Top Winter Activities in Flagstaff

Skiing and snowboarding aren't Flagstaff's only strengths. By Nora Burba Trulsson

snowboarders on Snowbowl chairlift

Arizona Snowbowl

By the time we got to the top of the ski lift for another run, the snow flurries had progressed into a major snowfall and my mind wandered over to the theory that Eskimos have hundreds (was it hundreds?) of words for snow. My two girlfriends and I made our way across the catwalk to the top of the run, then pushed off, keeping the ponderosa pines to our left as visibility lessened on our two-mile run downhill. By the time we came upon the lodge, my two best ski buddies were barely visible in front and behind me, except for their brightly hued jackets.

By the time we got to the top of the ski lift for another run, the snow flurries had progressed into a major snowfall. Nora Burba Trulsson

Opting for a break while the snow fell, we unbuckled our respective skis and snowboards and headed into the lodge for hot chocolate. Half an hour later, the snow subsided, the clouds parted, and we were back on the lift. This time at the top: bluebird skies, a snow-frosted fairyland below, and clear views for miles.

Nothing like a little fresh powder to say, "Welcome to Flagstaff, Arizona."

snowboarding in Flagstaff
Flagstaff is a winter wonderland for skiing, snowboarding, and more.

Downtown Flagstaff

We had come to Flagstaff to ski and snowboard at the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort, and to explore the city's other play-in-the-snow options. We aren't used to seeing snow, so we planned to take full advantage of all the winter white. All of it-from drifts to packed powder to lnstagram-worthy views of the snowcapped San Francisco Peaks.

Although we had spent a couple hours hitting the slopes, we still had enough energy left for a few evening activities in town, some apres-ski if you will. But first: food. We needed to refuel and were completely ready to throw out our normally all veggie diets for something a little more stick-to-your ribs. 

We drove just a few minutes to downtown Flagstaff's historic district­ which, we discovered, is not only filled with small shops and galleries, but also indie, chef-driven restaurants and bars that have fully embraced the new cocktail culture. We put our names in at Pizzicletta, a postage stamp-sized eatery located in an old commercial laundry building. The teeny place is popular (you share a community table or sit at one of two small bars) and known for its wood­ fired pizzas and Italian wines. Our host assured us she'd text  us with ten minutes' warning when our seats were ready.

Although we had spent a couple hours hitting the slopes, we still had enough energy left for a few evening activities in town, some apres-ski if you will. Nora Burba Trulsson

With time to fill, we walked a few blocks through the crisp night air, past old sandstone buildings decorated with holiday lights and storefront windows decked out with ornaments in celebration of the holidays. We stepped inside the cozy Annex Cocktail Lounge-next to the Tinderbox Kitchen restaurant-where low lighting, shared tables and comfy armchairs make it seem like you're in someone's living room. We sipped Manhattans and sampled a Tbox Cola (red wine and cola on ice; sounds weird, tastes good). 

The bartender told us the concoction has its roots in the culture brought to Flagstaff by the Basque sheepherders who used to move their flocks through town. He also told us that if we enjoyed this, we would love the Flagstaff Brewery Trail, a self-guided craft brewery and food tour-tempting now, but our schedules were already packed. But what's stopping us from returning later? I felt my phone buzz with a text message letting me know our seats were ready.

Historic downtown Flagstaff
Downtown's historic district is bustling with activity from galleries to bars.

Lowell Observatory 

Back at Pizzicletta, we worked our way through a mascarpone, pecorino, arugula, and prosciutto pizza drizzled with Meyer lemon-olive oil, as well as some house-cured salumi and olives. We topped off our meal by sharing some creamy, house-made gelato. No judgment from the group on our indulgent meals-we had earned it.

Still not wanting to call it a night just yet, we headed over to the historic Lowell Observatory for some celestial wanderings. Not to mention, we needed to walk off the sumptuous dinner we just ate. Located on a wooded knoll just above downtown Flagstaff, the observatory was founded in 1894 and is best known for the discovery of Pluto (the celestial body, not the Disney dog). 

Flagstaff, it turns out, is an astronomy center and the world's first city to be designated an International Dark Sky City, meaning less light pollution and more stars for us to see. And more stars we saw. With educators guiding the way, we looked through Lowell's telescopes while learning our way around the night sky and actually "touring" the winter skies above, viewing planets and stars, including Betelgeuse, a bright star that's part of what's called the winter triangle.


Pizzicletta in Flagstaff
Pizzicletta serves delicious handmade pizzas and vibrant wines.

More Snowplay

The next day, we had plans to go to the Arizona Nordic Village, lured by their 25 miles of groomed trails for, among other things, fat tire snowbiking. The adrenaline junkies within us couldn't pass up the opportunity to try this latest trend in mountain biking. We rented three fat tire bikes and after a few wobbles on my part, we were off on one of the center's multi-use trails. The crisp air kissing my face and the echoes of our excited calls to each other made for a thrilling ride. By the end, we all knew we had found our newest outdoor addiction.

"I can't wait to see what we find when we head back for the Flagstaff-Grand Canyon Ale Trail," I told my buddies with a wink. Nora Burba Trulsson

In the car on the way back to greener­ well, at least less snow dusted­ pastures, the group talked about how surprising our weekend was. We had expected the snow and the skiing and the biking, but the cocktails, food, shopping and Lowell Observatory weren't initially on our radar.

"I can't wait to see what we find when we head back for the Flagstaff Brewery Trail," I told my buddies with a wink.

Discover the endless amount of snowplay that awaits in Flagstaff. 

Christmas in Flagstaff
Winter is the time to enjoy a high country holiday and snowplay.

About the Author

Nora Burba Trulsson,

As an Arizona travel writer, Nora has covered topics from the wild burros that roam the streets of Oatman and the murky history of the chimichanga to the grandeur of the Grand Canyon and volunteerism at Arizona’s beloved state parks. She has hiked, skied, rafted, galloped, kayaked, Segwayed and rock-climbed my way through stories. Interviewing chefs, dining out, visiting hotels and sampling cocktails are other “challenges” she has met with gusto. Her travel articles have appeared in Sunset, VIA, GMC Magazine, U.S. Airways, Arizona Highways, Chicago Tribune, United Airlines Hemispheres, Westjet’s Up!, Valley Guide and other publications. Additionally, her Arizona travel articles have been published in numerous travel guides, including the Arizona Official State Visitor’s Guide, Visit Phoenix: Official Travel Guide to Greater Phoenix and Experience Sedona Official Visitors Guide.

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