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Enjoy a Snow Day!

 
A ski outing in the early 1900s

 

Cold winter days don't mean you have to stay inside. There’s a whole new world dressed in glistening white to discover. There are winter activities for you to enjoy no matter your activity level or expertise. If you can walk, there’s something for you. So, head over to your closet and pull out those layers; we’re going to make a plan to make snow days the best days! But, you better hurry, there’re only about four or five more weeks to enjoy a good “snow day.” Read on for ways to enjoy a winter wonderland.

First, let’s get this straight. Natural snowfall is not necessary for winter sports resorts to have excellent conditions. Truly, all they need is a little cold weather, and the hills will be covered with blankets of white. Here’s how it works… Cold temperatures are needed, definitely, and low humidity makes snowmaking more efficient. The optimal snowmaking temperature is 28 degrees or below. To create snow, compressed air is mixed with water and shot through snow gun/snow cannons into the air. When the water droplets hit the air, they crystallize and fall to the ground as snow. Manmade snow will be a little more durable than natural snow, so it holds up better when warmer temperatures make their way into the mountains. Because these manmade “flakes” are more like balls, they contain less air making them melt more slowly.

The winter resorts also have lots of machinery to maintain the condition of the snow. Groomers lay down a fresh surface of corduroy – that’s what the snow looks like when it’s groomed – before the morning and evening sessions. The grooming machines help churn up icy patches and move snow around to create a better skiing or boarding experience. Skiing would not be possible in the South without the help of snowmaking and grooming/snow maintenance equipment. Now, on to the “funner” stuff.

Downhill Skiing and Snowboarding
Downhill Skiing at Sugar MountainThere are six winter sports resorts in North Carolina and one in Tennessee. All offer terrain that is friendly for both the beginner and advanced skiers and snowboarders, and some have other activities, like tubing and ice skating.

If you are a first-time skier or boarder, the MOST important part of your time at the slopes is your lesson. According to Jim Cottrell, who is the founder of French-Swiss Ski College at Appalachian Ski Mountain, one of the top reasons people don’t come back to ski (or snowboard) again is because they didn’t learn how to do it right the first time. It’s important to learn all about pizza and French fries, two techniques for positioning your skis. Jim says that if you take three lessons, you are a snow sport participant for life. So, we highly recommend taking a lesson if it’s your first time— OR if it’s been a long time since you’ve been on the slopes. ** Photo courtesy of Sugar Mountain and Explore Boone

Don’t worry if you want to try either of these two winter activities and don’t have all the equipment you need. All of these resorts have equipment and even ski bib and coat rentals.

North Carolina resorts include Appalachian Ski Mountain, Beech Mountain, Sugar Mountain, Sapphire Valley, Wolf Ridge, and Cataloochee. In Tennessee, check Ober Gatlinburg

You can check snow conditions for all the resorts in the Southeast HERE.

If you happen to be in the Boone area around St. Patrick’s Day, join in the celebration. There’s going to be a parade in Downtown Boone stepping off at 2 p.m. Then that evening, the Horn in the West Amphitheatre will host the 5th Annual Daniel Boone Rail Jam starting at 6 p.m. 

Ice Skating
Ice Skating at Beech MountainWe marvel at the grace and strength of Scott Hamilton, Dorothy Hamill, Viktor Petrenko, and Oksana Baiul. They probably didn’t start off doing triple toe loops and camel spins. They probably headed out to their local rink, rented a pair of skates, and ventured out on the ice. Again, don’t worry about having your own equipment; you can rent skates at Appalachian Ski Mountain, Beech Mountain, Sugar Mountain, and Ober Gatlinburg. Don’t get discouraged – it takes a little time to get used to balancing on a thin piece of metal. Concentrate on keeping your weight over your skates – not too far forward or too far back (I can tell you what happens when either of these take place). Remember, you’re skating, not walking, so once you have your balance, push off with one foot and glide. You’ll get the hang of it!  ** Photo courtesy of Beech Mountain

Tubing
Snowtubing at HawksnestNot everybody grows up with a big hill in the backyard and inner tubes at the ready. But this is definitely an activity that anyone can do. AND, maybe the best part with the way tubing is done now is once you get to the bottom of the hill, you don’t have to walk back up – just ride the magic carpet. It’s amazing! You’ll want to wear ski bibs, a jacket, and gloves, along with a pair of boots no matter where you tube. Again, don’t worry if you don’t own bibs and a jacket. Most places have rentals or there is ski clothing rental nearby.

You can tube at Sugar Mountain, Beech Mountain, Cataloochee, Wolf Ridge, Sapphire Valley, and Ober Gatlinburg, but the area with the most lanes and variety is Hawksnest, which has 30 lanes ranging in length from 400-1,000 feet. ** Photo courtesy of Explore Boone and Hawksnest

Snowshoeing
SnowshoeingIf you can walk, you can snowshoe. Snowshoes help distribute a person’s weight across a larger area to allow him to float on top of the snow instead of sinking into it. Scientists believe that they were first developed in Asia, but they didn’t become well-known until Europeans encountered the Huron and Cree tribes who used them to get around in the heavy snows in Canada. Originally made of wood and rawhide lacing, today’s snowshoes are constructed of lightweight metal and synthetic fabrics.

A tool of the trade for trappers and still in the arsenal for park rangers, snowshoeing is a relatively inexpensive form of wintertime outdoor recreation. Simply strap on your snowshoes to any hiking boot (it might be good if they are waterproof) and head on out. Sugar Mountain offers 1-hour guided snowshoe expeditions with rentals at the mountain. The expeditions can be anything you want – a leisurely walk or a high-intensity workout. You can also check out snowshoes from the Buckeye Recreation Center on Beech Mountain. They can be used on over 30 miles of trails across the mountain.

If you happen to have your own snowshoes and there’s been a significant snowfall, the trails along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and even the roadbed when it’s closed, are excellent places to go out for an expedition. Remember to dress in layers – when you’re out for a while. You will work up a bit of a sweat.

Cross Country Skiing
Cross Country SkiingThis recreational endeavor is solely dependent upon natural snowfall – and it has to be a significant one because you need at least seven inches to make it worth your while to head out. Here’s something that’s important to know – and is based upon personal experience – it is possible to fall on flat ground while on your cross country skis, even while standing still. Cross country skiing is quite the workout – there are no chairlifts to get you up the hills. It is also a zen-like experience, with nothing but you, the sounds of nature, and the swooshing of the snow under your skis. 

If you decide to try it, there are a few places that are great to learn and get your skis under you. The carriage trails at Moses Cone Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway is one place. There are some that are relatively flat with gentle rises and falls. When the gates are up, you can also ski on the Parkway roadbed. Sometimes, when there’s enough snow, the Valle Crucis Park is a good location. The grandest location of all is Roan Mountain State Park. At an elevation of over 6,000 feet at High Bluff, you might have lots more snow than in Boone or Blowing Rock. 

There is also High Country Ski Rentals (828-733-2008) in Pineola that offers cross country ski rentals. You might want to call first before heading over that way. Here’s are two videos by Randy Johnson, a local outdoor enthusiast, who shares some pointers on getting started cross country skiing and his trip to Roan Mountain.   

One note for cross country skiing courtesy: if you see that someone has made first tracks, please do not walk in them. They’ll use them to return. Cutting first tracks is a lot of work-- you’ll see how much you appreciate that lucky person that opened the trail. 

Paddling
It doesn’t snow everywhere (sadly), and some of our warmer store communities have wonderful places to explore in the cooler months. One place near Columbia is the Congaree National Park. It’s South Carolina’s only national park and is the largest intact expanse of old-growth hardwood forest in the southeastern United States. March, April, and May are good times to head out on a kayak or canoe tour hike because of the pleasant temperatures, lack of insects, and not so many snakes out and about. If you come earlier than March, you will need to be prepared. As with other locations, the weather can change quickly, which also includes a chance of flooding. Visit the Park’s WEBSITE to learn more and to plan your trip.

So, for the rest of the winter, that’s just a few short weeks, don’t hibernate. Winter is great! Pull on your wool socks, bundle up in your long johns and layers, and discover a whole new world.