First day skiing for the 2020/2021 season
Since the lifts started running at the Snowbowl Ski resort outside Flagstaff Arizona, a few hours from my home, I decided it was time to get up there. They installed a new lift this year since the old main Agassiz lift broke at the end of last year, and I wanted to check it out and get some runs in. I got up early but was a bit disorganized with it being the first ski day of the season for me - I had to search and dig out some forgotten gear - and I didn't hit the road until a little before sunrise, at 7:15am. Later than I wanted for the two and half hour drive north from Phoenix. After a quick stop at a QwikTrip to fill the gas tank and grab a coffee, I was on my way. On this Friday there were plenty of people on the road going to work. I was thankful to not be one of them. Getting out of Phoenix wasn't so bad though, as the traffic was still relatively light because of Covid. There were some good views of the Arizona countryside on I-17, and I took them in and managed to make good time. Nearing Flagstaff I was treated to a nice view of Humphrey's Peak, the tip of a dormant volcano that stands at 12,637 feet above sea level.
Getting there a bit past 10am put me towards the middle back of one of the parking lots. I tried to gauge the conditions and whether a hat or hood, and sunglasses or goggles, might be needed. Being the first day of the season for me, I was bad at figuring what was needed and ended up bringing too much gear. I also forgot my Covid mask in the car, which was required. I did have a scarf and wrapped it pretty good around my mouth and nose, and this was sufficient. The workers and Snowbowl were adamant masks be worn up over the nose at all times, and I heard them throughout the day informing people to raise their masks. They were good at being on top of this. Getting a lift ticket was easy, I reserved one the day before on-line for $82 and was able to redeem using the code at the ticket window. They gave me a badge good for the entire year (just to be reloaded each time), and I hung it from the front of my jacket. They aren't setup with RFID chipped passes yet, like many other resorts now have. I decided to go up the easy lift Humphrey's Peak first, a four person chair for beginners, using the run down to cut over to the main new Gondola they put in. I got my first run in a little before 11am.
I was eager to ride up the new lift and so made my way down the green run, weaving in and out of beginner skiers and taking a path through the trees, and made it over to the new Arizona Gondola. To my surprise there was no-one in line, and it had a sign in front saying it was 'closed due to weather'. Bummer! I was a little perplexed by this as the weather seemed fine, it was a sunny blue bird day, not windy. All week leading up to today I had kept an eye on the webcam they have trained on this lift, and it was open each day. So yeah, I was confused. I skied past and made it to another high speed express lift, a little lower down the mountain side, The Grand Canyon Express. There were people here and it was running, and the Singles Line was open. I got in line and it wasn't long before I was being whisked up the mountain. I've heard concerns from people that maybe the singles lines at ski resorts this winter might be closed due to Covid, but at Snowbowl this wasn't the case. I didn't have any concerns and didn't feel unsafe at any time. The Grand Canyon Express is a 6 person detachable high speed chair. It's modern and new, and there is lots of space between riders on a chair, even when it is stacked fully with 6 people. I mostly kept my mask up on the chair like most people, and I was sure to not breath on anyone, or get breathed on. It all seemed fine.
Snow conditions on this day were low, but the runs that were open had good coverage. A combination of man made snow and the real stuff. Also, luckily, the night before they received a light dusting of new snow. Not enough to be measurable, but enough to freshen things up a bit. Even though many of the pictures I took show bare ground, the open runs themselves were in good shape. Some areas were a little scraped out, but sometimes that's just what you get. I had never ridden The Grand Canyon Express before, and I was very impressed by it, and the main runs it serves. There were solid blues to explore. I ran laps here most of the day, and got in some good vertical.
Now, while on my about 5th run, the line at the Grand Canyon lift got really short. I hopped right on the chair with no wait. I noticed this was because the Arizona Gondola had opened, and most people moved over there. I got a few more runs in before taking a short break to drop my extra gear at the car, and retrieve my Covid mask (I was tired of fighting with the scarf), and when the line at the Grand Canyon Express built up again, I too made it over to the new Arizona Gondola. The line there was comparable to CGE, but it took longer to get on a chair. There seemed to be a lack of lifties organizing the loading, and it was really just a free-for-all of people pushing to get a spot in line, and onto the lift. The Gondola itself is actually a gondola/chair combination. The pattern is 2 six person chairs, and then a gondola, repeated. Things are pretty well spaced out on the wire too, so even though it is a high speed detachable configuration, I found it to be a bit slow at getting people up onto the mountain. The lift itself runs people to the top in about 7.5 minutes (the old 4 person chair took twice as long), but I waited a while in line before loading. It didn't help that they were only loading chairs, each gondola went up empty. It is a pretty fancy modern setup for this resort, and I hope they can tweak things to reach maximum efficiency in the future. At the top I skirted down the one run that was open, the black diamond Upper Ridge, and I found this run to be not too different from the lower blues I was doing off Grand Canyon Express. The only difference was this run was narrower, and much more scraped out by the boarders. It actually lead down to the top of the CGE lift (it wasn't too far down either), so about 85% of this run down the mountain was the same terrain being served by the CGE. After this one run off the Arizona Gondola, I decided to stick to the Grand Canyon Express for the rest of the day. I found it, and the runs it serves, to be better on this particular day.
Overall I had a great time skiing here at Snowbowl, even with the low snow conditions and a limited amount of open runs. Their terrain park was also open, and attracted a lot of boarders. I tried to get the most runs in I could, taking only two short breaks to drop some gear and refuel with snacks, and managed a respectable 19 runs. I tried to get one last run in, but they closed up shop on me right at 4pm. I look forward to getting back up there when they get more snow, and more acreage open. My day: 17 runs off Grand Canyon Express (1519' vertical each) 1 run off Arizona Gondola (2000' vert) 1 run off Humphrey's Peak (775' vert) ------------------ 28,600' vertical total
Skiing the blue run Log Jam
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