Skiing in the desert – Mt. Lemmon, AZ

Posted By: The Ski Channel on February 2, 2010 8:14 pm

Skiers never really notice how ridiculous they look, until they find themselves in the middle of a desert, at a 7-11, buying water and snacks for a long day of skiing. At least this was the case for my friends and I, as the desert folk watched us gearing up for a long day of riding in our brightly colored snow clothes.

Mt. Lemmon is not your typical resort. It is the most southern ski establishment in the United States, and although it is just shy of 9,000 feet (meaning it looms powerfully over anything the Midwest calls a mountain), it is not close to on par with many places on the East. It only has two lifts, and usually is only open around twenty to thirty days a year. Thanks to El Nino, this year has been different. Mt. Lemmon has had record snowfall, with a consistent snow pack of almost 70 inches.

We left for “The Lemmon,” as we call it, at 9:00 am on Saturday. It took us an hour and a half to get to the top. Where upon arrival we were told the parking lot was at max capacity, and we were told to park on the side of the road where possible. I have been skiing the Lemmon for two years now, and this was a first. Sure enough, nearly three quarters of the way up the two-mile long drive, parked cars were snaking their way down the side of the road.

After parking, we walked to the main lodge, where it was absolute bedlam. So many people were there to ski, that there was a line out of the door and into the parking lot for rental equipment. Luckily we all had our own gear, so we walked literally, right to the front of the ticket line.

Tickets are 37 dollars for a full day, with a frequent skier program opposed to season passes. This consists of a card that gets stamped every time you go skiing; after five days of riding, the sixth day is on them.

The main lift, Clarence, is a two-seater, and it takes about five minutes to get to the top. The problem for us was not the chairlift, but the crowd. So many people were skiing the Lemmon that it was a ten-minute wait just to get on the lift.

My friends and I solved this problem by starting our own singles line. This worked well, as we cut our E.T.A to the top, from fifteen minutes, to about seven minutes (depending on how often a single came around in line).

The true beauty of Mt. Lemmon, or the thing that makes it so much better than other Mid-quality mountains; is that it is extremely steep, and shaped like a gigantic funnel. This is unique, and special, because it means that any tree line that is generally accessible and faces the North side of the mountain, is going to kick out right at the main lift, or on one of the trails leading to it. This made for great powder-skiing as we found out due to the abundance of lines we stumbled upon all day. Unlike Alta, where you have to be the first one on the lift to get the freshness; here on the Lemmon, you could show up at 11:00 like we did, and still ski nothing but pow.

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Although the Lemmon only has one main lift (Clarence), it opens up to nearly 8 full-face trails. Also, if you astutely note, as one gets off the lift, to the right on the map (left in real life), there

is nothing but open space above the main cat track. Meaning that if a person were to take the time to cut far enough over, they could get in almost 300 yards of untouched powder, along with extending the length of their ride by a few minutes. Snowboards beware though! My two friends both boarded, and in their case, this option was not a possibility due to the amount of obstacles and side stepping that was required to get there.

Don’t worry if you like powder and rock a snowboard. Another gold field of untouched powder is off to the left of the mountain. After getting off at the top, come down under the lift, and begin to go right on run #6, which is Aspen Ridge. If you go straight into the woods, and go about twenty feet, it opens up on a perfect bowl (you can see it darkly shaded on the right side of run #6 on the trail map). We saw very few tracks back here, and since the bowl was located on the Northeast corner of the mountain, it never got the direct desert sun that often melts the snow. The golden-bowl – as I have now dubbed it – is awesome for snowboarders as well as skiers because of its easy access and great lines.

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If you are interested in food, be careful. After a few hard hours of skiing we decided to stop and get cheeseburgers. Disappointed, we turned back almost immediately when we found out the kitchen had sold out of everything. For the first time ever, I saw a kitchen run out of food, and a resort run out of parking, all in the same day. A testament to the snow I guess.

After our brief hiatus, we decided to explore the far right side of the mountain. This was semi difficult for snowboarders, because they had to build up a tremendous amount of speed to get over there.

Once there, we found that the trek was definitely worth our while. Here the mountain had significantly less people since it was harder to get to. Making the trails much smoother due to less traffic. For skiers that like to fly, this is the place.

By the end of the day, although we had only ridden one lift for nearly six hours, I still did not feel like I had seen everything. For such a small, “hole in the wall,” ski establishment, Mt. Lemmon always finds ways to surprise and entertain. Whether it be the hidden jibs on the sides of the trails, or the immense powder in the trees, this Lemmon is never sour and always worth the squeeze.

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