White Mountains Online

Arizona's White Mountains
Alpine Ranger District


Cross Country Information ~ Alpine Ranger District.

Few places offer as much trouble-free skiing enjoyment as the Alpine Ranger District. Here in the midst of Arizona's picturesque White Mountains all you have to do is park your car, strap on your skis and go. You don't have to stand in line to buy a trail pass, and you don't have to elbow your way through crowds of other skiers. The deep snow pack turns the forest roads and trails that branch off US 191 (formerly US 666) into a network of ski trails that lead into the forest from the highway. For access, there are a number of convenient plowed turnouts for parking (especially in the Hannagan Meadows and Williams Valley areas).

On these high country trails you can ski for a day or pack up your four-season tent and a pack full of food and be gone for a week. If you have the time, you might want to set out for a backcountry designation such as the broad meadows and high slopes of Escudilla, the third highest mountain in Arizona, or the inner reaches of the Bear Wallow Wilderness. Wherever you go be ready for untracked mountain meadows, deep silent forests, and miles and miles of alpine scenery.

The secret's in the snow (and the Scenery)

You would expect a place with the word "alpine" in its name to have great snow, and in the case of the Alpine District of the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest, you would be absolutely right. Much of the district ranges in altitude between 8,000 and 9,000 feet, which means that the snow that falls here is dry, deep, and cold-some of the best in the southwest. The weather's great too (except when it's storming). During winter the days are frequently bright and sunny. The air is always crisp and clean. And you'll never see a bluer sky than an Alpine Arizona sky, especially when you see it through the stark white limbs of a grove of high county aspen.

As for the skiing itself, the Alpine District has terrain to suit all levels of skill, from first time shufflers to veteran backcountry explorers. There are even two developed cross-country ski areas that offer a total of 34 kilometers of machine-groomed trails, all free of charge.

Roads, Trails and Tracks

The deep snowpack that winter brings to the high country means that many of the District's roads must be closed for winter. That seasonal event automatically turns hundreds of miles of roads into a network of cross-country ski trails. These ski boulevards are wide, smooth and easy to follow, with a gradient moderate enough that the ups aren't exhausting and the downs are fun but not intimidating.

In addition to all those snow-covered roads, the Alpine District has a number of backcountry trails that offer excellent skiing as well. They may be a little harder to follow, but if you do get off the trail, you can always retrace your tracks back to where you went astray, or back to your car for that matter. Designed for hiking and horseback riding, backcountry trails usually lead to places where the going gets a little steeper and the turns get a little tighter. That means that they almost always require more ability to ski than following a road. Remember, too, that the Alpine backcountry is quite remote, especially in the winter, and skiing there requires specific skills. So when you head out on the back roads or the back country trails, it's always a good idea to let someone know where you're going and when you'll be back!

For those who like the convenience and ease of groomed tracks, or who like to be a little less isolated when they ski, there are two Nordic Ski areas within 22 miles of Alpine. The ski trails at Hannagan Meadow offer tracks for diagonal stride skiing while Williams Valley trails are packed wide for both diagonal striding and ski skating. Both are maintained through a joint effort of local merchants and the Alpine Ranger District, and both are open to the public free of charge.

Enjoy the best but prepare for the worst. Whether you set out for a short day trip or a week-long expedition, make sure you come fully prepared. In the winter small errors can force you to pay big penalties, and just a simple matter such as wearing the wrong type of clothes can turn a fun day on your skinny skis into something you can't wait to get home from. Even the best plans can go wrong in the case of an unexpected winter storm, which is something you always should expect, or at least be prepared for.

Ski Tips. Here are some tips that can hellp you make sure your cross country skiing outing is an enjoyable one:

Cross country skiing can be as physical or as leisurely as you want it to be. With that in mind, the best tactic is to pick an outing that suits your level of conditioning. And while you're out there discovering that winter can actually be fun, you'll be happy to know that you're one of the most efficient and stress free ways of getting fit.

Dress properly. Avoid cotton clothing. When Cotton is wet is not only looses its insulating properties, it actually becomes an evaporative cooler. Wear synthetics or wool clothes instead, and layer them. A warm hat and gloves are essential, too tight boots mean cold feet. To top off your outfit, a wind shell adds a great amount of warmth with very little weight. Add sunglasses to lessen glare and use a waterproof sunscreen to protect yourself from the high altitude radiation.

Carry an adequate First Aid kit and know how to use it. A simple ski repair kit is also invaluable for those inevitable backcountry breakdowns.

Backcountry skiers should avoid going solo. Always let someone know where you're going and when you expect to return.

Take lots of water and drink it (three of four quarts is not excessive). You'll feel better and stay warmer! And remember, alcohol is no substitute for water. It actually makes you colder.

Eat high-energy foods. Dried fruit, some sweet, nuts, cheese, and trail mix are good.

Always be ready for the weather to turn stormy, even on those warm, sunny, mornings without a cloud in the sky.

Ski lessons are a good way to start out developing good new habits or to get rid of bad ones.

And as if we had to tell you, enjoy yourself!

For current information on trail conditions, please contact the Alpine Ranger District: P.O. Box 469, Alpine, AZ 85920, (928) 339-4384. For more information, please feel free to contact the USDA Forest Service, Alpine Ranger District.