When it comes to snow skiing, you automatically think of Vermont, Colorado or Utah, right? Well, push aside any preconceived notions you may have about the South, and re-think your answer. In the high country of North Carolina, three ski destinations offer visitors an experience not unlike that found in the country’s more well-known ski resorts.
What sets these resorts apart is their ability to produce ideal ski conditions without the necessity for natural snow or constant sub-zero temperatures. Each resort is equipped with its own snowmaking technology, which allows each one to create prime ski slopes practically overnight so you can start snow skiing in North Carolina in no time.
Appalachian Ski Mountain
Located in Blowing Rock, Appalachian Ski Mountain offers skiers and snowboarders 12 slopes and three terrain parks to choose from for testing their skills. The site’s base elevation is 3,635 feet, while the peak elevation tops out at 4,000 feet, with a vertical drop of 365 feet. Slopes open at 9 a.m. and run until 5 p.m., with a night session from 5 to 10 p.m.
Home to the French-Swiss Ski College, Appalachian Ski offers the perfect location to learn how to ski or brush up on your skills, which is exactly what I did. And, I believe, I did quite well. I made it down the small, short hill as instructed. Several times in fact. As a result, I felt pretty good about my progress and was looking forward to my next lesson at my next ski stop. Turns out, that was my first mistake.
A short drive away in Banner Elk, Sugar Mountain features 20 slopes and trails situated on 115 acres. Base elevation is 4,100 feet, while the summit reaches 5,300 feet, with a vertical drop of 1,200 feet. Thanks to such a large vertical drop, Sugar Mountain is home to North Carolina’s only double black diamond trail: Whoopdeedoo.
Since the slopes are open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., plus a night session from 6 to 10 p.m., you can work up your courage on the less difficult trails before tackling Whoopdeedoo. For those new to the sport or wanting to tweak their skills, ski and snowboard lessons are offered for all ages.
It is here that I take my next ski lesson. However, unlike my previous lesson, this lesson took an immediate turn for the worst. Unlike at Appalachian Ski, where I donned my skis and walked – yes, walked – up my small, short hill, at Sugar I was quickly directed to the ski lift. I knew this wasn’t going to go well, and I was right. First, I fell trying to get off the ski lift at the top of the mountain – yes, mountain.
Once I regained my footing, a new fear set in: How was I going to get down this mountain? I drew upon my limited ski knowledge obtained in yesterday’s lesson and tried desperately to implement it. Unfortunately, my knees quickly rebelled. Since I was at a much higher elevation, my speed increased much faster than I expected, and my knees were not able to catch up.
In moments I knew I wouldn’t make it down this hill via skiing. Thankfully, my instructor was understanding and did her best to help me get down without ripping my knees apart. Once I was back at the lodge, I traded my skis in for something a little more comfortable: snow shoes. For those without the skiing gene, this is a great way to hit the slopes without fear of running wild into a tree. Trust me! Sugar Mountain offers one-hour snowshoe tours across the mountain four days a week, and I highly recommend it. You get to check out the slopes and see some of the view without risking life or limb.
In the town of Beech Mountain, Beech Mountain Resort welcomes visitors to display their skiing and snowboarding prowess on its 16 trails, day or night. The highest ski resort in Eastern North America, base elevation is 4,675 feet, while the peak elevation reaches 5,506 feet, with an 830-foot vertical drop. With seven lifts, including a high-speed quad chair lift, you’ll be back at the top of the slopes ready for more in no time. However, after my experience at Sugar, I decided to forego the skis and see what else the resort had to offer.
For something different or while taking a break from the slopes, take a spin on the ice skating rink located in the middle of Beech Tree Village or peruse through the village’s gift and clothing shops. If you’ve worked up an appetite or simply need to refuel, stop by one of the resort’s four dining destinations for a snack or a meal.
As you can see, there’s no need to head out west or up north for a great winter vacation. So the next time you’re planning a snow ski trip, think outside the norm and consider snow skiing in North Carolina’s high country.
Disclosure: Karon Warren visited these ski resorts as a guest of High Country Host.