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article imageSkiing in North Carolina style Special

By Elizabeth Parker     Jan 29, 2013 in Travel
North Carolina does not typically conjure up images of a white winter wonderland, but something many do not know about this destination, popular for its sandy Atlantic Beaches, wind surfing, and golf is it has a winter wonderland waiting to be enjoyed.
Atop the ranges of the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina's north western corner there is has a huge snowy winter wonderland available to play in.
North Carolina has the highest peak east of the Mississippi, the highest town, being the town of Beech Mountain at 5506' above sea level, and every mountain in the top 40 highest eastern peaks is in North Carolina. There is 7 ski hills that take advantage of the cold winters the elevation brings to make snow, supplementing the natural snow received which is 7 feet average snow fall per year at Beech Mountain.
A skier skis in a snow storm on Sugar Mountain  North Carolina
A skier skis in a snow storm on Sugar Mountain, North Carolina
You won't find the capital of powder snow any where in the North Carolina hills but you will arguably find some of the most dedicated skiers anywhere. They will ski in anything to get the chance to be on the snow with their boards strapped on playing in a winter wonderland. Sometimes skiers actually get to ski in a snow storm, as you can see in my photo above taken in December 2011 at Sugar Mountain, NC, but sunshine and above freezing temperatures is more typical of the North Carolina mid day conditions.
Crowds at Sugar Mountain  North Carolina showing the typical above freezing temperatures on the sign...
Crowds at Sugar Mountain, North Carolina showing the typical above freezing temperatures on the sign.
The weather channel shows the average daily temperature in January in Banner Elk, the coldest month, is 40F. Banner Elk is located between two of the largest ski hills in North Carolina, Sugar Mountain with 1200' vertical and 115 ski-able acres, and Beech Mountain with 830' vertical and 95 ski-able acres. You can see some snow fall stats, base and summit elevations, season length among other stats on the links.
Skiers come up from the warmth of the lowlands in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, picking up their weekend or daily rental package that often includes jackets and ski pants when they arrive. They have little need for heavy warm ski jackets in Atlanta, Georgia or Augusta, Georgia where the winter months have average day time temperatures of 52F to 70F. People make the 5+ hour drive up to the North Carolina mountains every weekend to enjoy the winter wonderland. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recommends three North Carolina resorts of five suggested for the people of Atlanta, GA and area to head to.
North Carolina skiers on the Lowing Flyer Mile run at Sugar Mountain ski resort  North Carolina.
North Carolina skiers on the Lowing Flyer Mile run at Sugar Mountain ski resort, North Carolina.
You may feel a little like you slipped back in time if you are familiar with today's standards in high speed lifts, up hill capacities at ski hills, high tech skis and safety equipment (like helmets) and the latest in ski wear combining fashion with high tech materials for warmth and water proofing. Here in North Carolina there is few helmets, one high speed quad lift in the state at Beech Mountain, several hatless heads, many wool coats, jeans and nylon pants to keep skiers warm and dry much like the resort wear common in the late 70's and early 80's when I started to ski.
A young man in a hot dog suit at Cataloochee Ski Resort in Maggie Valley  North Carolina
A young man in a hot dog suit at Cataloochee Ski Resort in Maggie Valley, North Carolina
Young skiers wear whatever can be found in their closet or their friends closets. Many rent a jacket and bib pants, typically available with their ski package for the day from places like the French Swiss Ski Rental shop. You can see in my photos there is no fashion show here, it's about playing in the snow, bringing the family, learning something new or challenging one self to better last week's time in the weekly recreational Nastar Race.
North Carolina has three resorts participating in the Nastar circuit with weekly races. This recreational race series is a big draw for amateur racers and public who just want to try to beat their times. Racers are given bronze, silver, gold and platinum pins if their times are good enough. It is definitely fun to go out and try to improve your finish.
Skiers can choose one of 6 or 7 North Carolina ski resorts in the Appalachian mountains to head to. Each holds its own special charm and people will argue the points of their personal favorite resort over lunch. The resorts range in vertical from 200' at Sapphire Mountain, great for beginners or young families, to the 1200' vertical at Sugar mentioned above. All the resorts have typical ski rentals available on site or at ski shops in near by towns where you can get your gear tuned or choose from a good selection of the latest gear when you are looking to purchase.
Weekend crowd at Beech Mountain  North Carolina
Weekend crowd at Beech Mountain, North Carolina
Line ups on weekends are definitely long, but if you are patient it can be a pleasant wait in the warm sunshine while your face gets a winter tan. Rarely is there bitter cold like many northern resorts. If you really can't take lines then definitely plan a midweek ski trip when the resorts are almost empty but for a few locals. Parking lots fill up early on weekends. If you are not early to the resort you park in remote lots and get shuttled to the hill with all your gear in ancient buses driven by friendly drivers.
Panoramic view of the Appalachian mountains from the top of Beech Mountain.
Panoramic view of the Appalachian mountains from the top of Beech Mountain.
Keep skiing in mind next time you head to the Carolina's for a golf vacation. If the weather isn't looking golf friendly or you just want to try something new, it's a great place to learn to ski or get in a few turns where you didn't think you could. Go skiing on Saturday and golf on Sunday. If you live in the south and thought you had to spend big money to fly for a ski trip, think again. Book a weekend in the snow nearby. The mountain scenery up the mountain and on the drive up and back is worth the trip all on its own.
Skiers standing at the top of Sugar Mountain  in North Carolina after a winter storm left snow and h...
Skiers standing at the top of Sugar Mountain, in North Carolina after a winter storm left snow and hoar frost coating trees for miles.
Watch for my coming articles this winter where I intend to review a few of the North Carolina resorts independently, complete with photos and details.
More about Skiing, North carolina, Ski resorts, Winter, Wonderland
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