I am traveling this early AM Monday heading to Snowshoe Mountain for a week of skiing with family and friends, and my backup slope conditions reporter is traveling with us, so I won’t be posting a late morning report. Monday looks to be a great day for skiing across the region with colder, snowmaking temperatures and some natural snow to add to your Holiday Skiing enjoyment! The forecast is for temps to hold in the 20s for the most part all day with some accumulating snowfall. It is POURING SNOW as I write this report at 4:20AM and the weather service is calling for it to continue throughout the day, so we’ll see some GREAT conditions out and about today!
On-Snow Reporters, keep the photos and reports coming and we will post all of the best sometime Monday evening. We have been preparing a story on the lost ski areas of the region and today we’ll cover the lost ski areas of North Carolina. We’ll post the rest throughout the season. John Davies suggested this story a few weeks back when he wrote, "I noticed SkiNC is linking to what used to be the old Mill Ridge Ski Lodge. What ever happened to that place?"
Actually there are a few lost ski areas in the state of North Carolina. When I first moved to the High Country in 1990 all three of the lost areas that we are writing about today were still operating. Hound Ears had a couple of beginner trails serviced by one chair lift and a rope tow; Mill Ridge Ski Area was relatively successful and Scaly Mountain offered a couple of trails. A couple of spotty winters later and Hound Ears called it quits, and although there was a last ditch effort by a Boone businessman by the name of Johnny Council to get Mill Ridge going…it failed. Another year of so later and Gene Head of Scaly Mountain decided to feature his mountain for snow tubing only.
Some people have written us asking if these "first ski areas" paved the way for those that have succeeded since. That’s not the case at all. Actually the FIRST ski area opened in North Carolina was Cataloochee Ski Area in Maggie Valley which is doing quite well today thank you! The first ski area in the High Country was a place called "The Blowing Rock Ski Lodge" which opened for the 1962-63 season. After some years of financial difficulties, the bank called in the loan and Grady Moretz and several others saved the resort by stepping in and paying off the loan. Under this new leadership, and with a new name –
Appalachian Ski Mountain – the resort reopened for the 1968-69 season. There were no lifts, just a rope tow and regular, old wooden skis!
During some of those formidable years of Southern Skiing Grover and Harry Robbins opened a ski slope at the Hound Ears Lodge and Club. That was in 1964. The ski area was almost an afterthought to the resort’s other amenities. Ski slopes were tried almost as an attempt to give Hound Ears land owners something else for their money. The slopes had a very "private" feel to it as skiers were either homeowners or guests of the resort’s packaged "stay and ski" offerings.Mill Ridge Ski Area was something altogether different. While it was located within the residential community known as Mill Ridge and while skiing was yet another amenity to add to Mill Ridge homeowners…there was no comparing the wealth of Mill Ridge to the Hound Ears Club. If Hound Ears was "Rodeo Drive", Mill Ridge was more of a Wal-Mart. Mill Ridge today is still a wonderful mountain getaway "resort", minus skiing, that offers swimming, tennis, hiking, volleyball and a very low-key mountain feel to the homes that dot the mountainside.
Mill Ridge Ski Area opened in 1970 and the seven acres that made of the ski hill was a great little place to learn to ski. It operated until 1995 when, after a last-ditch effort by a local businessman (I believe Johnny Council was the man’s name) to make a go of it…they closed. I remember thinking numerous times about giving the trails a try, but it was literally just five minutes up the road to Ski Hawksnest where you could ski twice the terrain. That, more than anything else, probably did the little resort in. Many people that I have spoken with about Mill Ridge tell of some really challenging terrain. Robert Evans, who used to ski the resort regularly told me, "Mill Ridge was made up mostly of easy, short trails but it did have one particular slope that was at one time the steepest slope in the region. It was called ‘Go For It" and many people would shy away from it."
We recently wrote about the old lodge, now turned vacation rental which is located at the base of the mountain. Today residents and vacation rental guests often hike the old ski area trails for a view of the the surrounding area. You can still see some of the lights that used to dot the slopesides…hanging in the trees and once you get to the top there is still an old rusted out giant, bull wheel of the chairlift resting in the mountainside. Many of the old lift chairs rest as decorations in front of homes that dot the community.
Shortly after the Blizzard of ’93, I took my girls up to the top of what used to be some of the trails and we did some serious sledding. You couldn’t help but feel a little erie, sledding past some of the old sleds that held the snowguns and stepping into deep snows…wondering about the thousands of people who used to frequent the little resort. I’m told that during significant snowfalls…that some cross-country skiers still take to the mountain.
Scaly Mountain is still in operation…though not for skiing. That may be changing as early as next season, but that is a story for another day. When it operated as a ski area, it offered three trails and a vertical of 225 feet. The three trails were serviced by one double chair lift and two rope tows. Gene Head, the owner of Scaly Mountain opted to go tubing only a couple of years back after deciding it wasn’t worth fighting Mother Nature to keep snow on the slopes and skiers coming through the turnstiles. Gene recently sold Scaly Mountain and one of the owners, Brian Southard, has spoken with us about some substantial plans to make Scaly Mountain a four-season OUTDOOR ENTHUSIAST’S resort. Plans are still being formulated but they are looking to feature mountain biking, whitewater, climbing, and skiing as "things to do".
Some old ski historians have told us about ski trails on Mount Mitchell and other government lands, but those wouldn’t quality as "lost ski areas". For those who have skied the terrain at Hound Ears, Mill Ridge or Scaly…there’s definately a feeling of loss when they think back on the good times enjoyed skiing terrain that none of us will ever enjoy…at least with the aid of a lift!
Until Next Time!
Be sure to check out www.SkiSoutheast.com for more news and stories for all of the Southeast’s ski areas.
Be sure to email photos, snow reports and comments to: [email protected]