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NOTE: This three month old report was posted elsewhere a couple of days after the event. Seeing no other Mt Lemmon TR's from da Bears, I thought I'd share. Enjoy!

I skied at Arizona's Mt Lemmon Ski Valley Sunday Jan 13th 2008. Here's the deal:

Mt Lemmon Ski Valley is the southernmost resort in the US. At approximately 32.5 degrees North, it's at about the same latitude as Tijuana Mexico, Shreveport Louisiana, and Savannah Georgia. Plus it's in the Sonoran Desert (or borders on it if you want to be persnickety). So, warm tempatures, hot sun, and dry conditions. Sounds perfect for a ski resort, no?

Well, the most impressive thing about Mt Lemmon is the fact that it's there at all. Yet, there it is. Like the plants in the desert below who cling to life in a hostile environment, Mt Lemmon has adapted to survive in a place where no ski hill should be.

One adaptation is that the trails are narrow. I mean really narrow. As in 10 feet wide narrow. If it had wide open slopes like many western resorts the Sonoran sun would melt the snow too fast, so the trails are narrow affairs shaded by the pines. Yeah, there are a couple of 100' wide trails and an open area for the runout at the base, but for the most part think gladed runs and summer hiking trails that they let you ski.

There's not much in the way of crowds, so the resort has just one old fixed grip double. At that, three out of four chairs went up empty on a weekend day - definitely no waiting. (Actually, there was a little bit of a crowd outside the fence watching - it seems that skiing is somewhat of a curiosity in the desert southwest, so people stop by to watch, and take pictures and videos of the skiers. At one point there were more people watching than skiing.)

Water is at a premium, so no indoor plumbing. There's four porta-johns in the parking lot. Bottled water available at the snack-bar.

Grooming? Well, I saw a couple of groomers parked alongside the hill, but no evidence of any usage within recent memory. I figure that with the thin coverage (~ 10" by my estimate) all a groomer would do is mix up a lot of dirt into what little snow they have. So, maybe they groom sometimes, but don't count on it.

Rocks, sticks, pinecones, logs, grass, etc. etc. etc. on the slopes? You betcha - bring your rock skis, or rent a pair of their beaters like I did.

Snowmaking? Don't think so. I didn't see any snowguns. Anyway, where would they get the water?

The skiing is pleasant enough, once you get off the nasty catwalk that feeds the drop-ins. My preference is for wide open groomers where I can make carved turns at speed, but there's nothing like that at Mt. Lemmon. Ungroomed, with too many blind corners and too many hazards to let the skis run. And there were few places where the trails were actually wide enough to make a full carved turn. But while not to my tastes, it's still fun - more "real" skiing or "skiing like it used to be" than the artificial stuff I'm used to.

There's nothing particularly steep, but it's steep enough for some grins. Beginners should stay away (or just ski the runout at the bottom) but anyone with basic intermediate chops should be able to handle most everything there. In some ways, the black runs were easier to ski than the green catwalk.

Interesting observation: all the ski patrollers (I saw about a dozen that day) were skiing on ten-to-fifteen year old "straight" skis. I'm not sure if this is because of the rocks, or because you can't really make carved turns there (making shaped skis have less utility), or just because everything else about the place is old school.

Bottom line: It's not worth travelling to just for the skiing, but if you live in Tuscon or are visiting the area for some other reason, it's worth a trip up to Mt Lemmon for a day. Adjust your expectations accordingly and you'll have fun. Beginners will have tough going, and experts will be bored, but an open-minded intermediate can have fun. Bring your rock skis. One thing that's not on the website: they're closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

P.S. I couldn't find a trailmap on line (yeah, the place is that marginal) but here's a link to Google's Satelite view: