By Blake Guthrie
Out west, the mountains may be higher and the resorts bigger, but the Southeast offers some worthwhile ski areas of its own. Best of all, you don’t have to endure a checkpoint at the airport to get to any of these places from Atlanta. Just hop in the car in the morning and you can catch the last few lifts up the mountain by the end of the day.
If you’ve never skied east of the Mississippi before, don’t be alarmed by those noisy things that look and sound like monster oscillating fans spewing white powder from the sides of the slopes. They are making artificial snow when the natural snow doesn’t show. It’s common around these parts and those snow-making machines can actually churn out some good powder when the temps fall a few degrees below freezing.
The lower elevations in the east make for shorter ski seasons and less snow, it’s true, but the lift tickets are cheaper and the runs closer to home. So head north on the highway this season and you’ll find that the spirit of winter is just as alive in the Appalachians as it is in the Rockies.
- Cataloochee Ski Area, N.C.
One of the first ski resorts to open in the Appalachian mountains, both in history and each season, Cataloochee in Maggie Valley has been a local favorite for generations. It’s one of the highest resorts in the region, so natural snow sticks around longer here. Cataloochee also has lights for night skiing on many of its slopes. They generally open in late October or early November, as weather conditions allow. www.cataloochee.com
Eat: Arf's Restaurant. Creekside setting with steaks and seafood. Entrees $8.95-$19.95. 4352 Soco Road, Maggie Valley. 828-926-1566, www.arfsrestaurant.com
Stay: Smokey Shadow Lodge. Historic lodge and cabins built out of stones and logs near Cataloochee. $75-$125. 323 Smokey Shadows Lane, Maggie Valley. 828-926-0001, www.smokeyshadows.com
Info: Haywood County Tourism Development Authority. 800-334-9036, www.smokeymountains.net
- Ober Gatlinburg, Tenn.
This is the only ski resort in Tennessee and one of the closest to Atlanta. The ski area is accessible by car, but part of the fun is taking the aerial tramway up to the resort from Gatlinburg. You can walk from your downtown hotel and be on the slopes within the hour without getting in your car. Ski season usually starts in early to mid December and lasts through early March. www.obergatlinburg.com
Stay: Sydney James Mountain Lodge. Family-owned hotel beside a mountain stream in downtown Gatlinburg. $49-$149. 610 Historic Nature Trail, Gatlinburg. 800-876-6888, www.sidneyjames.com
Eat: Ober Gatlinburg Restaurant & Lounge. Steaks, pasta and seafood served in a cathedral-like building with a mountain view. Entrees $9.95-$17.95. 1001 Parkway, Gatlinburg. 865-436-5423, www.obergatlinburg.com/rest.htm
Info: Gatlinburg Department of Tourism. 800-343-1475, www.gatlinburg-tennessee.com
- Snowshoe Mountain, West Va.
Offering the most natural snowfall, skiable terrain and largest vertical drop in the region, Snowshoe Mountain is a bit farther north from Atlanta than the other areas mentioned here, but it’s the closest thing to a Rocky Mountain-sized ski resort to be found in the southeastern/mid-Atlantic states. And just like those fancy places out west, Snowshoe also has slopes on more than one mountain. Many lodging and dining options are available inside the resort. www.snowshoemtn.com
Stay: Chestnut Ridge Country Inn. A short drive to the resort and other top area attractions. $90-$130. Rt 1, Box 1C, Dunmore. 304-456-4280, www.chestnutridgecountryinn.com
Eat: Elk River Restaurant. Fine dining with a casual feel near Snowshoe. Entrees $15-$32. HC 69 Box 7 Highway 219, Slatyfork. 304-572-3771, www.elkriverinnandrestaurant.com
Info: Pocahontas County Convention & Visitors Bureau. 800-336-7009, www.pocahontas.org
- Sugar Mountain, N.C.
One of the larger and more popular ski areas in North Carolina, Sugar Mountain has 20 slopes for all skill levels. The resort also has a snow-tubing area, an ice skating rink and a snowboarding park. The peak of the mountain is a mile high, with a view that might stop you in your tracks to take it all in, before darting back down to the lift. Sugar Mountain has snow making ability for all of its slopes, a rare thing for a resort of its size. www.skisugar.com
Stay: The Azalea Inn. Closest Bed and Breakfast to Sugar Mountain. $99-$190. 149 Azalea Circle, Banner Elk. 828-898-8195, www.azalea-inn.com
Eat: Hearthstone Tavern & Grille. Traditional American cuisine with a Southern flair in a mountain lodge setting. Dinner entrees $18-$30. 3990 Highway 105 South, Banner Elk. 828-898-3461, www.hearthstonetavern.net
Info: Banner Elk Chamber of Commerce. 828-898-8395, www.bannerelk.org
- Wolf Ridge, N.C.
Close to Asheville and just off of I-26, Wolf Ridge is a newer resort in the region. The resort quickly made a name for itself with its easy accessibility and 82 acres of skiable terrain (with more promised for the 2010 season). Night skiing is available on all of Wolf Ridge’s slopes. The mountain contains The Lodge Grill for dining and the Scenic Wolf Resort for lodging. www.skiwolfridgenc.com
Stay: The Log Cabin Motor Court. Located 5 miles north from the center of downtown Asheville, the 1958 Robert Mitchum film Thunder Road had scenes filmed here. $65-$300. 330 Weaverville Highway, Weaverville. 828-645-6546, www.cabinlodging.com
Eat: El Dorado Grill. Authentic Latin cuisine in downtown Mars Hill, the closest town to Wolf Ridge. Entrees $8-$16. 14 S. Main St., Mars Hill. 828-689-9704, www.eldoradolatingrill.com
Info: Madison County Visitors Center. 877- 262-3476, www.visitmadisoncounty.com
– Provided by Demand Studios
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