Snow Wonder: Winter Adventures in Arizona's Ice Box

December, 2009

Once a year if we're very lucky, Tucson experiences a magic conjunction of sustained cool temperatures and winter rains (that translate into blizzards in northern Arizona). This year the window of opportunity began with an overnight rainstorm on December 22, and by Christmas Eve, we were holed up in a cheap motel in Flagstaff.

Christmas Day dawned sunny and minus 3 degrees (Fahrenheit!). But by 10:00 am it was +20° and climbing, and we were headed for Wing Mountain Snow Play Area, where, in theory, the "US Forest Service has marked over seventeen miles of cross-country ski trails for visitor use." We found the trailhead, but no trails. And no trail signs.

We broke trail all day in a foot of fresh snow, following some ancient blue blazes that petered out on the north side of the mountain. But no complaints. We were all alone in an open field with stunning views of the snow-capped San Francisco Peaks. The sun was so warm that it felt like a day at the beach (except we were knee-deep in snow instead of sand).

The following day the Flagstaff Nordic Center was open for business, and we enjoyed the luxury of groomed trails and nearly perfect snow conditions. The temperatures hovered around 20° as we climbed to the top of "Peak a View" trail at 8650 feet. I filmed part of the long downhill run, including a spectacular face plant.