Tracks of our years

Five decades of Southern skiing welcomes you this winter

Have you ever been able to experience a dream while awake? Have you ever been an active participant in a vision so grand and unimaginable in scope that its beginnings are that of legend?

If you have ever summited one of our High Country’s snow-capped winter ski slopes — or, rather, have a desire to do so this winter — then you are experiencing our ‘big dream’ … our dream of skiing in the South.

It’s a good dream — far from the nightmare that some out West would have imagined — and you’re invited.

It’s winter in the High Country, when our sleeping giants disrobe their Technicolor fall dreamcoats in exchange for cloud-white blankets of natural and manmade snow — a feat once thought impossible this far below the Mason-Dixon line. But not only have we debunked the skeptics, we have become a top national player, utilizing cutting-edge snowmaking equipment and methods, creating top-notch winter resort ambiance, offering myriad snowsport activities beyond the expected and pushing ourselves to improve every year.

Leading this charge of excellence are the four winter snowsports players of the High Country: Appalachian Ski Mountain, Beech Mountain Resort, Sugar Mountain Resort and Hawksnest.

To call these resorts ski slopes, however, is something of an understatement. Although Hawksnest features only snow-tubing and ziplines, Appalachian, Beech and Sugar boast a veritable snowcase of winter fun, including terrain parks, ice-skating rinks and more. Sugar even offers snowshoeing.

Here are some insider tips for making the most of your time on our mountains.

• First tracks — Hand in hand with the development of our local ski slopes some 50 years ago was the importance placed on snowmaking and grooming. Today, that tradition continues and is continually refined. Although snow grooming is a fulltime job, the result is most evident in the mornings when ski slopes first open. If you’ve ever wanted to carve fresh tracks through corduroy-groomed new snow, wake the family up early and try to catch the first lift chairs up the mountain — you’ll have the mountain all to yourself.

• Vistas — Sure, the High Country is full of locations to experience breathtaking vistas of all kinds, but most visitors miss some of the best views we have to offer. Only those who ski and snowboard know of the viewsheds available when disembarking the lifts at the top of Sugar and Beech, so get off the Blue Ridge Parkway, strap on some skis and discover our lesser-know overlooks.

• Stay hydrated — Most people understand the importance of staying hydrated during warm weather sports, but when we layer up with jackets, hoodies, scarves and hats, we tend to forget that we’re sweating and pushing our bodies aerobically. Remember to drink plenty of fluids and to eat well while enjoying a High Country ski vacation. Both Beech and Sugar feature extensive food and drink options, so you’ll never be far from a refuel.

• Layer up — The High Country is in the top 5 percent in the nation in terms of wind production, meaning it may feel a bit brisk when you first arrive at the mountain, not to mention when you disembark the chairlift at the top of the slope. Conversely, as you get into your day on the mountain, and begin exerting yourself, all those layers you threw on in the morning may not be needed. Dress in layers so you can adapt your gear to changing air and body temperatures.

• Helmets — If you wouldn’t get on a bicycle or on a motorcycle without a helmet, then the same thinking should hold for skiing or snowboarding — especially for youth. Part of the fun of skiing and snowboarding is also what makes the activities dangerous: shooting down a snow-covered mountain at high speeds. From beginners to experts, helmets are a smart idea — and they provide extra warmth, to boot!

• Know before you go — It’s smart to check slope and weather conditions online prior to your ski adventure. In addition to www.beechmountainresort.com and www.skisugar.com, an indispensible resource is www.goskinc.com, the official website of the North Carolina Ski Areas Association, which contains all the current information for all area ski slopes, including snow reports (which are updated in live time), resort locators, safety tips and snowmaking information.

• Don’t limit yourself — Most visitors come to our mountains to ski or snowboard, but that’s just the tip of our icebergs, if you will, in terms of snowsports’ offerings. After you’ve hit the slopes, why not gather the family for a snow-tubing adventure, a day (or night) out on the ice rink or a journey along one of the local trail systems in snowshoes? All are available locally, so start adding some options to your winter vacation.

• Beyond the border — The High Country isn’t like out West or up North where, once you leave the border of the ski slope, it’s no-man’s land. Here, in Avery and Watauga counties, the ski slopes are surrounded by unique eateries (from fine dining to fast and fresh), quaint bed and breakfasts, upscale vacation properties, venues for live music, arts and theater, sightseeing options galore, picturesque downtown areas, colorful locals and opportunities for the historical enthusiast — all within a few minutes drive.

Go play in the snow.

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Snow tubing can be a great activity for people new to snow sports.

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