Kings of the Mountain

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Here ye, here ye skiers and riders of the Southeast.

Dost thou enjoy the thrill of skiing or snowboarding this season? We have just surpassed the halfway mark, and ye snow conditions are fantastic and deep. Credit for thy playfulness is shared between Mother Nature and the hard-working snow-making crews that do their magic behind the scenes. More on that in a moment…

This past weekend was a busy one for all of our member resorts, as the sun was out and the fun was elevated. It is always a good idea to get some extra turns in before the Ski Southeast/Massanutten Resort Summit coming up this weekend in Virginia. We look forward to seeing you there and cannot wait for the memories to be made.

This past Saturday, Cataloochee Ski Area was one of many that rolled out the white carpet, and they performed their duties with welcoming efficiency. In what has got to be one of the busiest nonholiday weekends of the ski season, they greeted the crowds with a smile while bustling everyone through with style and grace. This created a scene of happiness for the masses.

Like a Principality Up Yonder
This ski area is centrally located in the thick of the North Carolina High Country where the views are stunning. In all directions on a bluebird day, you will see big piles of rock that captivate outdoor enthusiasts. Bonus if there is some lower-elevation fog that blankets the valleys below, which is fairly common for these parts.

Their proximity is also a great meeting point for travelers found all over the region. I had conversations with people from Georgia, South Carolina, and even a few road trip committed college students from the sunshine state. There was quite a contingent for Florida Gators that wore hockey jerseys sporting their UF Surf Club, and they even allowed one FSU Seminole to partake in the fun. Chivalry and civility at its finest.

I had a great time with some good friends who made the journey from eastern Tennessee, John and Lindsey King. We coordinated to meet early in the morning, and our drive times were almost equal. They beat me by fifteen car spaces, but by arriving before 9:30 AM, all of us were assured of a parking spot prior to being at capacity.

We also followed one of the unwritten rules about skiing as a group, which is to always have a planned meeting place and time in the event that your cell phone battery dies out or there is a lack of Wi-Fi reception. Be sure to do it for other moments such as lunchtime or at the conclusion of the day.

The Meat and Potatoes
El Niño can be a fickle thing for our region. The dips in the jet stream can be the difference between bundling up below the freezing mark or shedding many layers as the mercury hovers well above it. This particular day started off chilly but rose to the mid 50’s with no cloud cover. Sunscreen is a lance that fends off skin cancer, so it is best to go out there armed with this tool.

The snow itself was plentiful and with widespread coverage. If I am not mistaken, the snowmaking crews had 17 or 18 trails open with all five chair lifts spinning. They had pushed enough of a base to get Upper Snowbird, Alley Cat, and the Cat Cage Terrain Park humming alongside their first to-open trails such as Rock Island Run and Lower Omigosh.

This is one of the reasons why they were up for a Ski Area Management (SAM) I AM a Snowmaker award that recognizes the hard work and commitment they have for all of us to enjoy. Consider them to be Earl’s of the industry as they went up against some big names such as Copper Mountain, Mammoth Mountain, and Waterville Valley, just to name a few. Online voting ceased on February 2nd, and at the time of writing this, we await the results. Best of luck Cataloochee.

Let Us Feast
It was a busy weekend, and as such, we encountered some waiting times in the lift lines. The longest duration was ten minutes at the most, but that was for roughly three of the dozen or so runs we did, and the rest were less than five in total. That provided us with moments to converse and soak in the sun. Who knew that while we shared stories of skiing’s past that we were in the process of making more memories?

The discussions were not limited to on the slopes either. We took a midday break to enjoy some local brews and make friends with strangers. I had plenty of Ski Southeast stickers to hand out and got to know some unique people. One of which was named GiGi, and she was getting down the slopes on a snowskate.

For those who are unfamiliar, it is a legit skateboard top placed upon a single ski blade. There are no bindings, and some people also opt out of using the one cord that tethers the rider to the equipment. Be brave if you choose to go this route.

I must brag though that one of my best encounters was with a young lad by the name of Cameron that took one of the stickers and put it on his helmet. I saw him and his family in a lift line a hour or two later, and once off the lift he challenged me to a race. Like a knight in nylon armor, he gleefully hustled down the trail while I lagged behind. It is the value of feeling like royalty that brings people back for more.

More than anything, the lifestyle of skiing and riding is a fruitful one that rewards the brave and bold. There are many conquests to be had, and ye that committed thyself to it will join into the fellowship. That burning sensation in your legs sometimes feels like a dragon’s breath, but it too will pass. In the end, we all can have a spot at the round table where we can raise our poles and celebrate the season. We will ski you later!


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