Recent and upcoming improvements at nearby slopes illustrate why regulars keep returning and newbies keep enlisting.
Sugar Mountain Resort: A snowmaking expansion and major new ski slope debuted last year at Sugar – Gunther’s Way. That sprawling advanced slope was such a hit the resort is reconfiguring its entire lift system. An ultramodern, six-passenger Dopplemayr high-speed Summit Express chairlift will replace two existing double chairlifts to the top, expanding capacity and chopping ride time to five minutes. One of those former summit lifts will still reach the peak – but it’ll launch from the bottom of Gunther’s Way, making it easy to yo-yo the upper mountain. The other former summit chair will be shortened, giving skiers a third lift serving easier terrain at the bottom of the mountain. Details: www.skisugar.com.
Beech Mountain Resort: With new tower-mounted snowguns sprouting like weeds, Beech has amped up the speed and coverage of its snowmaking system. This year’s additions will find more than 60 SMI PoleCat snowmakers lining the slopes. Three of the resort’s lifts just got makeovers, including the high-speed summit quad and its top terminal. Monday through Thursday, Beech is offering a free beginner lesson with each ski rental. The ski area’s new “sky bar” (named 5,506’) and its summit-view deck, have been a real hit. This year, the Beech Tree Bar and Grille gets a total refresh. Best of all is the return of a long-closed, legendary name in North Carolina ski country nightlife – The Red Baron Room. Details: www.beechmountainresort.com.
Cataloochee: A new intermediate slope Richard’s Run debuted last year bringing the slope total to 18. Over the last decade, Cataloochee has invested heavily in expanding and automating snowmaking and it’s increasingly one of the South’s first ski areas to open. A special program this winter offers five lift tickets, five ski rentals, and five lessons for $299 – and when you’re done, you get a new pair of skis and bindings. Details: www.cataloochee.com.
Wolf Ridge: The resort’s upper lodge is expected to be rebuilt and adjacent slopes and lifts reopened for 2015-16. The focus this year is on the biggest part of the mountain, still accessible from the main base lodge, where a new ski/snowboard teaching area has been built with a conveyor lift. There’s also new parking for 100 cars. Details: www.skiwolfridgenc.com.
The Omni Homestead: This year, Homestead offers discounted lift tickets and rentals if purchased in advance online. The Homestead was just named one of the Top 100 Spas in America by Spas of America. Details: www.thehomestead.com.
Massanutten Resort: The Shenandoah Valley resort debuts a new 13,000 square foot slopeside ski school building. The base lodge cafeteria gets seating upgrades and a new 5,000 square foot deck and umbrella bar beside the slopes. The resort’s tubing park expands to 16 lanes and adds a second conveyor lift. Details: www.massresort.com.
Wintergreen: Virginia’s biggest ski area continues to refine its snowmaking system, one of the most high-tech in the South. Details: www.wintergreenresort.com
Canaan Valley resort cluster: At Canaan Valley State Park, a $30 million investment turned once-antiquated lodging and dining buildings into a four-story hotel with an atrium-style lobby and all-new eateries. The state park’s ski area (www.canaanresort.com) has greatly expanded snowmaking and a new tubing facility. Nearby Timberline resort (www.canaanresort.com), with 1,000 feet of vertical and a shared ticket program with the state park ski area, is known for its expert terrain, including two double black diamonds and four “gladed” runs where you ski among the trees. To bring that backcountry ski experience to intermediate skiers, four new easier glades debut this season. Close by, rustic Blackwater Falls State Park has improved its own tubing facility.
Snowshoe: The region’s biggest ski resort (251 acres of slopes) is focusing on energy efficiency this year. That should enhance snowmaking and permit more terrain to open sooner and simultaneously. A new terrain park will also open and skiers with electric cars will find charging stations. Details: www.snowshoemtn.com.