“You can ski in Arizona?” asked a friend confused. “How on earth can you ski in a desert”? Until a few years ago, I would have also been equally in disbelief that it is actually possible to not only ski but ski real mountains in the state of Arizona. Little did I know, the college town of Flagstaff, Arizona, located about two and a half hours north of Phoenix, is home to the Arizona Snowbowl, Arizona’s best skiing.

As an avid skier, I confess to believing that there was no way that the Arizona Snowbowl could possibly compare to the skiing in Colorado, New Mexico, Montana or Utah, all places I’ve skied over the years. Yet after a long weekend skiing the Arizona Snowbowl with my father and two children, I realized that the skiing is actually pretty darn good and worth the trip. If you live in Phoenix and want a taste of the snow and mountains, then even better!

Flagstaff, Arizona

The Arizona Snowbowl is located in Flagstaff, Arizona about 2 1/2 hours north of Phoenix. Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

With an average of over 240 inches of annual snowfall and normally beautiful sunny blue skies, the Arizona Snowbowl has the longest ski season in Arizona as well as the largest beginner terrain in the Southwest. It is a great place to go with kids as there are plenty of nice long cruiser runs, a good ski school and it is very family-friendly. For those who want more challenge, you can take the Agassiz lift up to the top at 11,500 feet and climb up to the Upper Bowl where there are plenty of double black diamonds to take your breathe away. For moderate skiers, there are some nice blues and blacks where you can fly down at breakneck speed and feel the thrill of spring skiing in February. Best of all, are the incredible views on top where you can see the Grand Canyon off in the distance.

Flagstaff, Arizona

View of the sunrise over the mountains from our hotel in Flagstaff, Arizona

So why on earth did we travel from Minneapolis to Phoenix to ski in Flagstaff, Arizona over President’s Day Weekend? Simple. My parents live in Tucson and Flagstaff offered the perfect meeting place for us to do a three-generational ski weekend. We had tried Utah, New Mexico and Colorado before so we decided why not try something entirely new. Plus it is free to ski for those over 70 so my dad was pleased to ski for free.

We left Minneapolis on Friday morning landing at the Phoenix airport where we were met by my dad. I was worried that it would be t-shirt and shorts weather in Phoenix making me not want to continue on with our trip to the snow and cold. Yet a cold front had just passed through dumping over a foot of snow in the mountains and bringing in cloudy, rainy weather in Phoenix. Alas, I would not be regretting my decision to go skiing as opposed to seeking sunshine in Arizona.

The drive to Flagstaff passes by Sedona, another beautiful place to visit in Arizona with its lovely red colored mountains and hiking paths. The landscape becomes greener as you climb up to 6,910 feet, the elevation of Flagstaff.

Flagstaff was settled in 1876 and the economy was built around lumber, railroads and ranching. Today, the city of 100,000 is mostly known for being home to Northern Arizona University and also for tourism given its close proximity to the Grand Canyon and other natural and historic sites. I was delighted to discover that Flagstaff has its own eclectic, bohemian vibe with its mix of hippies, ski bums and college students. There are endless choices of wine bars, breweries and delicious dining options, plus plenty of boutiques and local shops.

We stayed at the Drury Inn near campus and only a few short blocks away from the heart of Flagstaff making it easy to walk into town for shopping and dinner. The hotel offers a pool, hot-tub and free breakfast which makes it the ideal place to stay with kids and has larger than average rooms with two queen size beds. The hotel is also only about a thirty minute drive to the ski area making it easy to enjoy both Flagstaff and the Arizona Snowbowl.

We skied both Saturday and Sunday, arriving at the ski area thirty minutes before it opened at 9 o’clock to ensure a parking space on top of the mountain. If the lots are full, you have to park below and catch a ten minute bus ride up the mountain to the ski area. Arriving early also helped beat the huge holiday weekend crowds of skiers many who come from Phoenix to try out the snow with their families and friends. We were on the hill doing our first run by 9:15. It was perfect!

Arizona Snowbowl, Flagstaff, Arizona

You can see the Grand Canyon off in the distance

Arizona Snowbowl, Flagstaff, Arizona

Arizona Snowbowl, Flagstaff, Arizona

You can see the Grand Canyon off in the distance

My kids

Arizona Snowbowl

The top

The first day we had unseasonably warm weather. By noon, it reached 50 degrees and we were very overdressed. The conditions were great with a fresh coating of snow, baby blue skies and warm sun. We couldn’t have asked for better weather.

On the second day, the wind picked up and the clouds rolled in. A storm was approaching yet we would luck out once again and miss it. Monday would be a rainy, windy and dreary day with such bad weather that the ski area would close. Our timing couldn’t have been better.

You can see the Grand Canyon off in the distanceYou can see the Grand Canyon off in the distanceYou can see the Grand Canyon off in the distance

All in all, it was a wonderful weekend of skiing and family time. We lucked out with gorgeous weather both days and at night we enjoyed Flagstaff’s fabulous dining eating at Josephine’s American Bistro which serves delightful food in a charming historic house, and the trendy Tinderbox Kitchen in downtown Flagstaff. My kids were spoiled!

Flagstaff, Arizona

I can’t think of a more perfect way to spend a long holiday weekend as a family.

If you go:

Where to eat:  We loved Josephine’s Modern American Bistro and the Tinderbox Kitchen, both for foodies and also kid-friendly.

Where to drink: The Mother Road Brewing Company, Monte Vista Cockail Lounge, The Annex Cocktail Lounge and Vino Loco Wine Bar are my favorites. There are many more too! The above ones are my favorites.

Where to stay: We stayed at the Drury Inn.  It is clean, affordable, convenvient and kid-friendly. However one note of caution. If you are a light sleeper like me, do not get a room near the elevator. It kept me awake at night.

23 comments

  1. I love every part of Arizona but have never visited Flagstaff in the winter. Now I know it’s beautiful in every season. What a magnificent way to spend the holiday weekend.

    1. Thanks Lisa! Flagstaff is really cool any time of year. A neat little town!

  2. I remember a spring break trip that included a drive through Flagstaff on our way to and from the Grand Canyon. We hit the worst snowstorm I have EVER driven in, and as you know, I spent most of my life in the wintry north! To this day, I find it amusing that this hellish blizzard was in Arizona, so I can totally believe that there’s some decent skiing there. What a nice trip to get in some slope time and parent time all in one fell swoop!

    1. Wow, that is crazy Lexi! I can’t imagine hitting a blizzard in Flagstaff! Did you make it to the Grand Canyon ok? Was it covered in snow?

    1. Yes indeed Sally! Part of this mountain belongs to the Native Americans and is sacred and is off limits. Good thing!

  3. What a wonderful, unexpected post! I’ve stayed in Sedona and driven through Flag a couple of times (isn’t it beautiful country?!) but had no idea there was such great skiing nearby. Way better than Buck Hill or Afton! (No offense to either, of course, haha.)

  4. I was amazed too when we I snow in Arizona and Utah on our trip a few years back. Guess some places could amaze us beyond words, and those pictures speak of the same!

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