Axis X – Offers a look at this past weekend

I arrived at Hawksnest at 12:30. The parking lots were already full and they were parking people on the golf course fairways. I kind of expect to have a long muddy hike when I arrive on a Saturday afternoon at the Hawk but this is the first time I parked on the course. Some idiot actually drove on one of the greens. Oh well, if management does not want cars on them they should have employees directing traffic and parking cars. As I made the long up hill trek to the lodge, the wind howled directly in my face and I was reminded of a couple of ridgeline hikes I’ve made out west. Thankfully if I was blown off the trail the fall would not have been to far. Although I guess falling onto the tubing run could have been certain death as well. I guess it was military day because I was asked if I was currently serving. I said, “no but I’m a veteran does that count?” To this particular ticket girl it did so thanks. The crowds on the double chair were not nearly as bad as the packed parking lot would have suggested. Many people were there for tubing. The most I waited was five minutes. One thing I wish most areas would do on busy days is manage the lift lines a little better. It was not unusual to see four singles in a row board the chair by themselves. This is unacceptable. PAIR UP PEOPLE!!! Eventually, a Ski Patroller, not a lifty, began directing traffic and pairing singles up. As far as the snow goes, I’d say it was moderately good at best. The snow up top was excellent but the middle and lower portions were a bit hard to boiler plate. Not bad if you have the right equipment and know how to set and ride a board on its edge. It’s becoming apparent to me that the Hawk is not as bad at snow management as the Wolf but they are far behind both App and Sugar. I do enjoy the laid back feel of the place and it is the only place I will go in the Boone area on a Saturday afternoon. I always meet nice people on the lift while there and this time included a Ski Instructor and several Ski Patrollers who were conducting a training seminar. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel that the mountain skis short and is less than the stated 619 foot vertical. It seems like it is more around 500 feet from the top of the double to the base. Maybe they are including the bottom of the tubing run in those stats. I skied for about three hours before becoming bored and moving on down the road.

Before heading to App for a night session, I stopped by Farmers Ski Shop in downtown Boone to see if they had any 03/04 Atomic Race 412 bindings to go with my new slalom skis. The girl I spoke with was very friendly and knowledgeable. She originally brought out a pair of Ride 412’s and said that was all they had left but would give me a good deal on them. Sorry, not what I was looking for. She came back and said, “sorry, I lied. I found a pair of Race 412’s.” Sweet! “I’ll give them to you for $128.00” SWEETER!!! That was the best deal by far beating, eBay, two other local shops, and several internet sites. I’ve been in this place before and have always found the staff willing to help and they lack the attitudes that come with many ski shop employees. Check them out if you are in downtown Boone.

I decided to ski App because it had been over 10 years since I had been there last. The parking attendant told me they parked over 500 cars earlier in the day and I was number 120 for the evening. Busy day at App but the night time crowds were very manageable. I have to say that from walking from the lot to boarding the lift I saw that this place is well run with an excellent infrastructure. The snowmaking and grooming here are modern and the results are excellent. (Wolf Laurel Should spend a week with this snow making team.) It is just too bad that the mountain is not bigger and offer anything of a challenge for advanced and expert skiers. I was bored out of my Boeri helmet after an hour and packed it in after 90 minutes. Experienced snow travelers will get a kick out of the no smoking on the lifts sign and the mandatory safety bar rule that is strictly enforced by the liftys. In 28 years of skiing, I have never had a lifty yell at me to “LOWER THE BAR!” Still, any beginners and novices who do not take advantage of the well respected ski school and what this area has to offer are missing out. The park is also very good as well and is the best that I have seen in NC. I could really care less about rails, jumps, and half pipes but I do appreciate what folks are doing in them. From what I’ve seen out West and up North, App has some excellent features that are very well maintained. I will travel in them though just to get a kick out of some of the crazy air that is being thrown. (Man I remember when a daffy was the coolest and riskiest trick.) I know there is some kind of territorial war going on with the park rats at App and Hawk but this layman’s eye gives the big edge to App. This is an excellent place for new schoolers, families, and beginners through mid-level intermediates. Strong intermediates and above should look elsewhere.

Afterwards, I had sushi at the new Makotos in Boone. The selection was limited as I guess can be expected in a mountainous area. Good food and very good service. The servers recommended I check out Twigs in Blowing Rock for live bands. I made the 8 minute trek, had a Guinness, and listened to a solo acoustic player for awhile. Nice place. Next trip I think I’ll try Cafe Rustica for some pasta carb loading. I’ve heard several good things and I like their menu.

I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express. Funny, I don’t feel smarter after staying there. In fact, the only thing smarting is my wallet after paying $135 for a nice but average room. Hotel prices in Boone are worse than the jacked up rates during Masters Week in Augusta and they are notoriously bad.

Like I always do on weekend trips to Boone, I saved Sugar for Sunday morning. I heard from several people that the Saturday afternoon crowds were insane. Supposedly, they ran out of rentals, all car lots were full, and lines were up to 40 minutes long. Why do people continue to go here on a Saturday during high season? I have yet to find unbearable crowds on a non-holiday Sunday at Sugar and this day was no different. Although, I did expect otherwise since I did not get my usual higher lot parking spot. Apparently, the Crescent Race Teams got those first as they were already on the hill by time I arrived at 8:30. Sugar states that they open the lifts at 9:00 but I have found that you can ride them much earlier particularly when there is a race or practice being conducted. I took a warm-up on the new triple and saw that there was still plenty of natural snow hanging around. A little more fresh and the lift line would have been very poachable. The snow down the left side of Big Birch was still corduroy and was perfect. I skied down to the yellow lift and timed the ride at just under 12 minutes to the top. Typical speed for a non crowded day though I did time one quick ride on the gray chair at just over 10 minutes. I’m sure Saturday’s times may have been approaching that often claimed twenty minutes in order to manage the slope traffic. Again, If you don’t like snail paced lifts, don’t go when the place is packed. At the summit, I decided to get my legs burning and take a high speed cruiser top to bottom from Northridge all the way down Flying Mile. The snow was great and I did not hit any slick spots that tend to make my Axis X skis skittish. The next run I found the center portions of Tom Terrific to be scraped off exposing a solid base. Oh well, the sides looked good. Great cut up skier/boarder deposited snow was to be had down both sides of TT. I stopped to check out some of the racers on Sugar Slalom and soon found out why there was no snow left in the center of TT. It seems that many of the racers were side slipping and skarving there way down to the top of the course. I’ve come to expect this from heel sliding novice snowboarders that are on terrain over their heads but I would think hot shot racers would put those skinny skis up on edge a little more and carve there way down. Maybe they were saving their legs and razor sharp edges for the course. Big Red was also scraped off and after Sugar Slalom reopened to the public, the snow down both sides was untouched. I pretty much stayed on Whoop Dee Doo and Boulder Dash most of the day. The thing I really like about these runs, besides their steepness, is the unevenness of the terrain along the tree lines and how soft and untracked the snow can be. Performing quick and short fall line turns along the sides and through some of the trees really prepares you for the tight steeps found out West. These two trails are two of the steepest you will find in the East. It would be nice if they would let bumps grow on one of them though. Why not BD? It’s the least skied of the three blacks. It started to snow pretty heavy around 10:00 which was earlier than I had expected. While the top saw about an hour of nice snow, the very bottom was receiving all rain proving once again that a thousand feet of elevation makes a huge difference. Unfortunately, it turned over to all rain but thankfully it was light most of the time and the snow stayed very soft throughout the day. This rainy weather also kept the crowds away and drove many off the slopes. Fine with me, that’s what waterproof breathable clothes are for. Around noon I loaded at the mid-station only to hear a guy from the gray lift yell, “hey, are you Axis X?” It was skiatlanta and I enjoyed meeting and making several runs with him. Skiatlanta is well on his way to becoming a great skier. (Keep it up skiatlanta and pick a school that has big mountains and lots of snow nearby. Books first.)

Overall, it was another good weekend in NC. I had a great day at Sugar and it is always nice to meet and ski with new friends. Sugar catches a lot of flack from many people on this board. Some of it deserved, most of it not. That’s fine, those people that truly hate the place can head elsewhere as it leaves more untracked terrain and smaller lift lines for me. I always find it interesting when I head out West or up North to areas with multiple ski choices. A few mountains attract more advanced and expert skiers and riders over the others. It’s no different in Boone. Sugar attracts more of the best. My guess is that there are several good reasons for that.



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Mike Doble
Mike is the Editor and founder of SkiSoutheast.com, SkiNC.com and ResortCams.com. Since September 1996 he has posted more than 13,000 posts, articles, photos and videos promoting all of the ski areas of North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland.Mike is the father of four daughters, is an avid skier and enjoys golf, tennis, kayaking and hiking in the mountains. Winter snowsports and Summer boating on Watauga Lake are among his favorite pastimes.