Winter Around the Grand Canyon

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Winter Around the Grand Canyon
Winter storms blow through quickly; clear and bright is the norm above the Canyon. Hike from snow-frosted rims down into warm desert, or explore the world’s largest ponderosa pine forest—only an hour away—for skiing, snowshoeing, or snowmobiling.
Photo courtesy of Michael Quinn/Grand Canyon NPS
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    Descend into Spring or Ascend into Winter
    Descend into spring, or ascend into winter—it all depends on which direction you want to hike. The temperature at the bottom of the Grand Canyon is typically 30 degrees warmer than up on the rim, so you can hike from the snow down to the desert, or from spring-like temperatures up into winter. Switchbacks will test your knees, but the vistas will be a welcome, distracting balm. The Rim Trail, Bright Angel Trail, and South Kaibab Trail are the most popular. Just make sure to have some crampons handy to strap on so you don’t slip on the trail as you admire the heady views.
    Photo courtesy of Michael Quinn/Grand Canyon NPS
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    Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort
    About an hour away from the Grand Canyon rise the snow-capped San Francisco Peaks, the highest in Arizona. Topping out at 12,635 feet, these volcanic mountains are the home of Arizona Snowbowl ski resort, which receives an average of 260 inches of snow each year. Nearly 800 acres of ski runs, as high as 11,500 feet above sea level and as long as two miles, are available for skiers from novice to expert. On a clear day, the views from the chairlifts can range from the Grand Canyon to downtown Flagstaff. People have been skiing here since the 1930s though the resort is not without controversy and has been opposed by Native American tribes in the area.
    Photo courtesy of Flagstaff CVB
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    Flagstaff Nordic Center: Winter among the Pines
    When the world’s largest ponderosa pine forest is frosted in white, what better way to get your blood pumping than by doing some cross-country skiing or snowshoeing? About an hour away from the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff Nordic Center offers groomed trails in an inspiring landscape at the base of the San Francisco Peaks, Arizona's highest mountains. You can warm up in a yurt, take some ski lessons, or even get on two fat tires and try out snowbiking—an emerging form of mountain biking. After working up an appetite, check out one of the restaurants or microbreweries in town; Flagstaff is making a name for itself as a farm-to-table culinary destination of the Southwest.
    Photo by Kyle George/age fotostock
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    Historic Hotels to Escape the Cold
    When white blankets the red rocks and dark junipers, the Grand Canyon is truly transformed into a wonderland—but a cold wonderland. Warm up on a winter's day inside historic El Tovar Hotel, built in 1905. A stone fireplace heats the log-lined lobby, which has elk and bison heads presiding over it. Splurge on a rim-view suite (reserve well ahead of time) and look out over the Canyon from the privacy of your heated room. Nearby is Bright Angel Lodge, built in 1935, another log-and-stone structure. Cabins with fireplaces are also available. Bundle up and walk out your own front door and onto the Rim Trail: The Canyon will feel like it’s all yours.
    Photo courtesy of Michael Quinn/Grand Canyon NPS
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    The Transformation of Winter
    Summer crowds on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon can be formidable, but winter is a whole different affair. There are far fewer people around; the shadows are long as the winter sun lowers its arc in the desert sky, and snow softens the rocky edges with a brighter stillness at dawn and dusk. Strap on snowshoes after a storm and hear the crunch and squish as you traverse the pinyon-juniper forest. Listen for the hooves of the wandering elk. Renew yourself with the rhythm of your own breath—fogging and clearing your field of view as you approach what feels like the edge of the world. But if you would prefer to enjoy your white panorama in peace, head to Shoshone Point.
    Photo courtesy of Michael Quinn/Grand Canyon NPS
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    Starting Early on the Slopes
    Between the Grand Canyon and Flagstaff, the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort offers packages and lessons for children as young as four years old. Included in the package is a lift ticket, boots and skis or board, lessons, and supervision. Over a third of the resort’s ski runs are reserved for beginning skiers, so even older kids will have plenty of room to slalom around. Remember that this is high elevation: The ski runs are located from 9,200 to 11,500 feet above sea level. Give yourself and your family time to acclimate, and you’ll breathe more easily.
    Photo courtesy of Flagstaff CVB