Skiing was introduced to Flagstaff in 1915, probably by a pair of Norwegian immigrants, brothers Ole and Pete Solberg. The Solbergs made skis and started downhill runs on Observatory Hill where the Lowell Observatory was located, very nearly in the center of town. Ole, who was interviewed at the age of 94, recalled that two girls who had seen what seemed strange indeed — he and his brother were sliding around on wooden slats for the sport of it — went downtown and promptly proclaimed to the other downtowners: “There’s two over the fence.”
In 1937, the Flagstaff 20-30 Club organized a weekend ski outing on the highland slopes of Hart Prairie east of town. At first the club used an old cabin as a warming hut, but quickly outgrew the crude structure. Soon a ski club was formed and began pushing for improvements to the cabin — a road to the site and a tow rope to enable skiers to go farther up the mountain and achieve longer runs.
Construction began by two groups of the Civilian Conservation Corps. One man who was a member of the organization’s Snow Bowl road construction group, recalled the work: “There was a lot of machine work on that road…a lot of surfacing…cinders and graders up there surfacing after it was built.”
The lodge in the photograph was built simultaneously with the road by the other group from the corps. The rustic log and stone structure featured two large fireplaces and an observation porch enclosed by glass. There was also a simple ski shop offering equipment rentals and a tiny restaurant offering light lunches.
The Snow Bowl officially opened for business in 1938. It became a popular skiing destination for tourists and locals. Flagstaff mothers made many a trip up the steep road to the Snow Bowl so their youngsters could participate in races for trophies.
College students also flocked to Snow Bowl each February for the Snow Carnival. They would ski down the slopes with torches that could be seen all the way from the Arizona State Teachers College campus (now Northern Arizona University) some 12 miles away.
The lodge in the photograph burned to the ground one night in the 1950s. The event led to the construction of a new lodge, built farther up the hill, which is still in use today. The simple tow ropes used in the 1930s have given way to chair lifts that carry skiers high up on the rocky peaks.
Eventually, the road to the Snow Bowl was paved, with many of the curves and grades of the original route straightened and improved.
The Arizona Snow Bowl has become one of the oldest continually operated ski areas in the United States and is considered one of the top areas in the state for Arizonans to enjoy skiing and other winter activities.
— Arizona Capitol Times archive. Photo courtesy of the Arizona Historical Society, Pioneer Museum.