The Best of Winter is Found on Route 66

Most people who decide to drive all or part of Route 66 do so in the spring or summer, but don’t rule out winter travel. There is still plenty to see and do along the Mother Road’s 2,448 miles.

Sports fans can attend the oldest holiday high school basketball tournament in the country and go skiing at two of the best ski resorts in the United States.

Between Christmas and New Year’s Day, some of the best high school basketball teams in Illinois head to Pontiac High School. The Pontiac Holiday Tournament has been held nearly every year since 1926, with the exception of a short hiatus during World War II.

University High School in Normal won the first tournament and again in 1928. But Chicago Simeon has the most tournament victories with fourteen.

snowy road
A drive through the San Francisco Peaks around Flagstaff can be slow, but it is beautiful.
Photo by Patti Clements

The tournament had some of its biggest crowds from 2010-12 when Jabari Parker was playing at Simeon. Parker was one of the top high school players in the country and Simeon was ranked number one nationally. Despite invitations to holiday tournaments at bigger venues in larger cities, Simeon coach Robert Smith remained loyal to Pontiac. Parker is just one of many future NBA players to compete in Pontiac, so stop by and see future stars before they become stars.

There is a lot of great basketball – from high schools and colleges to pro teams like the Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers. There is also a pair of excellent ski resorts in Flagstaff and Albuquerque.

With an elevation of 7,000 feet, Flagstaff is an Arizona winter destination. The Arizona Snowbowl is located 14 miles north of the city in the San Francisco Peaks. At nearly 10,000 feet above sea level, the Snowbowl offers breathtaking views of the city below. The powder is good, too, and Flagstaff is a haven for skiers and snowboarders of all levels. The Snowbowl is also popular in summer because of its views and the ski resort has a challenging disc golf course that is the highest such course in the United States.

One of the most popular things to do in Albuquerque is taking the Sandia Peak Tramway to the top. Whether there is snow or not, the 10,378-foot summit offers stupendous views of the valley below. The tramway is the third-longest aerial tram in the world and longest in the United States. It takes you to the Sandia Peak Ski Area, which has some of New Mexico’s best powder for winter sports. The Snow Sports School offers lessons for those unacquainted with skiing. Even if you’re not visiting the ABQ in winter, the mountaintop has several trailheads for hiking or biking.

Basketball fans and skiers should definitely consider winter Route 66 travel. You may be slowed by wintry weather on the roads, but remember that the journey itself is the destination – and the payoff will be worth it.

Ron Clements

Ron Clements

Ron Clements is a Wisconsin native and Green Bay Packers fan who married a Chicago Bears fan from Peoria, Illinois. Despite the rivalry, Ron and Patti make it work and have been living fulltime in an RV since March 2018. They travel the country in search of new adventures and love attending baseball games and exploring national parks. They visited all 30 MLB stadiums in 2018 and have taken their RV to each of the Lower 48 states. Ron is a veteran journalist of more than two decades and a summa cum laude graduate of East Carolina University, which he attended following his service in the United States Marine Corps. Ron has written for USA Today, Sporting News, CBS Sports, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Omaha World Herald, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Fresno Bee, the Montgomery Advertiser, and many other media outlets. The Sports Fan’s Guide to Route 66 is for anyone who has ever driven past a high school, college, or professional stadium, and thought, “I wonder what it’s like to see a game there.” A Sports Fan’s Guide to Route 66 will be in bookstores and online everywhere on August 3, 2021.

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