubious practices of the US Forest Service that enables these resorts to be built. Fascinating reading.

Ski Movies for Mere Mortals

Did you ever feel like those big money ski movies are often a big let-down? You get all pumped up for the new release from some ski film company, and it's mostly incredible footage of guys jumping out of helicopters and shredding down some un-named mountain on the far side of the globe. They're neck deep in powder, skiing lines that you'll never, ever see. If you want ski movies you could actually relate to, a bunch of guys called The Meatheads, from Burlington, VT have made a series of "Ski The East" films. They film at real resorts like Sugarloaf, Blue Mountain, Big Boulder, Mount Snow, Ski Sundown, Stowe, Jay, Mountain Creek, Killington, Sunday River...urban locations ranging from Virginia to Quebec...mogul skiing with The Hammer and Radio Ron...and backcountry throughout New York, New England, and the Chic Chocs. It's simply fantastic -- and since it's the same terrain we can get to, it's inspirational!

Their most popular current release is No Matter What , which received the ski equivalent of an Oscar for the Jay Peak powder segment, filmed during 2012 of all things. One that is probably their best is from a year ago, called Prime Cut . Another favorite is Wanderland: An East Coast Ski Thriller. All Meatheads DVDs have hours of "bonus" footage, so it's like getting three ski movies for the price of one. The links go to Amazon.com, which enables you to order and return if you don't like them. And a small percentage of the sale helps us pay the expenses of this website, at no extra cost to you.

Here's a preview, courtesy Youtube...




Arizona Snow Bowl masthead photo courtesy PD Tillman, used by permission/Creative Commons.