Friday, April 4, 2014

Sunrise Park (Arizona) - My best run on this whole trip!

Sunrise Park (AZ) is a great place and a wonderful memory. It is special for a number of reasons:

1.  It is the southernmost large ski area in the United States.  It is also Arizona's largest ski area (800 acres). Only Arizona Snowbowl beats it in vertical. Mt. Lemon (near Tucson, AZ) is father south, but it is comparatively tiny, with only one ski lift.
2.  Sunrise Park offers the longest season in Arizona. All the other ski areas in Arizona were closed by the time I skied here on Friday, April 4th. 
3.  It is on Apache land.  So, even though I didn't get to ski at Ski Apache (New Mexico), I still got to ski at a place owned and operated by an Apache tribe.
4.  I had one of the most pleasurable runs of the whole trip here, on the Maverick trail.

Sunrise Park is located near the twin towns of Springerville and Eagar in eastern Arizona.  The town of Springerville is on Highway 60, which connects Socorro (NM) on the east with Show Low (AZ) on the west.

The official mailing address for Sunrise Peak is in the small town of Greer, but when driving from Springerville along highway 260, don't turn into Greer.  Instead, drive another 10 miles farther west until you see a sign for "Sunrise".

Sunrise Park ski area consists of 3 separate peaks, named Sunrise, Apache, and Cyclone peaks.  Apache Peak is the highest, at 11,100'.  The other two are both at an elevation of 10,700'.   The base of the ski are is at 9,200 feet.   The vertical is the second highest in Arizona.

On a chairlift ride, I chatted with some locals.  I told them that I am here only because the Arizona Snowbowl is already closed.  They told me they had skied at the Arizona Snowbowl just 2 weeks earlier, but they added: "Sunrise Park is so much better!"

The ski area is surprisingly well developed.  The terrain is served by 1 high speed quad, 2 fixed quads, 4 triple chairs, 1 double chair, and 2 surface tow lifts.

It also has lots of lodges.  In addition to the main base area, there is also a mid-mountain restaurant where several trails meet, as well as a lodge at the top of Sunrise Peak. And there is another lodge at the base of the two lifts leading to Apache Peak and Cyclone Peak.

My best run of the whole trip was here, on the Maverick trail.  Most other trails were well groomed with typical Spring conditions, icy in the early morning, and then softening up later in the day.  But, the Maverick trail had not been groomed in at least a week or two (or more). There were signs of some very gentle moguls under a cover of a few inches of fresh snow.

Surprisingly, nobody had skied it yet since the last snowfall.  So, I had the pleasure of leaving my own ski tracks in the snow.  I stopped a few times to look up and look at my signature tracks in the snow.  Each time, I marveled at the fact that nobody else was coming down to leave their own tracks.

The Maverick trail starts near the top of the Sunrise Peak,  under the top of the express quad lift.  At first it is steep, but the slope gets gradually less steep toward the bottom.

Why was this trail left untouched for so long?  Most likely for a number of reasons:

1.  It is tucked away out of sight, away from the obvious fall line, so it requires some planning to get there. Anyone who simply follows the fall line from the top of the lift will end up on a long ridge that gradually curves back to the base area along the right side of the trail map. Lots of trails branch off from that ridge. That is where most skiers go, simply following the fall line.  But, to get to the Maverick trail, you have to turn sharply left, behind the restaurant at the top, and keep on circling to skier's left.

2. The Maverick trail is sandwiched between a blue trail and a challenging never-groomed and moguled black diamond trail right under the lift line.  Those seeking challenge will try to ski right under the lift (the black Lupe trail).  Those shying away from challenge, will prefer to stay on the blue trail (Crown Dancer).  The Maverick trail between these two is in no-man's land in between: not challenging enough for the tough crowd and too challenging for most intermediates (especially when it is not groomed).

So, that's how to find special secret spots:  go to places that are away from the direct fall line from the top of the lift and that are too much work for intermediates but not quite enough challenge for the advanced skiers.  That's where you will find your own personal paradise.

That's where I found mine! It just got better and better as I went.  I couldn't believe I had this slope all to myself!  I was giddy with pleasure!

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