How was I going to get down the mountain alive? The snowy slope in front of me looked more like a giant ice luge than a green beginner’s hill and had “death trap” written all over it. As I looked down at my skis and to what lay before me, the tears started to flow.
I hadn’t been skiing in about 17 years, so I was excited when I got the chance to spend a weekend skiing in Flagstaff with my boyfriend Nick. It also gave me an opportunity to explore this historic town in northern Arizona. Flagstaff got its name on the 4th of July marking the centennial of the nation when a group of pioneers stripped the limbs from a pine tree and raised the flag. The “Flag-staff” from then on became a popular early tourist spot for travelers passing through, and the town never grew out of the name.
I had imagined starting a snowball fight as we pulled into town, but due to a recent warm spell, most of the ground was covered in a gray icy sludge instead of bright white snow. All the snow men looked like armless mutants with scoliosis, crooked smiles and faces that were melting away. The idea of skiing was looking pretty grim.
Driving through Flagstaff it’s easy to see what’s so appealing about this small mountain town. It has a rustic feeling reminiscent of the early pioneer days. The historic train station, with its burnt orange brick exterior and forest green trim, is truly representative of the rural architecture that is popular in more mountainous regions and points to Flagstaff’s hardy people. Flagstaff became known as a major railroad hub in Arizona with the arrival of the Atlantic and Pacific tracks, and what had been hardly more than a camping spot for travelers became a major shipping center for cattle and lumber.
The aged brick buildings and old neon signs really made me feel as if I had gone back in time “to get my kicks on Route 66”, which the city takes pride in being apart of. Flagstaff came into its own with the advent of Route 66, in part because of its close proximity to the Grand Canyon, only 90 minutes to the South Rim. Not too long ago the city’s main street, Santa Fe Ave., was renamed back to Route 66 to preserve the city’s heritage and vintage appeal.
Our hotel ended up being just directly off of Route 66. Even though the hotel itself may not have been a vintage landmark like the train station or 66 Motel, it still had a very beautiful lobby. Adorned with luminous crystal chandeliers, a creamy ivory colored baby grand piano, and an ornamental fireplace perfect to cozy up to after a chilly night on the town, I was thrilled it was not evocative of a woodsy lodge.
The next morning we were up and about ready for our skiing excursion. Anxiety was starting to hit me as image of me tumbling down the mountain flooded my mind.
Snowbowl is one of only two major alpine ski resorts in Arizona, located along the San Francisco Peaks only a 20 minute drive from Flagstaff. The mountains are remnants of what is left of Arizona’s most explosive volcanoes. In the winter months, the snow laden slopes mark the highest point in Arizona soaring upwards at over 12,000 ft.
It’s no wonder why looking down at a vertical drop of nearly 2,300 feet that my knees began to shake and tears started to fall. As I tried to pull myself together, I wiped the frosty tears off my cheek and got about five feet before falling. As Nick coaxed me to move he kept yelling, “Pizza! Pizza!” which means angling your skis into the shape of a pizza slice in an attempt to stop. Unfortunately, “French fryin-ing”, keeping your skis parallel, seemed to be more of my thing, and did not work to my advantage. Needless to say what probably would have taken an average skier 5 minutes ended up taking me 45 to get down to the bottom.
After a near death experience on skis for almost an hour, it was time for a real pizza slice. There are couple of lodges located at the base of the slopes that offer a variety of warm food and drinks in a cafeteria style eatery. Hot chocolate is the perfect cure for a cold, aching body. The Hart Prairie Lodge makes one stop shopping for equipment easy, with lift tickets, lessons, and equipment all readily available in the same place.
Six hours of hard exercise, aka falling and pulling myself up with my ski poles, really builds up an apatite. Sakura is a teppanyaki style restaurant, where the tables surround a grill with a chef specializing in juggling knives, spatulas, and shrimp cooks your food to perfection.
With chicken and steak sizzling and crackling in front of you, becoming fat with juices and a mixture of sauces and oils, it’s hard not to jump over the table and scarf it down from under the chef’s spatulas. Just when dinner had appeared to have reached its finale, the chef lit the whole table up in an inferno, creating a nice contrast to the afternoon skiing. Fire and ice.
As you can imagine, I did survive skiing down what was supposedly a “green hill,” in one piece, minus some odd pizza shaped bruises, but overall the experience was pleasant, and my minor injuries did not deter from the trip. Flagstaff has a very classic nature in its heart that truly brings to life the time period in which it rose to popularity.