Dashing Through the Snow

BY Anna Oakes


In the High Country of North Carolina home to Boone Blowing Rock Banner Elk and Beech Mountain mountains reach some of the highest elevations east of the Mississippi. Beech Mountain Eastern Americas Highest Town is blanketed by an average snowfall of 84.6 inches each winter.

Hitting the Slopes

Skiing remains the top winter sport in the High Country although snowboarding has quickly become a close second. Continually improving the industry that exploded in the North Carolina mountains in the 1960s and 70s area resorts frequently upgrade their snow-blowing and grooming equipment to create the best conditions possible.

Boasting powerful snow guns 50-year-old Appalachian Ski Mountain in Blowing Rock
can convert almost 49 million pounds of water to snow in a 24-hour period in prime
weather which is why it often has the deepest snow base in the area. It features
12 ski slopes: three easy six more difficult and three most difficult and all are lighted for night skiing.

Youll find the longest run in the High Country at Sugar Mountain Resort located on Highway 184 near Banner Elk in North Carolina. The resort has 20 slopes (15 at night) and seven chairlifts with the capacity to move 8 800 people per hour.

Anything you do on a weekend always try to do everything you can early says Sugar Mountain Resort marketing director Kim Jochl advising visitors to arrive at the mountain by 8 a.m. and to take the first lesson at 9 a.m. Eat lunch earlier than everyone
else and then enjoy more space on the slopes as most head to the lodge around midday. She adds Plan ahead and try to be ahead of the crowd.

Beech Mountain Resort with the highest summit of the local resorts at 5 506 feet is equipped with 16 slopes on 95 skiable acres and seven lifts carrying 9 300 skiers per hour. Beech also features four restaurants two sport shops and a wifi Internet connection which provides the option to post a photo or video directly from the slopes for everyone back home.

These days there are almost as many snowboarders on the slopes as skiers and all three resorts offer freestyle terrain parks with features like rails and boxes. Boarders and skiers aim to impress each other with their tricks and technical skills. Appalachian Ski Mountain is the top destination for freestyle terrain. Its App Terrain Park has more than 60 features.

Snowboarding especially appeals to beach residents. Jochl notes: Kids who are surfers they kind of relate to snowboarding.

All of the resorts have all of the equipment needed from skis and snowboards to goggles and bibs available for rent.

We specialize in helping people new to the sport learn in a fun supportive atmosphere says Appalachian Ski Mountains Drew Stanley. Most of the shops at resorts and local ski shops offer an extensive lineup of rental equipment and clothing so guests who may not even own a winter coat can get the gear they need from head to toe to have a great day on the slopes.


 If you prefer a lower center of gravity try snow tubing. Its an option at Sugar Mountain and the specialty at Hawksnest Resort in Seven Devils located between Boone and Banner Elk. Hawksnest is a 20-lane snow tubing park with two conveyor lifts to pull tubers back to the top. While there enjoy an exhilarating ride down Hawksnests zipline course.

Ice skating rinks are located at Beech Sugar and Appalachian as well.

If you tube or ice skate night sessions are the best Jochl notes. So get your skiing in early in the morning.

Or go for a traditional sledding run. If theres snow on the ground check out the locals favorite sledding hill at Moses Cone Park in Blowing Rock. Travel about one mile south from downtown Blowing Rock on U.S. 221 and the hill is located at the highways junction with the Blue Ridge Parkway and Shulls Mill Road. Park by the hill along an access road to the Parkways district office and maintenance facility.

In Beech Mountain the town offers a free sledding hill for kids with snowmaking all winter.

As soon as we get it open itll stay open pretty much through March says Amy Morrison Beech Mountain tourism development authority coordinator. It is free but you can purchase or rent a sled up here if you dont already have one she says. 


Theres no end to the fun activities a mountain winter provides. Hit the trails with ease in a pair of snowshoes available for rent from the Beech Mountain Parks and Recreation Department for use on 30 miles of town-maintained trails. Sugar Mountain Resort offers rentals and one-hour snowshoe guided tours.

Glide across the trails in a pair of cross-country skis. Area outfitters offer equipment rentals and lessons and Moses Cone Park near Blowing Rock is the perfect cross-country skiing destination.

If theres no snow or even light snow on the ground consider a good old-fashioned hike through the woods. Dress in layers wear sturdy boots and hit the Blue Ridge Parkway for numerous trailheads leading to amazing views of the wintry mountain landscape.

Plan your Weekend Vacation in the Winter Wonderland of the South

Snow came early to the mountains this year and Sugar Mountain opened for
skiing on October 31 the earliest opening in its 43-year history.

 The best chance for the big snowstorms will arrive during the middle to latter part of the season including January and February writes meteorologist Meghan Evans of AccuWeather.

Of course you dont have to wait for the natural stuff to strap on skis. If its cold the snow will be waiting for you in the North Carolina High Country.

To avoid long lift lines and crowded slopes be aware that the Christmas New Years Martin Luther King Jr. and Presidents Day weekends are generally the biggest ski weekends of the year.

Escape to North Carolinas High Country for an Active Weekend Getaway

Contact local resources for information about outfitters and lodging from hotels to cabins to the upscale spa at Westglow Resort. Ski resorts offer a number of lodging packages too. The High Country offers a variety of casual and fine dining restaurants including three 2012 Best Dish in North Carolina winners. And on rainy days tourism experts can steer you toward shopping art museums history and more.

You can always call ahead and check the conditions of the roads Morrison says. They do keep the roads very clear all the way to the ski resorts.


High Country Press 

www.hcpress.com   (828)-264-2262


High Country Host

www.HighCountryHost.com   (828) 264-1299


Watauga County TDA

www.ExploreBooneArea.com   (828) 266-1345


Blowing Rock TDA

www.BlowingRock.com   (877) 750-INFO


Beech Mountain TDA

www.BeechMtn.com   (800) 468-5506


Winter Events in the High Country

Plan your weekend getaway to the mountains in conjunction with one of the High Countrys special events.


Dec. 7 to 9


Sugar Mountain Resort hosts a weekend of equipment demonstrations ski clinics a rail jam live music and lodging specials.


Dec. 31

New Years Eve

Area ski resorts host late-night skiing and special events including fireworks parades dinners and more.


Jan. 5 to 6


Beech Mountain celebrates the season of snow with a cardboard box derby bathing beauty ski contest and other activities.


Jan. 22

An Evening with Maya Angelou

Hailed as one of the great voices of contemporary black literature Maya Angelou speaks at Appalachian State Universitys Holmes Convocation Center in Boone.


Jan. 24 to 27


Dont hibernate celebrate! at the 15th annual Winterfest celebration in Blowing Rock featuring a polar plunge chili contest ice carving competition concerts game show kids activities and much more.