Tucsonan Patrick Flanagan first learned to snowboard in 1990 when the sport started gaining popularity. Ever since, Flanagan makes it a point to come out every year to ride the mounds. But it was not until a decade ago that he started his annual tradition.
“I’ve taken the approach to tailgate, like you would do for a football game [but] we do that when we go skiing,” Flanagan said. “We’re always here grilling. Any time we come up we make sure that we have the ability to grill and have a picnic at it.”
With the help of his friends, Flanagan plans and packs their essentials for the trip:
- Snowboarding and skiing equipment
- Small, portable charcoal grill
- Lawn chairs
While they kick back in between rides, they begin their tailgate– other patrons smile in appreciation. In Flanagan’s experience, most people don’t come for the rides.
“They’re coming up to see snow,” he said. “They don’t know you can’t sled here and you know snow is kind of a spectacle for the desert.”
For owner of Ski Valley Graham Davies, he says that is what makes Mount Lemmon so special. Within 30 miles, terrain changes from tall Saguaros in dry heat to snowy mountains.
“I either say I'm a genius or a moron,” Davies said when asked about running the southernmost ski destination in the continental United States.
Michael Rodriguez is a senior snowboard instructor and has been shredding Mount Lemmon for the past 12 years. For him, the beauty behind Mount Lemmon is the rarity to ride down.
“It’s only open when it snows,” Rodriguez said. “We don’t have water pumping up like other resorts, where we could have man-made snow.”
But, Rodriguez says that because of the natural terrain, it can be dangerous.
“You go up this lift right here all the way to the top, it is probably the most dangerous terrain in the world,” he said. “I tell people if you can ride Mount Lemmon, you can ride anywhere in the world.”
While different from most weather in the Sonoran desert, regulars like Flanagan hold this time of year close to their heart.
“Mount Lemmon is a treasure. It’s not a secret, but it is a treasure.”
For those planning to visit, attendees recommend coming early to secure parking and any rentals needed.