Western Carolina resort located just hours away
By CANDY WAYLOCK
I’m a Southern transplant – by way of Colorado and Montana – so the idea of Southern ski slopes has held little allure. Until now.
Faced with an unusually long school break and the prospect of three bored kids, my husband and I decided a quick ski trip was the ticket to our sanity. We knew of the triumvirate of “Beech, Sugar and Wolf” ski resorts in North Carolina, but with only two days to spare, we looked for something a bit closer to home.
We found it at Cataloochee Ski Area in Western North Carolina, which was literally three hours, door to slope, from our Alpharetta home to its Maggie Valley location. Even better was the package deal of “Drive, Slide and Stay,” which included two nights’ lodging, lift tickets, equipment rental and even help with gas.
You can choose from several local lodging partners with rates starting at about $135 per person at a no-frills hotel and go up to $290 per person at the Cataloochee Ranch – the only accommodations adjacent to the ski area.
We picked a three-bedroom condo at the Maggie Valley Club and Resort ($190 per person) which was a quick 10-15 minute drive from Cataloochee, and provided the perfect après ski comfort.
Arriving on a Wednesday night, I was a bit dismayed to see heavy fog had settled on the mountain, so my first view of the ski resort was about the length of my arm. I was even more concerned when a worker mentioned fog was normal at that elevation (about one mile up) and I started missing my Colorado slopes even more.
But the next day was bright, and despite the still lingering fog, revealed a very nice ski area with slopes geared to the beginning or novice skier. Equipment rental and tickets were a breeze, staff was extremely helpful and we took advantage of the free ski lessons to get the kids acclimated to the slopes.
Cataloochee has been in operation for about 50 years and advertises 16 slopes ranging from green to black, with four chair lifts.
Although my husband and I are experienced skiers, my three kids (16, 13 and 11) had never been on skis. But after about an hour in the group lessons, we were ready for the hills. The “green slope” was a quick lift line up to the top, and off we went.
Unloading off the lifts is interesting, and the short descent, followed by a quick turn proved to be a challenge for new skiers (including the Waylock kids). It became a comedy routine to watch the pile of skiers at the bottom of the off ramp – and the green lift line stops routinely to untangle the pile of skis, poles and people.
Cataloochee has been in operation for about 50 years and advertises 16 slopes ranging from green to black, with four chair lifts. The snow is man-made, blown at night and into the morning, and I found it as similar to real snow as I’ve seen for “fake.” The colder temperatures on our second day kept the snow more powdery, but the best skiing was definitely in the morning hours when it was fresh.
I’m an old-school skier, so the addition of snowboarders on the slopes is a begrudging change. While most boarders are respectable, I wish the slopes could be divided between skiers and snow boarders (an impossible wish!). The boards scrape so much snow off the hill, that by mid afternoon, some areas were impassable as the snow had been scraped clean off the bumps, revealing an icy under belly.
The bottom line is Cataloochee is the ideal spot for the new or inexperienced skier. The runs are relatively short, wide and forgiving so I had no problem letting the kids ski out of my sight toward the end of the first day. While I didn’t trust my legs and stuck to the blue runs, my husband took several runs on the black slopes and deemed them challenging.
For the experienced skier, it’s all about managing expectations. Cataloochee does not compare itself to the top-tier ski slopes, focusing instead on a friendly atmosphere, beautiful views and adequate slopes. In that regard, it completely lives up to its reputation as a great family getaway.
While we are planning a trip to Colorado next winter, we are ready to go back to Cataloochee at least one more time this season before it closes up in March.
For more information on Cataloochee Ski Area, visit cataloochee.com.