For anyone that thought skiing was just for cities well above sea level where frigidly cold weather is common, we’ve got news for you. The city of Phoenix might be nestled in the desert, but there are a handful of ski areas that Arizonans and tourists to the area alike can enjoy visiting for some outdoor winter recreation.
Given that Phoenix is known for ridiculously high three-digit summer temperatures and temperate fall and winter ones means that there’s nowhere to ski within the city limits. However, if you’re willing to drive a couple of hours to sink your poles into some fresh powder, there are a few options out there within a reasonable distance.
While many of these resorts don’t offer overnight accommodations directly on-site, they all offer downhill skiing and snowboarding. A few of them have cross-country skiing trails and snow tubing as well. Plus, Arizona boasts hot springs that are the perfect way to cap off a ski day.
In this article, we’ve put together our top picks for places to ski and snowboard in this stereotypically warm state. Winters in Arizona are often more crowded due to the “snowbirds” from colder climates, so it would be smart to plan and pick days that might not be as busy, like weekdays.
It’s also important to keep in mind that northern Arizona can get substantial snow, so if you’re coming in from out of town, make sure that you have a vehicle that can handle wet and potentially icy roads.
Here are the closest ski areas to Phoenix, AZ, in order of driving proximity:
Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley, Arizona – 152 miles / 3 hours
The Grand Canyon State is full of hidden gems, and if someone were to tell you that you could ski southern Arizona in the winter, you might be surprised. Mt. Lemmon is a sweet escape for Tusconans who like to beat the heat all seasons of the year.
Located in the Coronado Forest, Mt. Lemmon Sky Valley is in the little mountain town of Summerhaven, which doesn’t have much more than a couple of gift shops, a general store, and two restaurants. During WWI, the ski resort was founded by a group of people passionate about skiing and is still loved by outdoor enthusiasts today.
Mt. Lemmon Sky Valley consists of 200 skiable acres that has something for everyone. The resort includes 22 runs that are mostly moderate or difficult, which is perfect for the skier looking for that exciting rush of adrenaline. The base elevation is 8200 feet and summit 9,157 ft.
There’s also a ski school with lessons for newbies for those who have never skied before. The views from and near the slopes are incredible, and the environment cycles through all the seasons.
As of yet, there are no accommodations available right on the mountain, so skiers will have to spend the nights down in Tucson. However, there’s been speculation that Summerhaven is building a hotel in the near future. People who ski Mt. Lemmon from out of town should stay in Tucson to be closest to it.
10300 E Ski Run Rd, Mt Lemmon, AZ 85619 (Map) | 520-576-1400
Arizona Snowbowl – 158 miles / 3 hours
From downtown Phoenix, it’s only a short two to two and a half-hour drive to Flagstaff, Arizona’s most significant city in the northern part of the state. The Arizona Snowbowl ski resort is just an additional 20 minutes from Flagstaff’s city center and has what locals think to be some of the best slopes in the state.
Located on the western side of Mt. Humphreys, the tallest point in Arizona, this ski area is in the thick of the country’s largest ponderosa forest. People who ride the chair lift to the top of the mountain get fantastic views of the Grand Canyon, Sedona, and the San Francisco volcanic field from 11,500 ft. Base elevation is 9,200 feet and total hike-to summit is 12,000 feet.
Arizona Snowbowl has 777 skiable acres with eight lifts and 55 runs. The majority of the runs are intermediate, followed by equal numbers of beginners and difficult ones, and trailed by a lesser number of expert-level courses. This ski resort is also home to Arizona’s only high-speed six-person lift.
To get to Snowbowl from Phoenix, you take the I-17 interstate to Flagstaff until there are signs to turn on N Humphreys Street. Follow the signs,, and once you make the turn on N. Snowbowl road, there are just 6.6 miles until you reach the entrance.
9300 N Snow Bowl Rd, Flagstaff, AZ 86001 (Map) | 928-779-1951
Sunrise Park Resort, Arizona 216 / 4 hours
Sunrise Park Resort is located in Greer, Arizona, the eastern part of the state and inside the White Mountains. This resort comprises three mountains, Sunrise Peak, Cyclone Peak, and Apache Peak. It’s owned and operated by the White Mountains Apache Tribe on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation.
The scenery on these slopes is some of the most picturesque winter views in the area, and that is how it earned the nickname “the Aspens of Arizona.” Sunrise Park Resort is also one of the few in the southwest that offers night skiing, which usually happens during January and February.
With a base of 9,200 feet in elevation and 800 skiable acres, this ski resort has 65 runs and ten lifts, bringing up to 16,000 riders per hour to the top of the mountain. The summit is 11,100 ft. The majority of the runs at Sunrise Park Resort are easier than others, taking up about half of the routes.
In addition to that, there are 17 difficult paths, and 14 expert level runs that are sure to give even the most experienced skier a downhill thrill. For first-timers, there is ski school available as well as other activities like ski bikes.
Accommodations with a free shuttle to the slopes are just three miles down the road at the Sunrise Park Lodge, where there is a heated pool and jacuzzi to warm your muscles after a long day of hitting the fresh powder.
200 Highway 273, Greer, AZ 85927 (Map) | 855-735-7669
Lee Canyon Resort, Nevada – 349 miles / 5.5 hours
A remarkable part of living in Arizona is that you can stay deep within your state, but still be within a morning’s drive to four others. Nevada is is one of Arizona’s neighboring states that offers skiers more options, and anyone can get there in under six hours of traveling.
Lee Canyon Resort just outside of Las Vegas is a place that’s well worth the drive thanks to the beautiful views along the way, friendly staff, and inviting environment of the whole area. This resort is only 45 minutes to an hour from downtown Las Vegas and is an excellent area for various winter recreation, so if your family isn’t into skiing, snowshoeing, snow play, and snow tubing, have their designated areas.
With an average annual snowfall of 129 inches, it’s safe to say that the 445 acres of Lee Canyon Resort provides skiers with an abundance of snowfall each winter. There are 26 runs that visitors to the resort enjoy, and with more than 300 days of sun each year in this part of Nevada, it’s hard to turn down a brisk sunny day on these slopes.
The majority of the runs are geared towards intermediate or advanced skiers, but there is a bunny slope for people who are just starting out with the sport. The elevation at the base is 8,510 feet and 11,289 feet at the summit, and these heights combined with dry air, even in the sun, means it’s smart to dress warm.
Lee Canyon Resort also has three lifts that can bring up to 5,000 people up each hour. It’s also important to note that there are no hotels at this resort, so staying somewhere closer to Las Vegas is necessary for out-of-towners.
6725 Lee Canyon Rd, Las Vegas, NV 89124 (Map) | 702-385-2754
Big Bear Mountain Resort, CA – 350 miles / 5.5 hours
Big Bear Mountain Ski Resort might not be the closest on the list, but it certainly is one that many Arizonans flock to get that downhill rush of adrenaline. The resort is settled in the middle of the San Bernardino National Forest and is surrounded by stunning medium and large evergreens, allowing it to represent some of the best of California’s best winter cold country.
In addition to that, Big Bear Mountain Resort is made up of two mountains, Bear Mountain and Snow Summit, providing several miles of ridable terrain. Unlike many other resorts on this list, Big Bear does have accommodations for people to stay up by the ski and snowboard area.
This resort was founded in 1943 and is home to 40 of the most excellent ski runs in the western United States on a total of 438 acres. Between the two mountains, the majority of the trails are designed for intermediate skiers, followed by advanced, and the fewest being beginners. However, between so many different paths and 28 lifts, there is something for everyone.
The longest run in the resort is named Geronimo and is 1.5 miles long on Bear Mountain, and the runner up, Westridge, is 1.25 miles long on Snow Summit. With an average of 100 inches of snow per year, this resort is rarely empty from November through March/April. The elevation is a comfortable 7,140 feet at the base and 8,200 feet at the top.
43101 Goldmine Dr, Big Bear Lake, CA 92315 (Map) | 844-462-2327
What to Pack for Skiing in Arizona
If you live in Arizona, winter clothing may not be at the front of your closet. However, if you’re headed for the hills, there are a few things that you shouldn’t go without.
Layers – Winter weather can change in the blink of an eye. If it’s sunny out, you may feel the need to take a layer or two off despite it being in the 40s or 50s outside. Yet, if it’s windy, rainy or snowy, skiing with extra layers is an absolute must.
Waterproof Gear – Even if the weather is ideal, having waterproof gear on is a smart idea since snow is just frozen water. If your gear isn’t capable of repelling snow from getting inside your clothing, you will be cold. Waterproof pants, jackets and gloves are popular pieces of equipment among skiers.
Ski Goggles – A lot of newbies to the sport tend to forget about the goggles, but one could argue they are some of the most important gear. Ski goggles are especially handy on the mountain if it’s misty with snow flurries in the air, which can be incredibly distracting and making it hard to see if you’re going downhill into the wind.
Dry Bags – Dry bags are incredibly useful for keeping items like your phone protected from the moisture in the snow, or any kind of water. They come in all sizes, including some small enough to put your pocket after sticking your phone and wallet in them.
You can check out these tips on what to wear skiing and how to stay comfortable all day long. Whether you end up in Arizona or Nevada for your ski trip outside Phoenix, you’ll be glad you took the trip!