Aspens and conifers mix in the mountains above Tucson. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Arizona and skiing are not two words usually found in the same sentence.

While there was no snow to ski on at Ski Valley in Mt. Lemmon, Arizona, last month, it was still fun to explore this area outside of Tucson.

Arizona is home to two of the southern-most ski resorts in the Northern Hemisphere, with Ski Valley the farthest south of all resorts at a latitude of 32.45 and longitude of 110.79. It has 200 skiable acres, with 21 runs.

Practical and humorous signs in Summerhaven, Arizona. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Looking at the resort from the bottom it reminded me a bit of Mt. Shasta Ski Park in Northern California as well as Suicide Six in Vermont. All three are unpretentious and super small when compared to most ski areas in the Sierra.

While the top of Mt. Lemmon is 9,157 feet, the amount of snowfall is nowhere near what Tahoe area resorts receive each winter. It averages 180 inches a year, while Tahoe’s slopes accumulate upward of 300 inches a season.

Ski Valley ski resort offers scenic rides in the off season. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The resort’s FAQ page says: “Because we rely totally on natural snow, our season may be a week or several months. Because of this, we do not offer a season pass.”

Mt. Lemmon gets her name from Sara Plumber Lemmon. In 1881, she was one of the first westerners to reach the top of the mountain.

When there isn’t snow, the resort runs its Clarence lift for sightseeing. We opted to walk and drive around the area instead.

Charred trees from a 20-year-old fire dot the landscape. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Fall was definitely in the air this last Monday of October, with aspens a vibrant yellow and maples almost magenta.

Summerhaven is the nearby town, which has lodging, a few places to eat and a handful of stores. It’s appropriately named as it would be an ideal refuge from the heat of summer.

Remnants of the 2003 Aspen Fire that charred 84,750 acres and destroyed 340 homes and businesses are still evident.

This area is all part of the Coronado National Forest. The Santa Catalina Mountains are considered sky islands—which are high mountains rising from a sea of desert.

Looking toward Tucson from the Mt. Lemmon area. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It was fascinating to watch Mother Nature’s transformation on the drive—from desert to pine trees, with captivating rock formations.

Information at the visitors center explains, “Two subspecies of ponderosa pine grow here. The 5-needled Arizona ponderosa grows in the lower elevations. The 3-needled Rocky Mountain ponderosa grows in the higher elevations.” This is typical of elevations from 7,000-8,200 feet. Below that is an oak forest. Above it one finds Douglas fir, white fir, southwestern white pine, quaking aspen, and bracken fern.

With the abundance of hiking trails, it’s on my list of places to return to.

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