Does your family need a healthy dose of Jack Frost fun this winter? You don’t have to go out west or even to Vermont. The highest ski resort east of the Rockies is actually in the South, just over 800 miles from Fort Lauderdale.
North Carolina’s High Country, 1 ½ to 2 hours from Asheville, has three major ski resorts. Beech Mountain Resort is highest. Ski 98 acres of slopes with 15 scenic ski trails, eight lifts, great runs on the freestyle terrain, snow tubing, a big choice of accommodations nearby and a sky-high eatery offering food, beverages and sweeping views at an altitude of 5,506 feet.
The largest vertical drop is claimed by Sugar Mountain ski area, which has a 5,300-foot summit, 20 trails and six lifts. Appalachian Ski Mountain, home of the French-Swiss Ski College and an Official Burton Learn to Ride Center, is the area’s oldest.
Compared to many other ski areas, the South’s mountains are not only closer but more affordable.
Throughout the area, all-access lift tickets are less than $40 juniors and $50 adults, and accommodations start at less than $80. Boone, N.C., even has familiar chain motels such as Quality Inn, La Quinta and Comfort Suites.
If you choose not to drive up, two commercial airports give a wide choice of flights from MIA, FLL or PBI. Fly into Charlotte or Asheville and rent a car.
You can pack light with no need to buy a winter wardrobe. A full menu of equipment rentals is available, including (at Beech Mountain) winter coats, ski pants and bibs. At ice rinks, skates are also available for rent.
Best of all for South Florida families, the resorts are especially kid-friendly. Nurseries care for infants and toddlers while expert instructors welcome ages 3 and up at all skill levels. Check each resort for its own features.
At Beech Mountain, Snow Kamp is for ages 3 to 5. Traxx is an all-day program for children ages 6 to 14 at any level of experience. At Traxx, skills are assessed and then appropriate instruction completes the child’s day. Priced at $100, it includes a helmet, snacks, lunch and lift ticket.
Private lessons are also available, and at certain times, sessions are offered for children with mental or physical challenges. They fill quickly, so reserve well ahead. When visiting at other times, ask about adaptive equipment and instruction (including sit skis) for family members with special needs.
Beech Mountain also has a Burton Learn to Ride Program for snowboarding. Beech’s Meadows Park is for beginning snowboarders. The Powder Bowl Terrain Park is for intermediate to advanced shredders. Reservations are recommended for all instruction services.
Whether you’re skiing the slopes or prefer to loll by the fireside, the Beech Mountain area offers many pleasures. In addition to the resorts’ own ski lodges, warmed by huge stone fireplaces and bright with picture windows that overlook the snow scene, resort areas offer a brewery, game rooms, ice rink, restaurants and shops. The town of Beech Mountain has a sledding hill with its own snow-making machine, assuring plenty of snowy fun for children ages 12 and younger. Bring your own saucer or rent one (plastic sleds required).
The community also maintains 30 miles of snowshoe trails and offers snowshoe rentals and optional guides through its Parks and Recreation Department. Showshoe trails range from moderate to strenuous.
Experienced snowshoers can tackle the Emerald Outback trails at the top of the mountain. If you want just a sample of snowshoe trekking, walk the 1/3 mile track surrounding the Buckeye Recreation Center. Snow tubing is offered by Hawksnest Tubing Park in Seven Devils.
Beech’s Buckeye Recreation Center is open all year with a playroom for children under 12 plus tennis, volleyball, basketball and a fitness room. In fact, the entire region is a year-round destination popular for golf courses, zip lines, high-altitude views in summer, blazing fall colors and springtime wildflowers.
Lodging in the area is easy. Book your stay in a room, suite, chalet, cabin, vacation home or bed and breakfast inn. Each ski resort’s website lists nearby lodgings, many of them with kitchens and multiple bedrooms to accommodate families. Many are also dog friendly, and the community of Beech Mountain has a Bark Park with two fenced play areas, one for larger dogs and one for small.
North Carolina’s ski mountains get about 90 inches of natural snowfall each year, which the resorts supplement with snow-making equipment.
It’s fun to visit the websites any time to get a live weather report and views from on-site cameras. The snowy vistas just might inspire a trip of your own.
If You Go
Beech Mountain Ski Resort, 800-468-5506 or 828-387-9283, beechmountainresort.com
Sugar Mountain Resort, 800-784-2768, skisugar.com
Appalachian Ski Mountain, 828-295-7828, appskimtn.com
Hawksnest Snow Tubing, 800-822-4295, hawksnestubing.com
Town of Beech Mountain, beechmtn.com
Nonstop flights are frequent from South Florida to Charlotte, which is about 2.5 hours from the High Country. Asheville is closer by road, but flights require one or two plane changes.
Janet Groene is a Florida travel writer, book author and editor at FloridaFiveBest.blogspot.com.