/ Modified jan 6, 2023 2:11 p.m.

Ski Valley opens for snowboarding and skiing

Almost 250 people attended and worked Ski Valley's opening day.

Snowboard in snow A snowboard stands in the snow as people leave the slopes on Mount Lemmon Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023.
Paola Rodriguez/Arizona Public Media

After receiving over a foot of snow this week, Ski Valley’s untouched ski slopes did not last long. People hiked up the breath-taking trek and view of Mount Lemmon for the annual opening day of the slopes and, in the desert, locals will find a way to celebrate the anomaly.

Man getting ready to snowboard After finishing up at a tailgate, patrons begin to put their gear back on to head to the slopes again on Mount Lemmon Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023.
Paola Rodriguez/Arizona Public Media

Tucsonan Patrick Flanagan first learned to snowboard in 1990 when the sport started gaining popularity. Ever since, Flanagan makes it a point to come out every year to ride the mounds. But it was not until a decade ago that he started his annual tradition.

“I’ve taken the approach to tailgate, like you would do for a football game [but] we do that when we go skiing,” Flanagan said. “We’re always here grilling. Any time we come up we make sure that we have the ability to grill and have a picnic at it.”

Man skiing down Mount Lemmon During Ski Valley's opening day, almost 250 people attended and worked on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023.
Paola Rodriguez/Arizona Public Media

With the help of his friends, Flanagan plans and packs their essentials for the trip:

  • Snowboarding and skiing equipment
  • Small, portable charcoal grill
  • Beer
  • Hamburgers
  • Lawn chairs

Wide shot of ski slopes Groups of people ski down Mount Lemmon on Thursday, Jan. 5. 2023. Ski Valley is the southernmost ski destination in the continental United States.
Paola Rodriguez/Arizona Public Media

While they kick back in between rides, they begin their tailgate– other patrons smile in appreciation. In Flanagan’s experience, most people don’t come for the rides.

“They’re coming up to see snow,” he said. “They don’t know you can’t sled here and you know snow is kind of a spectacle for the desert.”

For owner of Ski Valley Graham Davies, he says that is what makes Mount Lemmon so special. Within 30 miles, terrain changes from tall Saguaros in dry heat to snowy mountains.

“I either say I'm a genius or a moron,” Davies said when asked about running the southernmost ski destination in the continental United States.

girl learns to snowboard An attendee learns to ride a snowboard on Mount Lemmon Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. Ski Valley offers lessons throughout the day.
Paola Rodriguez/Arizona Public Media

Michael Rodriguez is a senior snowboard instructor and has been shredding Mount Lemmon for the past 12 years. For him, the beauty behind Mount Lemmon is the rarity to ride down.

“It’s only open when it snows,” Rodriguez said. “We don’t have water pumping up like other resorts, where we could have man-made snow.”

Girl sledding in snow on Mount Lemmon A local Tucsonan slides down Mount Lemmon on their sled on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. Ski Valley does not allow sledding, so most will head towards covered trails to slide down.
Paola Rodriguez/Arizona Public Media

But, Rodriguez says that because of the natural terrain, it can be dangerous.

“You go up this lift right here all the way to the top, it is probably the most dangerous terrain in the world,” he said. “I tell people if you can ride Mount Lemmon, you can ride anywhere in the world.”

While different from most weather in the Sonoran desert, regulars like Flanagan hold this time of year close to their heart.

“Mount Lemmon is a treasure. It’s not a secret, but it is a treasure.”

For those planning to visit, attendees recommend coming early to secure parking and any rentals needed.

Woman resting on mount lemmon after snowboarding A snowboarder rests on Mount Lemmon Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. The top elevation of Ski Valley is 9,157 feet above sea level and has 200 skiable acres with 21 runs.
Paola Rodriguez/Arizona Public Media

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