There’s snow in them thar hills: Time to slap on the boards, take to the slopes and mogul off the extra pounds the holiday season always seems to bring.

Snow for All and All for Snow
By Chris McBeath

For a quick getaway to the slopes, North Carolina offers numerous options – all within an easy drive from Atlanta. Granted, mountain snobs may want to head further north to the alpine resorts of Vermont or West Virginia, but for value, convenience and family fun, you can’t beat the slopes closer to home. And we’re not just talking about skiing or snowboards. Snow tubes are flying down the slopes in ever increasing numbers, and have become so popular that many mountains have set aside ‘tubing only’ hills.

Within a three to four hour drive

Sapphire Valley Ski Area (tel: 828/743-1169; www.skisapphire.com) is a expansive, four season resort nestled in Blue Ridge Mountains. With an average elevation of 4,300 ft, it offers quality skiing for all skill levels as well as a new multi-laned tubing area. For après ski activities, be sure to check in on the recreation center with its indoor pool, hot tubs, saunas, fitness center, mini golf and more.

One of the nicest things about Cataloochee Ski Area, Maggie Valley (tel: 800/768-0285; www.cataloochee.com) is that the bunny slope has its own chairlift, and runs have been carefully laid out for skiers to try progressively harder routes, including slow ski areas for when the going gets real tough. Special areas have been set aside for experienced snowboarders, too, and tubers get their own Tube World featuring five runs and a moving carpet chairlift.

The family-oriented Wolf Laurel Ski Resort (tel: 800/817-4111; www.skiwolflaurel.com) is one of the fastest growing ski destinations in the state. Its double and quad chairlifts take skiers and snowboarders to 12 trails that cover the gambit from novice to really challenging runs. The resort has totally redesigned its tube park, complete with a ‘magic carpet’ lift and a feature run called Tube the Wolf.

Worth driving the extra 100+ miles:

At 5,506 feet above sea level, Ski Beech Resort (tel: 800/ 438-2093; www.skibeech.com) is the highest resort in the eastern United States. Open since 1967, it’s also one of the longest operating destinations, and was the first to open a tube run a few years back. With 15 slopes and 9 lifts, you can ski, snowboard and ice skate, day or night and for après ski activities, the small alpine village bustles with shops and restaurants.

Appalachian Ski Mountain (tel: 800-322-2373; www.appskimtn.com) has been a ski institution for some 40 years, and is home to the French-Swiss Ski College, one of the best known ski schools in the South East. Their SkiWee program will get 4-10 year olds ski-savvy in a jiffy. While nine slopes and five trails accommodate skiers and snowboarders of all levels, non-skiers can enjoy a fully-lighted ice skating arena with vistas that overlook the slopes, lodge and Blue Ridge Mountains.

Sugar Mountain Ski Resort (tel: 800/SUGARMT; www.skisugar.com) is the largest ski area in North Carolina boasting 20 trails and 8 lifts spread out over 115 acres. Skiers, beginner to advanced, seem to rave about this mountain which also caters to snowboards, tubers and – wait for it – snowshoers! Check out the mid week stay-over packages for savings of up to 40% on lodging and lift tickets.

Hawksnest Ski Resort, Seven Devils, (tel: 800/822-4295; www.hawksnest-resort.com) has varied and exciting runs for all levels of skiers and snowboarders. In fact, Hawksnest was among the first resorts to welcome snowboarders and has since developed the biggest terrain park in North Carolina. Tubers, too, can expect some exceptional rides with eight lanes, each 1,000 ft long, and a ski carpet ride back to the top that’s reported to be the longest one in the United States!


TUBING ONLY
A two-hour drive will find you at Scaly Mountain (tel: 828/527-3737; www.scalymountain.com). Open only for snow tubing, Friday through Sunday, and holidays, this is one of the most fun ways to spend an afternoon whether you have kids or not. Two-hour sessions are $20.70 (inc. taxes) and include your snow-tube.


A SMOKIES WILDCARD

Our mountain round up wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Ober Gatlinburg, TN (tel: 865/436-5423; www.skiobergatlinburg.com). Located about 200 miles east of Atlanta, this picturesque community features America’s largest aerial tramway. It departs regularly from downtown directly up to the resort and amusement park where you’ll find a myriad of activities to enjoy from skiing to a dry-track simulated bob-sled ride and year-round skating on a vast 140’ x 75’ ice arena.



MYTH BUSTERS

Myth: Skiing is hard to learn
Over the last decade, equipment has evolved and the flexible, shapely skis of today are a far cry from their multiple feet long, unyielding origins. With the right gear, any willing wannabe can learn to ski quickly and with confidence.

Myth: Mountain tops are barren
Snow-drift views from a mountain top are pretty awesome; from a chair lift they’re drop dead gorgeous and when you’re a part of that view, winding your way down the snowy slopes, they’ll take your breath away.

Myth: Skiing is expensive
Skiing and snowboarding have gained such popularity, that there are just as many pampering resorts with all the frou frou frills as there are mountains that just dish up the basics. Whatever your affordability factor, there’s a slope to fit your preference.

Myth: Skiers freeze
Apparel manufacturers like The North Face and Patagonia are constantly re-inventing clothes for the great outdoors. High tech fabrics such as Gore-Tex will keep you warm and dry all day. They even come in designs to satisfy the most demanding fashionista.

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