North Carolina offers some of the best skiing on the East Coast
Planning a family adventure on the ski slopes or a romantic getaway that includes winter sports and time by a roaring fire doesn’t mean you have to head to the Rockies. The ski resorts of North Carolina offer high adventure, beginner fun and activities to suit every need—and it’s all just a few hours’ drive away.
“A lot of folks don’t realize that North Carolina has the highest mountains in the East,” Margo Metzger, public relations manager for the North Carolina Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development, says. “There are a lot of good reasons to come to North Carolina for skiing, especially for families. It’s a great place to learn how to ski.”
Metzger says she learned to ski at the Ski School at Appalachian Ski Mountain in Blowing Rock.
“They are known for helping kids learn the ropes—or the tow ropes, as it may be,” she says. “We do have the highest mountains, but that doesn’t mean every slope is a sheer cliff.”
But thrill seekers aren’t left out in the cold.
“There are definitely some challenging mountains to ski,” Metzger says.
In fact, North Carolina boasts trails that range from sublime, flat excursions to heart-pounding Black Diamond runs. And if skiing isn’t your thing, you can find almost every other kind of winter sport available.
Metzger says tubing at Hawksnest Snow Tubing Resort is great for groups.
“It is incredibly fun,” she says. “They’ve got different runs. You can make a train with your friends. It’s winter activities leisure style. Tubing is like going skiing without being sore the next day.”
At Beech Mountain Resort, manager Ryan Costin says first-time visitors often become regulars.
“Beech Mountain Resort is the highest ski resort on the East Coast,” he says. “Our peak elevation is 5,506 feet.”
The resort features 15 trails and seven lifts and includes skiing, snowboarding, ice skating and a ski school that caters to all skill levels and ages.
“We have a high speed quad lift, so on any given date you can get from bottom to top in a little over three minutes,” Costin says.
For ski resorts, weather is everything, but those in North Carolina—where winters can range from mild to very snowy—give nature a helping hand.
“We have 100 percent snow making all over the mountain,” Costin says. “We also have 100 percent lit night skiing. This area averages 85 inches per year of natural snow.”
In recent years, Costin says natural snow has ranged from 40–140 inches per year, in a season that generally begins around Thanksgiving and continues through March.
Costin says the atmosphere draws visitors back year after year.
“My family has been here for a long time as operators,” he says. “We’ve seen a lot of the same church groups and a lot of the same people come through.”
For younger visitors, the Town of Beech Mountain offers a free sledding hill for ages 12 and younger. The scene is always popular and is made complete with a mixture of manmade and natural snow.
“You have a groomed place to ride your sled,” Metzger says.
Kim Jochl, director of marketing for Sugar Mountain, says she was probably like most people who think skiing requires a trek to a distant locale. Jochl is originally from New England.
“I asked if they had snow and mountains in North Carolina,” she says. “I’m a perfect example of the shock.”
But Jochl, like many first-time visitors, found that the area offered far more than she expected. Sugar Mountain boasts 115 skiable acres.
“Twenty percent of our terrain is expert,” she says. “We’ve got a terrific beginner area as well.”
The remainder of Sugar Mountain’s ski area is split between beginner and intermediate slopes.
“Our beginners are satisfied and happy that they came to Sugar to learn to ski,” she says. “It’s not just the snow or the terrain. It’s also the service you receive from the instructor or the ski patrol.
The whole experience has a beginner loving it and realizing it’s a terrific sport.”
Sugar Mountain features the Sugar Bear Ski School and the Polar Bear Snowboard School, in addition to ice skating and tubing. Jochl says, like the rest of North Carolina’s ski resort areas, nearby accommodations offer something for everyone.
“There are a lot of slope-side accommodations—all kinds of variety for couples or families,” she says. “It’s for everybody.”
Beach residents who long for a taste of winter have banded together to share fun on the slopes.
The Coastal Ski and Outing Club travels regularly for ski trips and continues to meet socially during the warmer months. The group plans a February trip to Beech and Sugar mountains.
“We’ve been in existence since the early ’80s,” club president Faith Campbell says. “It started strictly as a skiing club.”
The group travels out West and to other locations, but North Carolina skiing has become a favorite.
“The North Carolina Mountains aren’t the biggest, but they are the closest,” Campbell says. “You have to be flexible so you can go at the last minute (when conditions are optimal). It’s fun.”
Find your trail
• Learn about resorts and accommodations at www.visitnc.com.
• For resort details, winter sports availability, snow reports and discount offers, contact the North Carolina Ski Areas Association at www.goskinc.com.
• For information about the Coastal Ski and Outing Club, visit www.coastalskiclub.com.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY AMY MORRISON, BILL RUSS OF VISITNC.COM AND COURTESY OF HAWKSNEST