There was a snowstorm in Arizona on February 21-22. Nobody expected that it would be the snowstorm of the century. It beat the historical record of 31.5 inches of snow that happened in Flagstaff in 1915. Flagstaff was covered with 40.5 inches of snow during the February snowstorm. A record breaking all time high of 48 inches was reported near Kachina Village, south of Flagstaff. Almost all of Arizona was affected by this major snowstorm. Payson received 31.8 inches of snow and was cut off from the rest of the state. All highways and roads around the city were closed due to the heavy snow. Prescott, Sedona, Williams, Kingsman, and Grand Canyon were also piled high with snow. The snowstorm did not even spare Cave Creek, Carefree and the northern part of Scottsdale, which are close to or part of the Phoenix metro area. These places also received a few inches of snow. The Superstition Mountains, east of Phoenix, had peaks all covered with snow.
It was great news for us and we were ready to take another trip to the Arizona Nordic Village in Flagstaff. However, we had to postpone our trip because Highway I-17 was closed on February 21 from Oak Creek Canyon to Flagstaff and there was a travel advisory not to travel due to the hazardous conditions. Moreover, Flagstaff declared a state of emergency on February 22 and many businesses, including the Arizona Nordic Village, were shut down. The next day, after the snowstorm, all of the groomers in Nordic Village could not be used for grooming. One of the grooming machines got stuck in heavy snow on Goshawk trail and the other two had mechanical problems. However, the main trails were groomed earlier and only two to four inches of fresh snow were on the trails. For a snow maniac like me, it would be a pleasure to ski through a layer of crunchy fluffy snow.
We took off on February 24. Highway I-17 was busy. Lots of people had the same idea: to enjoy snow while it lasted. The scenery along the highway was amazing. The Superstition Mountains and Black Mountain near Cave Creek had snow caps and white strands on their slopes. When we drove north we saw that the Sonoran Desert was covered with a few inches of snow. Sagebrush and juniper trees had chunks of snow on their branches. Without exaggeration, the Arizona desert looked like Wyoming in winter. The Verde Valley and old mountain ranges, which have not seen snow for decades, were dusted with fresh snow powder.
We stopped at the McGuireville rest area. People were rollicking next to the parking lot, throwing snowballs, laughing, and having fun.
The Arizona Nordic Village was very busy when we arrived. It was Sunday and the epic snowstorm attracted lots of skiers, snowshoers, and families, who just wanted to make snowmen with their kids in the snow play area. Also, the main trails were freshly groomed.
Because the Nordic Village closed at 4:00 PM, I had only three hours for skiing. I took Babbitt trail, going clockwise. When I skied deeper into the forest there were fewer people. Occasionally, I met other skiers or heard somebody’s voice at a distance, which cut through the silence of the woods. The snowstorm wrapped the forest in a thick fluffy blanket of snow and generously left white frosting on the pines’ green and prickly branches. Some branches were bent to the ground by these loads of snow.
Skiing uphill was easy because the snow was soft and crunchy and the traction was good. Trunks of trees were bent down under the weight of the show. Some were even broken. Aspens stood in tight palisade groves and looked undisturbed because their branches did not hold snow. The contour of San Francisco peak was barely visible. It blended with the slightly grey hue of the pale sky.
Pretty soon I reached the Lupine yurt, which is located at the highest point of Babbitt trail. From the Lupine yurt the trail went downhill with a gentle decline, meandering through the woods.
There was an abundance of snow. Snow around the trail was about 2-3 feet deep. I stopped occasionally to marvel at unusual snowy figures placed by the snowstorm on the branches. Babbitt trail led me through a snow cuddled pine forest, which had a magical grace. When the trail crossed Goshawk trail I saw a groomer stuck in deep snow. Then, where Babbitt trail connects with Deer trail, I met a family with two teenagers. They just made it uphill using Deer trail and did not know what direction to take. I offered them my advice about the north and the south slopes of Babbitt trail. It was my third time on the trail and I felt like an expert. They decided to take the gentler south slope, which is also my favorite.
Skiing downhill was breezy and enjoyable. When I stopped to take pictures, the family passed me on the way down. I waited for a while and followed them on an exciting journey navigating the curves of the trail. I passed them again somewhere in the middle of the downhill slope, waving good-bye.
When I was close to the lodge, the trail became flat. Suddenly, I noticed a tiny creature dashing from a tree across the trail. This little fur ball with short legs and a thin tail was a mouse. When I approached her, she froze in the middle of the trail. Then I moved closer and she ran away moving her tiny feet as fast as she could, awkwardly waddling from side to side. Her tiny legs got stuck in the snow but with great speed she managed to reach the edge of the trail and hide behind a tree. She must have been scared. I probably looked like a mountain lion or even a bear to her. On our previous trip I feared meeting a mountain lion. This time I met a tiny mouse. That was my encounter with wildlife.
I still had more time and decided to take Black Bear trail to enjoy an abundance of snow. I was amused by the artistry of nature, which left bizarre snowy ornaments on the branches of trees.
The next day the weather was warmer and there was more sun. I started skiing Deer trail to the top. I wanted to see more snowy wonders.
Deer trail was a bit slippery and it took more energy to ski uphill. As on Babbitt trail, the snowstorm created quite a bit of havoc in some parts of the woods. There were knocked down trees, which were half fallen but still supported by the neighboring trees. At a higher elevation snow formed an immaculate, sparkling, soft cover which was about 3 feet deep.
I then took Wild Turkey trail downhill. It was an exciting and adventurous journey. There were a few sharp curves and it was a bit slippery. I did not have any fear this time and confidently navigated all of the curves. I also got showered with a chunk of snow falling onto my neck from a pine tree, when I was rushing down the trail. A silver dust of snow plume still followed me for a while. That was very refreshing and hilarious.
There was one trail that I explored, Prairie Dog trail. It is 0.7 miles and connects with Babbitt trail. I skied in a mixed forest of pine trees and aspens and the trail was absolutely secluded. The sun shining through the trees and the gentle decline made this trail easy and pleasant.
Even though I took Dog trail on previous trips, I could not resist skiing it again. The afternoon sun warmed everything up and called me to relax. When I stopped to take a picture, a drop of water fell on my head. I looked up and saw a chunk of snow which was stuck between the long green needles of a pine tree. The chunk of snow had granulated texture and was oozing with sparkling drops, melting under the sun. However, it was desperately clinging to the branch. It looked like the spring was inevitably taking over the winter. I took a picture of this dying snow as a farewell to the winter and to the skiing season.
We had lots of fun thanks to the Arizona Nordic Village and its staff. I hope that the combination of Arctic air and El Nino, the best friends of all skiers, will bring more snow next winter. We will be back skiing and snowshoeing again.