January 9, 2023

Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley

 At long last, a ski day was had!! I can't believe it had been over 3 1/2 years since my last outing. For years, while living in the desert southwest, I had consistently hit the slopes 10-14 times per season. I guess biking kinda took over, but I'm glad I made the day happen.

I had been wanting to ski down on Mt. Lemmon for decades, but I had always gone north to Arizona Snowbowl by Flagstaff or over to Sunrise in the White Mtns. Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley is a very small ski area and from what I can tell doesn't open each year as it depends solely on natural snow. There is one main chairlift, an old skool double, another smaller double lift for the beginner trail and that's it. The snow report is kinda tough to find as well as the website isn't super fancy. The area does have a cool distinction as it's the southernmost ski area in the lower 48.

One of my Tucson buddy's, Max, had posted a few snow pictures on Wednesday from Mt. Bigelow, which is another peak on Mt. Lemmon, near the ski resort. It looked fantastic as I found out the area had received 16-24" from the recent storm. I learned online that the Ski Valley would be opening for the season on Thursday and I was off work on Friday. Maybe this should be the time to go check it out.

A co-worker, Scott, and I had been talking for years about hitting the slopes. So we set a meetup point and made the drive south. Fun fact: According to Google the drive to Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley is within 10 minutes of my drive to Arizona Snowbowl in Flagstaff!! Hard to believe they are almost identical since I can see Mt. Lemmon from the end of my street!! Driving across Tucson and up Mt. Lemmon takes half the time.

It's mostly 7 trails from the top, but the connections add some variety.
We arrived right at 9a and were able to get a good parking spot. Unsure of how crowded it would get we walked over to get our lift tickets, not available online. There was a good sized line forming, but that was for rental equipment. We walked right up to the ticket window and bought our passes, $69 for a full day now. Since it's a very small operation, they essentially had a bouncer at the door only allowing skiers/snowboarders inside the area. It's a popular destination for city dwellers to see snow or look for a sledding opportunity.

We had stopped at Le Buzz at the bottom of the mountain for some breakfast burritos, time to eat!! We were finally ready to hit the hill around 9:30. Our goal was to try and hit each trail on the trail map depending on how crowded it became.
First chair of the day, snow coverage looks great!!

Beautiful day, hardly any wind at the top at over 9,000'.

Scott representing the snowboarders today.

We started on the easy cruiser, snow felt great as there wasn't any ice.

What a view!! Mica Mtn. with snow on the left, Huachuca Mtns. off center to the left, some distant peaks in Mexico & Mt. Wrightson.

Small base area, wide open trail and plenty of snow on the surrounding areas.
After a few runs, my morning coffee had kicked in and I needed a restroom stop. I took off one of my skis, the other has a missing piece on the back on my bindings making removal a little different. I simply used the boot heel to release the binding like normal, but then noticed some black pieces lying in the snow. WTH?? At first I thought my binding had broke, but nope. I then noticed the heel of my boot had some plastic missing. Scott checked out the underside of my boot and part of the heel was completely gone. Both boots were the same. Who knows when that happened. The tabs on the heel were fine, I just hoped they lasted the rest of the day without crumbling to pieces!! They are over 20 years old.

Now, about the restrooms...funny thing is, this place doesn't have any!! Only a series of port-o-potty's in the parking lot. I did mention this is a small, old skool kinda place, right? At least the walk wasn't far, but it did give me pause in my fragile boots and walking was killing my shins. I'm actually a very good ski boot walker if I do say so myself.

We had to do this next run... Photo by Scott.

Aha!! The Lemon Drop!! Not to be confused with the Lemmon Drop bike route.

The ungroomed trails were a bit heavy snow-wise at first, but softened up nicely as the hours went on.

Form came back after a few runs. Photo by Scott.
It was nearing 1p and we were ready for a break. We thought we could go across the street to the Iron Door restaurant for a quick bite & brew, but all the snow visitors had the wait time for tables at over an hour. We opted for something light at the ski hill. The line was slow, which didn't matter, because I think there was only one person working. It's quite the small operation.

Retro trail map in the lodge.

Snack break on the deck.
One of our trips up the hill we saw a snowboarding trudging uphill to retrieve something. Couldn't tell what it was until he turned around. Apparently he dropped a beer when he fell or something. He decided it was time to crack it open, but it slipped out of his hand, landing sideways in front of him. As he bent over to pick it up, it slid down the hill. He gave chase immediately and had a difficult time catching it!! Haha. All this unfolded in 30 seconds, it was hilarious and we cheered his successful retrieval. He laughed and yelled up at us as he cracked it open. Well done, sir.

Scott taking a short break on the soft afternoon snow.

It's that time of the day, last run down!! Photo by Scott.
By 3:30 or so, we both were about done. My shins had enough. I really need to replace my now 23 year old boots!! Overall, I felt pretty good all day. Took a few runs to feel really comfortable on the turns. The early morning heavier snow on the ungroomed trails were uncomfortable because my form was so off, but as the snow settled in, those runs felt much better later in the day.

Really glad we made this happen, check another resort off the list.
Right after the above photo was snapped we were preparing to exit to the parking lot when Ski Patrol starting yelling for folks to WATCH OUT!! A renegade snowboard was heading our way from somewhere up on the hill!! Whoever's it was didn't attach the retaining strap around their ankle. Thankfully, it veered into a snow bank and didn't hit anyone, but Ski Patrol wasn't happy. 

I had something similar happen to me when I was 12 or 13 back in PA. My skis came off after a fall, and one of my ski brakes popped off and sent my ski rocketing down the hill. I sat there watching it disappear from view as it went into the woods. Ski Patrol found me and started scolding me about having brakes on my skis, but when I showed him my now unattached brake, his tone changed and he gave me a ride down to retrieve my ski. Ahh, the good 'ol days.

Vintage snow cat, merely for display purposes only.

Not sure how Strava calculated 19 runs, we had 16, maybe 18 if you count the two quick trips on the beginner lift.
Hopefully, it won't be another 3 1/2 years before my next outing. Let it snow!!


  1. Nice. I'm glad you got out!

    I hit the local mountain yesterday. Only the 2nd time in a decade. I'm trying to get my snow sliding stoke back, but honestly it's hard when biking is free and there are no line ups. My GF is into skiing so I'll keep trying to get jazzed.

    1. Hahaha, good one, Vik!! Biking is free!!! I hear ya though, the price of lift tickets in general has gone bonkers.