February 10, 2012
Why a guide to Northwest North Carolina's ski resort cluster that de-emphasizes skiing?
First of all, few weekend skiers can load more than a day of lift tickets and equipment rental onto the same credit card statement. At the same time, all the driving time and gas money for a weekend requires a two-day commitment to fun and excitement of some sort.
Secondly, it seems safe to say that the winter of 2011-12 in the Southeast is looking like it will go down as one of the warmest on record. Those whose plans take them into N.C. ski country when temperatures push 70 and there's nothing on the slopes but a slush 'n' mud combo, might want to find something to do other than sit in a motel room watching a Turner Classics.
The observation Blake Harrison made in a 1967 magazine article about the real lure of skiing sums up the third justification concisely: "Take a roomful of ... healthy glandular people.... Winch them into stretch clothes and pour a couple of drinks into them.... Barring extreme cases of frostbite or anoxia, what do you think they thinking about or liable to do?" There have been no significant changes in human behavior in the 55 years since that article was published. If you don’t ski, you don’t want to leave your soul mate alone with these temptations, so you need to find a way to tag along for the weekend.
Anyone headed into northwest North Carolina in the winter without first paying an attentive visit to the Rays Weather Center website might as well load up with long-term survival gear while they're feeling lucky. Trusty weathercasters on Piedmont TV affiliates aren't allocated enough time to explain how a fast-moving front may make for just a little snippet of precipitation in the lowlands while considerable accumulation may occur just a few miles away.
While Ray's looks into the near future and immediate past of High Country weather are unrivaled, looks into the present can confirm your decision. Even those preparing to set out with a Hummer, supplied with ample muktuk and reassurances from the clerk at the High Country hotel will find it informative to take a look at some of these webcams before launching an expedition.
[Eskimo villagers with their muktuk]
Forget about relying on the webcams positioned right in the middle of the action at the ski resorts. Marketing, marketing, marketing: seems the ski resort webcams are pointed down the barrel of a snow gun so it looks like a gotta-buy-a-lift-ticket blizzard is in process. The most relevant views at what you're getting into are the downtown webcams in Boone, Banner Elk, and Blowing Rock.
If every pop of the refresh button on these webcams brings the same 17-foot drift about where the middle of the road used to be, you may want to reconsider your ski junket. Even if preparations have been thorough and the hotel room deposit is nonrefundable, webcam weather revelations may encourage you to at least toss a couple of bags of Doritos and a jar of salsa in with the muktuk. More importantly, you’ll be reminded to stop at what might be the last gas station you'll find open as you begin your ascent and encounter snow sticking to the road.
For those ascending into the High Country in a car with front-wheel drive but nothing extra-special, the webcam pointed at NC 105 near the Smoketree Lodge can be a provide valuable input for how bad it’s gonna get.
A check of the entertainment calendar in the area's free-at-many-convenience-stores weekly, the Mountain Times will lessen the chances that you sit watching reruns on a motel TV the same night a very cutting edge band is playing at a nightspot in Boone, Banner Elk or Blowing Rock.
Atop the options for the non-skier who has most of a day to kill is the Mast General Store in Valle Crucis. The Mast General Store empire has grown into an eight-store chain that got its start as a "homey retailer" and a reliable source for "traditional and outdoor clothing and gear." There are now stores in such Southeastern culture dishes as Asheville, N.C., Columbia, S.C. and Knoxville, Tenn.
The Mast merchandise selection will bring to mind L. L. Bean. The Valle Crucis flagship store also has Goo Goo Clusters and Chuckles as part of a 500-variety lineup of antique and contemporary candies for those too cheap to buy clothing or household accessories while they're vacationing.
For non-skier who love shopping, the main streets of both Blowing Rock and Boone have interesting antique and boutique shops. For the mall lovers, Shoppes on the Parkway has over 30 brand name outlet stores.
Non-skiers may want to bring along clothing and shoes for an invigorating day hike—especially if the temperatures soar on Day One. Usually, the better the weather for hiking the more disastrous it is for skiing. The Price Lake Trail and the carriage roads at Moses Cone Park would be atop any studied list of winter-friendly day hikes in the area.
[View from one of the Cone Estate trails]
The area also has one of the heaviest concentrations south of the Rust Belt for the outdoor activity that's truly used to combat cabin fever in the northerly parts of the nation: ice skating. Non-skiers may find that a commitment to do a little ice skating just might put them at the very same lodge, come cocktail hour, that the beloved will soon charge into all full of appetites for additional thrills that need to be redirected.
The three ski resort skating rinks seem to all have what it takes for a fun afternoon, but all three also seem to have a thing or two the others don't that should be weighed into rink selection.The rink at Appalachian Ski Mountain's claim to fame is "North Carolina's only Zamboni-maintained ice rink," which may indicate there's a certified Zamboni driver available for photos at some sessions.
[snow machines at work on Beech Mountain]
Sugar Mountain Resort must have the largest (why else would they tout "10,000 square foot" rink on the Web page exactly where Appalachian trumpets its Zamboni?). They also have a 10 a.m. eye-opener session every day of the week.
Non-skiers may also want to consider a recent arrival on the winter sport scene: snow tubing at Hawksnest Resort but be forewarned that the website might indicate: “Due to continued rain and high winds, we will be closed for snow tubing today.”
Sugar Mountain Resort also offers snow tubing, but at a slightly higher elevation.
[Tubing at Sugar Mountain Resort]
Since the non-skier doesn’t have the expenses of ski lift tickets and equipment rental, it might be time to spend that “saved” money on personal pampering. The High Country has some first-rate spa facilities:
At the end of the day’s activities, if you’re looking for a place to eat, check out the “Resources” section of this website.