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Arizona

Snow Zones? You Bet

Published online: Nov 08, 2007 Feature
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If you were to look at a map that shows the snow zones in Arizona you would see that yes, Arizona does indeed have snow zones.

And, after years of less than stellar snowfall, the Grand Canyon State had a decent winter this past season, allowing snowmobilers to enjoy the snow a little closer to home rather than having to drive long distances to enjoy their favorite sport.

You can leave the "Yea, but it's a dry heat," jokes to those who prefer the sunny climes of the state's lower valleys. Winter enthusiasts in Arizona head to the high country where not only does it snow, but it can snow a bunch. Having a hard time believing that as images of palm trees, cactus and endless sun dominate your mind? Then check out the attached chart for the two snowfall categories under "Guide." Is 243 inches enough for you?

Admittedly, Arizona had been suffering through a dry spell during the winter months, that is, until last year when decent enough amounts fell to allow for snowmobiling. There's some irony in, that, actually, as Arizona, normally associated with hot and dry, had a decent winter and much of the rest of the West was suffering from low snowfall.

If you absolutely must head to Arizona for its famed sun, then, do it in the winter and then you can ride a sled in the morning in the mountains and then golf in the valley in the afternoon. Or the next day. You can do both all within about three hours of each other. Not many places can make that claim.

There is a dedicated band of snowmobilers in the Grand Canyon State, who enjoy sledding on thousands of acres of national forest land that cover the state's mountainous regions.

The average snowfall each winter in most areas of Arizona where you can snowmobile is about 100 inches. Of course, snowfall depends on the elevation. For example, Pinetop-Lakeside, one of Arizona's famous mountain retreats sits at 6,800 feet and gets about 46 inches of snow a winter. Head a bit east and south to Hawley Lake (elevation 8,200 feet) and the snowfall more than triples to 168 inches a winter. Southeast a little more and you find Baldy Peak (11,590 feet) and the snowfall is more than 225 inches a year.

The snow falls on mountains that dissect Arizona from northwest to southeast.

Arizona's snowmobile season isn't as long as in other western locales but when the snow does fall you can head to the high country and find lots of untracked snow.

There are no groomed trails in the state but there are plenty of old logging roads and forest service roads that crisscross the band of mountains that help form the Mogollon Rim and points northwest. This swath of mountains is about 250 miles or so from one end to the other.

In the northern part of the state, not far from the Arizona/Utah border, is Jacob Lake, which is also near the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Riding here is in the Kaibab National Forest with elevations around 8,000 feet. Getting to Jacob Lake is somewhat of a chore in the winter and that isolation means there aren't many folks to have to share the snow with. There is some good snowmobile information for the Jacob Lake area on www.jacoblake.com.

Not quite as far north in Arizona is Flagstaff, where there is snowmobiling nearby. Two spots of note, both of which are in the Coconino National Forest, are the Kendrick Snowmobile Trail system and Mormon Lake. The Kendrick trails are north and a bit west of Flagstaff off Highway 180 and offer about 54 miles of designated snowmobile routes leading away from three parking areas. The riding elevation is 7,500-8,000 feet and sledders get to pass between the 500,000-3 million year old volcanoes of Kendrick Peak (10,418 feet) and the San Francisco Peaks. There are several loop trails in the system and a trail map can be found on the Coconino National Forest's website.

South and a little east of Flagstaff is the Mormon Lake area, a popular snowmobiling spot in Arizona. Here you'll find the Mormon Lake/Pinewood Snowmobile Trail system, which also has about 54 miles of designated snowmobile trails. This trail system goes among rolling hills and runs near Mormon Lake. One of the big mountain features in this area is Mormon Mountain, an 8,456-foot peak to the west of Mormon Lake. There are snowmobiles for rent at the Mormon Lake Lodge.

About halfway between Flagstaff and Phoenix is Payson, which offers access to the 1.8-million acre Coconino National Forest from the south. The Mogollon Rim, 60 miles south of Flagstaff and north of the town of Payson, also offers plenty of snow and off-trail riding. Most of the trails here are unplowed forest service roads.

Next along this northwest to southeast projectary in Arizona's mountain region is the White Mountains, located in the east-central part of the state. Forest service and logging roads-more than 300 miles of them-are the paths used by sledders who want to play in some of the state's tallest mountains.

Some of the popular sledding areas here include Hannigan Meadows, near Alpine in eastern Arizona, and near Big Lake, southwest of Springerville. North of Alpine is Williams Valley Winter Recreation Area, which offers some sledding. Snowmobilers can also take advantage of the Sunrise Park Ski Area to Big Lake route, which follows along State Route 273 (not plowed in the winter). This route skirts the Fort Apache Indian Reservation and offers a spectacular view of 11,590-foot Baldy Peak.

Just for kicks, if you want to say you snowmobiled in one of the most southern places in the United States (about the same latitude as Dallas-Fort Worth, Jackson, MS and Savannah, GA) that gets regular and decent snowfall, head to the Santa Catalina Ranger District of the Coronado National Forest, which is located just north of Tucson. There's a ski resort (Ski Valley) there but also unplowed roads where you can unload and ride above 8,000 feet. Contact (520) 749-8700 for more information.

In addition to the phone numbers listed below, Arizona's national forest offices are another good source of information for sledding the Grand Canyon state.

 

Guide

Arizona Office of Tourism www.arizonaguide.com

Road Conditions 888-411-ROAD

Groomed Trails None

Highest Point Humphrey Peak (12,633 ft)

Greatest Average Annual Snowfall Sunrise Mountain 243 in.

Record Winter Snowfall Sunrise Mountain 400.9 in.

Coldest Recorded Temperature Hawley Lake minus-40 degrees F

 

Jacob Lake

Elevation 8,000-9,000

Snowfall 100-125 inches

Groomed Trails none

Full-Service Town Jacob Lake

Nearest Airport Page (79 miles)

Information Jacob Lake Inn 928-643-7232

 

Flagstaff

Elevation 7,000-8,500

Snowfall 100 inches

Groomed Trails none

Full-Service Town Flagstaff

Nearest Airport Flagstaff (30 miles)

Information Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau 800-842-7293

 

Payson

Elevation 5,000-7,000

Snowfall 50-100 inches

Groomed Trails none

Full-Service Town Payson

Nearest Airport Phoenix (88 miles)

Information Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce 800-672-9766

 

White Mountains

Elevation 7,000-9,500

Snowfall 100 plus inches

Groomed Trails none

Full-Service Town Show Low, Pine Top, Alpine

Nearest Airport Show Low

Information Show Low Chamber of Commerce 888-SHOWLOW; Pinetop-Lakeside Chamber of Commerce 800-573-4031