Though warm sunshine and desert recreation tend to define the Arizona outdoors to most people, the Grand Canyon State offers fun, beauty and adventure no matter what the season. From December through March, when the state’s mountainous northern regions hit their wintertime groove, you won’t find better snow – or alpine recreation – outside of the Rockies.

Moguls & more in Flagstaff

Searching for skiing in the Arizona? Look no further than Flagstaff – our wintertime capital – and the Arizona Snowbowl ski area just seven miles outside the city limits. With 32 trails ranging from the leisurely Lodge Run to the hardcore Upper Ridge trail, you’ll find terrific runs whether you’re sporting skis or a snowboard. Snowbowl has something for everyone willing to take to the slopes, and if you’re looking for snowy fun to share with the kids Snowbowl fits that bill, too – children seven and younger ski all day for free.

The great outdoors are truly great up here, with the northwest view from the Agassiz lift seeming to stretch all the way to California on a clear day. And after a glorious day on the slopes, drop in to Flagstaff to enjoy more gastronomic pursuits – local favorite Buster’s Restaurant & Bar offers classics such as oysters Rockefeller and steak Diane, while the more upscale Brix Restaurant & Wine Bar features an inspired wine list alongside seasonal, modern American cuisine.

If sledding and snowman-building are more your speed, check out the Wing Mountain Snow Play Area, located near Snowbowl in the Coconino National Forest. Not only can you break out the toboggans and careen down the snowy slopes, you can sip a cup of hot chocolate to warm yourself up between runs. If you forget your sleigh ride at home, not to worry – sleds are available for sale, too.

Arizona’s finest sunrise & beyond

snbwl2.pngWhile Arizona Snowbowl represents Flagstaff’s preeminent collection of snow trails, Northern Arizona’s White Mountains boast the state’s other great ski mecca: Sunrise Park Resort, home to three mountains’ worth of wintertime excitement.

Of course the snow trails are the main attractions here – the area’s 65 runs make it the largest Arizona ski resort. Experts will flock to Lupe’s 1,400-foot vertical drop and the multiple black diamond trails off Cyclone Circle, one of the resort’s three peaks. But Sunrise Park really shines for the intermediate and beginning skier and snowboarder, with long lazy rides like Crown Dancer and Spirit Trail providing plenty of space to work on turns and stops. The ski school offers both group and private lessons and caters to experienced adults as well as younger skiers and beginners.

The runs are hardly the only draw, however. Sunrise Park is a complete winter recreation area, offering a full slate of snow-centric outdoor amusement. Snowboarders will find a rockin’ terrain park complete with a snow half pipe, metal rails and snowbound ramps in a variety of heights. Fun-seekers of all ages will love the Sunrise tube run, while the kiddies will enjoy the resort’s Funland, where children from ages two to six can engage in some snowy (and well-supervised) frolicking.

Arizona’s big resorts aren’t the only way to enjoy a winter thrill here. Mount Lemmon Ski Valley, a 22-trail snow park located in the Coronado National Forest near Tucson, is the southernmost ski area in the United States. The Elk Ridge Ski Area outside of Williams offers family-oriented activities such as tubing as well as skiing.

Taking it cross-country

snbwl3.pngThose of us with a more meditative streak will take to the state’s miles of cross-country ski trails, running throughout the mountains near Flagstaff as well as the White Mountains and beyond. The Flagstaff Nordic Center has 25 miles of trails to traverse, as well as ski rentals and lessons if you’re new to the sport. Sunrise Park also offers a network of cross-country trails that run through its summertime campgrounds.

You’ll find more backcountry relaxation at Hannagan Meadow Lodge near Alpine. The lodge itself boasts cozy accommodations, but the real attraction is out of doors. Cross-country skiers and snowshoers will love the free trails that start right at the lodge and flow out into the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. Ice fishing, sledding and frequent local events add to the wintertime activity smorgasbord.