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A Frosty Quick Guide to Mt. Lemmon

Ditch the mild winter weather for the snow-capped Catalinas  | By Amanda Oien

As the winter storm grows stronger, snow begins to fall, blanketing towering evergreens while the creeks freeze over. Locals bundle up to make snowmen, go sledding and sip mulled wine at the ski lodge.

Upstate New York might come to mind, but we’re talking about Southern Arizona. That’s right, the place known for sunshine, cactus and really good Mexican food.

An hour drive, about 30 miles north of Tucson, brings you to Mount Lemmon, one of Southern Arizona’s Sky Islands in the Coronado National Forest. As you travel up the mountain, the ecosystems begin to dramatically change from prickly pear cactuses and mesquite trees to leafy ferns and pines.

Mt. Lemmon’s elevation tops out at 9,157 feet, allowing for cooler temperatures during the summer and snow during the winter months. Mount Lemmon is on average, about 30 degrees cooler than Tucson.

Summerhaven, the small community on Mt. Lemmon, is fittingly named for being a summer escape from scorching temps in Tucson. But during the winter, the community becomes a hub for sledding, fudge from the Mount Lemmon General Store, giant cookies from the Mt. Lemmon Cookie Cabin and seasonal selections from the Sawmill Run Restaurant.

If skiing and snowboarding are more your speed, venture farther up the mountain to Ski Valley. Two chair lifts will bring you to a variety of beginner, intermediate and black diamond trails. Ski Valley offers rentals and for first-timers, ski school.

Après ski, warm up at the Iron Door Restaurant with their famous chili and cornbread or grab something quick while slopeside at The Grub Stake. If you plan to spend a few days on the slopes, Airbnb offers a few cabins for rent in Summerhaven. 

During the winter season, the road to Mt. Lemmon can close due to icy conditions. Normally within a day or two, the road is back open. Depending on the snowfall, chains or four-wheel drive may be required. To check on road conditions, call the Pima County Road Condition Hotline at 520-547-7510.

Winter storms come and go and so does the snow. If you want to check how much snow is on the mountain, visit the Mount Lemmon General Store & Gift Shop website and view the four live cameras in the sidebar.