Spot Check: Arizona Snowbowl

The state most often associated with saguaro cactus and sweltering temps will surprise you with a wintry climate often overlooked in the shadow of these more common high-desert characteristics. The climatic oddity we call the Grand Canyon State is home to the Arizona Snowbowl.

Snowbowl sits fifteen miles north of Flagstaff, a college town with a population mix of 70,000 students, native Americans, and life-long locals whose roots run deep into the days of the Gold Rush.

Snowbowl is perched on the northwest side of The San Francisco Peaks, a dormant volcano that erupted two-million years ago. The native Hopi Indians describe the area as “high place of the snows.” They believed the peaks were so high that when the sun shone on one side, the moon shone on the other. Spanish missionaries later named the peaks in honor of the St. Francis of Assisi.

The San Francisco Peaks can easily be accessed via the Agassi Chairlift and a mellow hike across Snowbowl and onto Mt. Humphries, Arizona's highest peak at 12,670 feet. From there you can descend the backside, which is appropriately named the Inner Basin, and end up fifteen miles northeast of Flag. The Inner Basin is Arizona's steepest terrain. Chutes, cliffs, rock outcroppings, and bottomless powder is what you'll find on the relatively untouched side of Snowbowl.

If you want to come back in on the resort side, you have multilple options varying from powder-filled natural gullies to wide-open fields littered with patches of small pines. Whichever you decide, keep it safe, and if you choose the backside be sure you have the proper backcountry knowledge, equipment, and tour guide.

Inbounds Snowbowl offers 1,000 acres of snowboardable terrain, serviced by four chairlifts. A team of qualified personnel maintains the North Star Snowboard Park's kickers, quarterpipes, and handrails. Or, if you're looking for the ultimate in tree riding, it would be hard to match the openness and steepness of the 'Bowl trees.

On-mountain lodging is not available, so take the short drive back to Flagstaff and settle down in any of the numerous hotels along Route 66 (yes, the famous Route 66). Waiting there are restaurants, museums, pool halls, and a highly recognized public skatepark to sesh until the next day's chairlifts open.

If you need snowboard rental, repair, a knowledgeable source concerning the snow conditions, or the location of the public skatepark, stop by AZP and talk to snowboard legend Brian Harper or one of his trusty employees. Their longtime devotion and participation in the skate/snowboard scene will help make your trip a full and memorable one.

Snowbowl is open from mid December until the middle of April on a good snow year. Making the trip midweek will assure a no-liftline setting. Three-hundred inches of annual snowfall keeps locals and visitors alike happy. For more information, check their Web site at, or call (520) 779-1951.–Dean Blotto Gray