Tucked into the San Francisco Peaks in the Coconino National Forest about 15 miles from downtown Flagstaff, this Nordic oasis has most of the common attributes one would associate with a good cross country ski center anywhere else in the country. Flagstaff Nordic Center has a full 40km of non-redundant trails, more if you count portions of trails that you have to repeat to reach more distant loops. The trails wind through some of the largest Ponderosa pine stands in the state with the ever-present aspen, the other dominant species. Trails are named for terrain features found throughout the region, most of which are named after significant individuals and historic figures.
Though the area is home to a substantial elk population, they tend to winter at a lower elevation and are not seen about the trails during ski season. Coyote and rabbits are common, however, and their tracks frequently punctuate the trails.
At an average base elevation of 8,200 feet, Flagstaff Nordic Center can expect and depend on regular snow on a par with most Nordic facilities around the west. The trail layout, 16 feet wide and groomed for classic and skating, consists of well configured, expanding loops and a couple offshoot trails into the more distant reaches of the system.
In the center of the lower trails, an easy to reach, spacious yurt complete with two fold-out futon couches, barbecue, and wood fireplace is available for overnight rentals. During the day it doubles as a warming facility and is the site of one of the more important trail amenities, a flushable outhouse.
There’s plenty of climbing to be had on the trails with corresponding downhill runs. Most of it is long and gradual, with pleasant return trips snaking and descending through the pines.
One trail, Bear Jaw / Peak-A-View takes you up to the highest elevation of 8,700 feet. The climb is to Peak-A-View is well worth it. It is a lollipop loop through an open meadow with a panoramic view of Arizona Snowbowl and Humphrey’s Peak (highest point in Arizona). From Peak-A-View you can put together an approximate 2-mile downhill run back to the lodge.
Flagstaff Nordic Center is a off-grid and a ‘green’ facility. This Nordic Center produces its own power using solar and backup generators. We haul water and employ various water-saving techniques. All grooming snowmobiles have been replaced by less-polluting, more-efficient 4-stroke snowmobiles. Flagstaff Nordic Center also volunteers to clean the highway near their facility as well as maintain aspen/elk exclosure fencing. The fencing project is done in conjunction with the National Forest Service as part of an ongoing effort to save the aspen forests.
Flagstaff Nordic Center is only 60 miles south of the Grand Canyon and people frequently stop in to ski on their way to the Canyon. It’s about two hours north of Phoenix by car and a four-hour drive from Las Vegas. In addition to its strong local following, snow-starved skiers in the southwest regularly seek out this hidden gem in the mountains. Citizen racers and Birkie veterans will trek from Phoenix to train and transplanted snowbirds find Flagstaff Nordic Center a welcome reminder of winter they left behind.
Wendell Johnson and his wife purchased the Flagstaff Nordic Center in 2004. Wendell, a registered engineer and former energy consultant, had worked as a groomer here the year before. Since then, many improvements have been made with the lodge infrastructure, ski shop, grooming equipment, trail maintenance and various customer comforts.