SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — This week’s “chilly” weather at the WM Phoenix Open puts the metro’s typically balmy climate into perspective. While those who normally partake in the 16th hole chaos often don little more than a tank top, shorts and flip-flops, this week’s rain and cooler temps have brought out winter gear, with some wearing puffy coats and ski hats to watch the world’s best players.
But at its core, the popular event is known for sunshine and blue skies, giving many from around the nation — and the world — the impression that Arizona is wall-to-wall saguaros and overwhelming heat. The Grand Canyon State, however. boasts one of the country’s most intriguing and diverse ecosystems.
For example, while players were starting the first round at TPC Scottsdale on Thursday, students in the mountain town of Flagstaff just 140 or so miles to the north were enjoying their second straight snow day after a series of storms rolled through.
This got us thinking: Could we get up to Flagstaff’s ski area, Arizona Snowbowl, and get back in time to see some afternoon action at the WMPO? We decided to give it a shot.
Here’s how the day unfolded:
For years, the ride from Phoenix to Flagstaff meant trudging through the city proper and spiking north on I-17, which is an erratic road traversing multiple mountain ranges and valleys.
I lived here in the 1990s and into the aughts when there was no beltway to speak of. Now, the ride from the suburbs completely skirts the city and from my buddy’s house in the southeastern suburb of Gilbert, Waze steers you up through Scottsdale and right past the Open grounds. Even though I was whizzing by at 4:49 a.m., the signage was bright, guiding patrons to the various lots.
When upwards of 200,000 people are heading to a golf tournament for the day, parking becomes a major priority.
A little backstory: When I worked at the Flagstaff newspaper (the Arizona Daily Sun) decades ago, a few of the students at Northern Arizona University mentioned “double ski day,” when they would hit the slopes for the morning, then drive down the mountain and water ski in the afternoon. That thought had been festering in my brain long after I left the state — and was the genesis of this journey.
When I hit the intersection of 101 and Interstate 17 north of…