The N.C. High Country (www.exploreboonearea.com) ain’t Colorado. The good news: It is a nationally noteworthy, high-quality cluster of three ski areas where cutting-edge snow making amplifies the snowy climate. The best news? These slopes are so close, it’s easy to have a satisfying ski escape in North Carolina.
Secret No. 1: Watch the local weather (www.booneweather.com). Look for a stretch of cold snow-making weather and/or snowstorm(s). No. 2: Just do it. Plan ahead – take some vacation days and ski midweek. You’ll have awesome conditions almost to yourself and likely ski right up to the chairlift. You won’t regret it.
Timing is everything for skiing. Boone-area slopes blast the snow, aim to open by Thanksgiving, and often have all slopes open by mid-December. From the start of the season until Christmas, there is no better experience than heading up to ski on nearly empty slopes. Same thing in spring. The deepest snow of the season is on the hill. Add a big snow or cold stretch – and you have January fun in March. Best of all, early and late season rates are low.
You will be seeing cool, carrot-topped Olympic snowboarder Shaun White again this winter – and if your kids want to emulate him, head to Appalachian Ski Mountain (www.appskimtn.com). All slopes near Boone have snowboarding terrain parks with fun features, but Appalachian, which was the last local slope to permit the sport, is a hotspot now. The resort’s three terrain parks have up 60 features to slide down or jump over, and include a Burton Snowboard-sanctioned Learn to Ride Center, the Burton Freestyle Center, and the only Burton Progression Park south of West Virginia. That gives beginners step-by-step ways to improve their skills in a safe setting so your child can go from wannabe to winging it. The French-Swiss Ski College teaches ski and snowboard lessons – a classic Southern ski school that brought Olympic ski champion Jean-Claude Killy to Boone in 1972. Appalachian has great snow gun saturation for deeeep snow, and the atmosphere is family all the way.
Some of the High Country’s best views are visible from Beech Mountain Resort (www.beechmountainresort.com) and Sugar Mountain Resort (www.skisugar.com) – which few summer visitors see. Both top out more than a mile-high, so take your camera. From both resorts, the three-state view includes the two highest mountains in Virginia, Mount Rogers and White Top. From Sugar Mountain, the state’s biggest ski area, choose intermediate or expert runs from the top and there is no better view of craggy, snow-blasted Grandfather Mountain. At Beech, the East’s highest ski area, take the Oz Run and you’re skiing directly toward Roan Mountain with vistas of meadow-covered summits and the Appalachian Trail.
Get snowed in
Appalachian, Beech and Sugar all have on-mountain lodging. Depending on the resort, you can ski right from the door of your guest room, condo or rental home, be close to the base lodge, or snuggled in the snowiest summit condo. Or seclude yourself off in the wintry woods cocoon away from the ski season bustle. Save a bunch of bucks by cooking in the condo.
Great off-slope options
Each High Country slope offers things to do that don’t involve skiing. At Beech, don’t miss strolling through the alpine-style resort village where you can ice skate on an outdoor rink. Park at town hall near Fred’s General Mercantile.