Arizona is better known for its deserts than its ski towns, so finding a year-round community accessible to downhill slopes might seem like a big challenge. The state doesn’t boast many ski areas, so surprisingly “The Grand Canyon State” is home to two winter destinations with enough activities to enjoy at any time of the year.
These two ski towns are located at different ends of the state and are within a short distance of major cities. With Flagstaff being one of the largest ski towns in the country and Summerhaven being one of the smallest, visitors can decide for themselves which type of community best fits their preference, whether looking to live or just visit.
Here are the top ski towns in Arizona to live and visit, in no particular order:
In the center of Arizona, at the base of the San Francisco peaks, Flagstaff’s otherworldly terrain has been explored by travelers, residents, and even astronauts. The town’s elevation of 7,000 feet makes it an ideal spot for watching the skies at Lowell Observatory, and the rocky terrain of Sunset Crater National Monument was used by Apollo 11 astronauts training to reach the moon.
The town’s name came from a quite literal source in 1876. Travelers who stopped in the area trimmed the branches of a tall pine tree and attached a flag to the top to celebrate the country’s centennial. The introduction of the railroad helped Flagstaff grow quickly, and then Route 66 made it a popular stop for tourists. The town’s population was around 77,000 people in 2020.
Just half an hour away, the slopes of Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort beckon skiers and snowboarders. A free shuttle from downtown Flagstaff is another option to reach the ski resort. In the winter the area is perfect for snow biking, ice skating, snowmobiling, and cross country skiing, and even has designated spots for playing in the snow.
The town experiences all four seasons, and the summer months are ideal for hiking, biking, and rafting. Farm-to-table restaurants, breweries, and fine dining are all waiting to be experienced downtown. For a touch of culture, visit the museums, the Arboretum, or see movies on Heritage Square. Flagstaff’s size makes it a great ski town with plenty to do at any time of the year.
A permanent population of 35 people in 2020 makes Summerhaven one of the smallest ski towns in the country. Still, the cool mountain community at 9,000 feet is a perfect respite from the heat of the desert far below its summit.
Mount Lemmon Ski Valley in the Coronado National Forest is only five minutes away from Summerhaven. The ski area doesn’t have a large amount of skiable terrain, but it boasts the title of the southernmost ski area in the country.
Around Summerhaven there are a handful of dining and shopping options, and lodging is limited to several rental cabins and one hotel. Yet the absence of amenities means more space for the natural beauty of Summerhaven to shine through.
The views around the area are worth experiencing with a hike or scenic drive. In the summertime try hiking, camping, rock climbing, and fishing, or experience the limited amount of snow with sledding and snowshoeing in the winter.
Visiting these two Arizona ski towns is a wonderful way to combine outdoor experiences with close proximity to slopes. Any skier or snowboarder can find ways to enjoy the different benefits these mountain towns offer. Whether appreciating the nature of small-town Summerhaven or the busy community of Flagstaff, there are two vastly different options to experience in Arizona.