Ski the Arizona Snowbowl

Written by on January 1, 2017 in AZ Outdoor Adventures - Comments Off on Ski the Arizona Snowbowl

When most people think of Arizona, they think of deserts, warm winters and lots of sun. In fact, Arizona is a great place to go snow skiing, too! A two-hour drive from Phoenix will take you to the San Francisco Peaks and Flagstaff. The San Francisco Peaks are made up of six summits that circle the caldera of a now dormant volcano. Humphreys Peak, at 12,633 feet, is the tallest in Arizona. Agassiz Peak soars to 12,356 feet, and Fremont Peak climbs to 11,969 feet. Aubineau Peak, Reese Peak, and Doyle Peak complete the ring, creating both a scenic wonderland and geological display of volcanic rock, deep Alpine forest and lava flows.

Along the slopes of the Peaks sits the Arizona Snowbowl. The Snowbowl Ski Area opened in 1938 and is one of the oldest continually run ski areas in the U.S. In point of fact, the San Francisco Peaks receive an average of 99 inches of snow each year, making for good ski conditions. The ski area offers 32 trails serviced by four lifts for skiers and snowboarders of all ability levels. It also received an award this year for safety. The National Ski Area Association (NSAA) recently announced that the Arizona Snowbowl has won the prestigious Best Overall Safety Award for ski areas across the nation with less than 250,000 skier visits.

Until 2009, you never knew from year to year when the Snowbowl would open because it was always dependent on natural snow. When it does open, it is as if the state declares a holiday and people flock from all over to be there. However, the Forest Service and the Snowbowl have finally received permission to make snow from reclaimed water.

Now you are probably asking why the Snowbowl hasn’t made snow all along? The answer is simple and yet profound. The Peaks are sacred to many Native American tribes — it is a place where the earth meets the heavens. Navajo medicine men collect herbs from the summits to use in healing ceremonies, and Humphrey’s Peak is one of the four sacred mountains (the Mountains of the West) that guard the lands of the Navajo. To the Hopi, the Kachina spirits live atop these peaks and are revered and honored in hopes they will bless the crops below. The Zuni, Havasupai and Yavapai-Apache tribes also consider these volcanic lands sacred and return often to pray to the spirits that dwell there.

The Native Americans were not pleased with the plan to make snow. At issue was whether the possibility of residual human waste in the reclaimed water — estimated at .0001 percent — desecrated lands held sacred by several tribes. A federal court of appeals finally decided to allow the snowmaking, ruling that it does not violate the religious freedom of the tribes. However, please keep in mind that these are still sacred lands to the Native Americans, so please show great respect while you are enjoying the beauty and wonder of the San Francisco Peaks. Take only pictures, and leave on ski trails!

The nearby Flagstaff Nordic Center offers equipment rental for cross-country skiing, sledding and snowshoeing. With over 40 miles of groomed trails — from beginner to advanced, flat to rugged — through some beautiful mountain terrain, you’ll find plenty of places to stretch your legs.

The Snowbowl lodge and cabins are great places to stay if you want to be close to the slopes. The Nordic Center also has cabin rentals during the season. Flagstaff offers all the amenities you could want, from fine dining to great shopping, as well as dozens of places to stay for the night. The Grand Canyon is just a two hour drive from Flagstaff and if you’ve never seen it dressed in a mantle of white snow, it is a sight to behold!

Arizona Snowbowl
P.O. Box 40
Flagstaff, AZ 86002
Phone: 928-779-1951
Flagstaff Nordic Center
P.O. Box 1781
Flagstaff, Arizona 86002
Phone: 928-220-0550

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