Backwoods Skiing: An Appalachian Reaction

First Trax

Story By: Jeffrey Miesbauer

In an industry geared toward park jibbing and max-vert powder skiing, Right-coast snow-slayers are left with only dreams of super parks and 30,000 feet of fluff.

But, as some attest, the numbers and names can get in the way of what sliding on snow is all about: good turns with good people. 

You don’t need a world-renowned ski resort to have a life-changing experience on snow.

All you really need is snow, a little creativity, and a lot of patience.

Backwoods Skiing – noun ˈbak ˈwu̇dz skē-iŋ

<Deep turns on Pinball Wizard, Moses Cone Memorial Park, NC

(1) The planning, waiting, and eventual act of making turns on the best snow available to you

(2) A guerrilla skiing tactic that sticks it to the man for trying to charge you $70 to wait in long lines and ski on 500 feet of groomed-to-death granular

(3) The dirty redneck cousin of backcountry skiing and a rural opposite to urban jibbing


A great Backwoods Skiing experience starts long before winter. Study the hills, glades, or meadows around your home. Picture everything around you covered in two feet of snow, and envision what it would be like to ski down it.

<Following the wind to Moses’s Stash

If they’re close, state parks, national forests, and wilderness areas should be at the top of your list, because it is your terrain. Exploring them without snow can enlighten you to what is available.

Having go-to spots picked out not only saves time once the snow comes, it also helps keep you safe because you can tell someone where you’re going instead of wandering into a whiteout.
The Gear (in order of necessity)

A used pair of skis or board (and boots) that still work decently—you don’t want to mud-up your new planks.

A tough outer layer to combat the thorny underbrush and occasional barbed-wire fence—Carhartt was made for this brush, but ski-specific jackets and ski pants perform way better in the cold.

A helmet to shield against the trees, stumps, rocks, and frozen earth beneath the thin coverage.

A winter pack for carrying water, lunch, layers, and your skis when you embark on long hikes
Avy gear—not always necessary, but that doesn’t mean avalanches can’t happen. Be extra cautious on steeper, wind-loaded slopes, and never go out alone

The Weather

Since you might not be skiing a snow pack, watch the weather like a hawk and be ready to throw down when a storm hits. Think carefully when determining how much snow is safe for you and for your equipment.

For the desperate, a half-foot of snow goes a long way in open fields and meadows. But keep in mind that if it snows 6 inches in town, there could be up to a foot in the hills, and the wind could form two-foot drifts in the right spots (i.e., the goods). Harsh Arctic winds are the Backwoods Skier’s greatest ally.

The Big Day

The snow gods finally grant your wish, and your town gets hammered. As with backcountry skiing, it’s best to start small and safe and then gradually move to steeper and more committed runs.

Hiking to a steeper, longer run

At the trailhead, put on your boots, and layer your upper body as lightly as possible. Once you start hiking, you’ll stop shivering.

On the way up, you’ll see how much snow has settled in the terrain. Up top, you should have an idea of where you want to make your turns based on where the snow has collected.

Strap in and drop in, but take it slowly. If you don’t bottom-out in your first turn, you can progress from there. Take it easy, though, because you don’t want to be moving too fast if (and when) you hit a rock, log, or frozen cow pie.

If it’s good, lap it. If it’s too deep to make turns (pictured), move onto steeper and longer runs. If it’s sketchy, wait for more snow or follow the wind to find the goods. Regardless, the best part is wondering whether you and your party are the first people to ever make powder turns there, and claiming it until proven otherwise.


If you know (or suspect) you’re the first to ski it, it’s your duty to name the run. Get creative, and do your best to spread the word around town. Some memorable ones: Log Jammin’, Me-So-Thorny, and Snaggy Cirque.

A Few Words on Poaching

Don’t do it! Private land with posted signs is always off-limits. It could get you thrown in jail, and most ‘backwoods’ land owners have a gun rack, if not several. You could always ask politely and cross your fingers.

Some Safe Backwoods Terrain in North Carolina

Moses Cone Memorial Park, Blowing Rock, NC (pictured)
Roan Mountain Bald, NC/TN state line
The Power Line, Mt. Mitchell State Park, Black Mountain, NC

Story submitted with permission to post and photography by Mark Miesbauer. Story by Jeffrey Miesbauer.

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