If you’re an experienced skier or snowboarder — heck, even if you’re just starting out — you expect winter sports resorts to be usually found in the mid- to high-latitudes if not at high altitude.
After all, that’s generally where the snow is.
But sometimes expectations can be dashed, and you’ll often find a chair lift in some of the most unusual places, particularly in the arid Southwest.
The following, from north to south, are brief descriptions of the five most southern lift-served ski resorts in North America:
The San Bernardino range east of the Los Angeles basin contains peaks of up to 11,000 feet, and it catches a lot of moisture coming in off the Pacific. This is where you’ll find Bear Mountain, situated at 34.2277 degrees North Latitude. Bear Mountain, which along with neighboring Snow Summit comprises part of the Big Bear Mountain Resort, tops out at 8,805 feet with 1,665 of vertical; covers 748 acres, all of which have snowmaking, and has 24 runs served by 9 chairlifts and 3 surface lifts.
Located on the Ft. Apache Indian Reservation in the White Mountains of eastern Arizona, the 800 acres of Sunrise Park (33.9737 degrees N) sprawl across three peaks, all of which are above 10,700 feet. The resort has 65 runs and a 1,900-foot vertical served by 7 chairs and 2 surface lifts.
Possessing New Mexico’s only gondola, Ski Apache (33,3974 degrees N) is located in the Sierra Blanca range 17 miles northwest of Ruidoso. The 750-skiable-acre resort, which tops out at 11,500 feet, receives an annual average of 15 feet of snow, which covers Ski Apache’s 55 mostly intermediate runs and 1,900 feet of vertical, and is served by 8 lifts, including the summit gondola.
Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley
Up the Santa Catalina mountains northeast of Tucson, Arizona, lies the most southern ski resort in the contiguous United States. Situated at 32.4475 degrees N, Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley is a modest hill with just 200 skiable acres, 957 feet of vertical and 3 lifts serving its 22 runs, but it’s a tough one: There is no grooming nor snow-making at Mt. Lemmon, so even the easiest runs can be a challenge. Getting there can be, too, since much of the 44 miles of road leading from Tucson are not immediately plowed after a storm.
Bosques de Monterreal
You may be surprised to hear that Mexico has a ski resort, but it does. Located in the Sierra Madre mountains south of Monterrey, Bosques de Monterreal (pictured above) is located a quarter of a degree above the 25th parallel, making it the most southern lift-served resort in North America. It’s also one of the few year-round lift-served resorts on the continent due to its dry ski slope, with one lift serving its 167-foot-vertical run. Bosques de Monterreal, which sits at an elevation of 9,645 feet, does get some natural snow from December to February, so there is the occasional option of poking around the trees that line the plastic slope.