Ski Arizona? Never heard of it? Never thought of it? Probably not. Colorado, California, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Vermont .. There’s a whole list of American states famous for lots of great ski resorts. But however good their skiing is, none of them have what the ‘Grand Canyon State’ has on the side.
Or in the panoramic view you get when you ski Arizona Snow Bowl, the state’s main ski area. Arizona may be off skier’s radars, but it’s not really off the beaten track, and Phoenix makes a perfect start or finish to an all-American snow road trip starting or finishing in Salt Lake City, Denver, Las Vegas or Tahoe for example.
Historic Route 66 slashes across the the north of the state, and a roadie is definitely the the best way to absorb more of the amazing scenery.
But let’s go skiing first, and see if it’s up to scratch ..
Arizona Snow Bowl
Despite being way down south, Arizona Snow Bowl is high altitude – the base is 9,200’ – in a region that can catch some big dumps. They average a very respectable 260 inches annual snowfall. Backed up by quality snowmaking, that allows a season usually lasting mid-November through the end of April.
Lift accessed vertical is a decent 2300’, the Agassiz chair reaching 11,500’. Agassiz Peak reaches 12,365’ above that, so you can add more by hiking it when conditions are good. Further along the range Humphrey’s Peak is Arizona’s highest at 12,633’ / 3,851m.
If weather and/or snow conditions are not good higher up just take the traverse line into the Upper Bowl for a series of double black lines.
The season is already off to an amazing start this year.
The tree skiing can be awesome among the pines. It has been going off already this season.
There is cruisy family friendly terrain on the lower mountain, and perfect beginner terrain.
Arizona Snow Bowl boasts three parks and a rails garden catering to all levels.
Maybe best of all you can boast you skied with a panoramic view of the Grand Canyon.
The resort is popular, and they have been investing accordingly with 3 new chair lifts in the past 3 years, including a 6-pack express. It’s only 160 miles from Phoenix, and 266 from Las Vegas, so plenty of weekend warriors make the journey from both. So time your trip midweek and you should be fine.
Flagstaff Dark City
Just 15 miles from Arizona Snow Bowl, with free shuttles, Flagstaff has long been famous as a World centre for star gazers. Sitting at 7,000’ with 288 clear days a year and maybe more clear nights, it’s an ideal place to to view the night sky. Home of Lowell Observatory, it was the first city on the planet to go dark mode – or become an International Dark Sky City.
“The International Dark-Sky City designation is given to identify towns and cities with exceptional commitment to and success in implementing the ideals of dark sky preservation and/or restoration, and their promotion through quality outdoor lighting.”
One more in a sizeable list of reasons to check out Flagstaff apart from the skiing just 15 miles up the road. Those include craft breweries (they have 7), the nearby Navajo Nation, the largest area of Native American governed lands in America, and plenty of accommodation choices.
It’s a friendly city of 72,000 which has hosted NASA lunar mission trainees back in the 1960s to lots of top athletes today who come for altitude training.
Sitting right on historic Route 66, it’s a roadie classic stop off whether or not you ever ski or snowboard. Amtrak’s famous Southwest Chief train service rolls through daily between Chicago and LA if you want to arrive at a slower pace.
Magnificent Monument Valley – which is instantly recognizable to anyone who ever watched a western movie from – is 170 miles / 275 km north west, in the Navajo Tribal Park. Check out the incredible rock spires and fulfil your own Lone Ranger/John Wayne/Cochise etc fantasies en route to or from south west Colorado and ski classics there like Crested Butte and Telluride.
The Grand Canyon National Park is 80 miles / 130 km north, so possible as a day trip tour or better go spend time at Grand Canyon Village also and explore more of it.
Phoenix the secret ski gateway
Hands up who knew Phoenix is the 5th largest city in America? No, we didn’t either, but it is and with facilities to match.
That means great nightlife, shopping, food and some amazing attractions including the unique Desert Botanical Garden. If you like it totally cactus, this is your city!
Phoenix is also a great place to start or finish your USA ski road trip, with easy connections to much of the world – via LA or San Francisco for Aussies and Kiwis; direct from London for Brits; plus Mexico, Central and South America.
Anytime Qantas has flight deals to America check Phoenix, it will show up for not much more than going to LA or San Francisco.
Driving up to Salt Lake City or to Denver are a couple of options – you can check out ski resorts big and small plus a whole lot more along the way, instead of just doing the same-old, same-old big resorts packages. It’s no big deal, but if you are going later in the season start here and head north, as obviously spring strikes earlier further south.
Arizona offers some all-time lifetime must-do or must-see, with the added bonus of some decent skiing along the way.
The climate is great in winter too.