Looking for resort fun this winter? Check out these top downhill destinations in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic.
Best Place to Ski Back in Time
Situated in Laurel Mountain State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands, this one-lift wonder was just opened last year for the first time since 2004. Everything about the resort pays homage to the ski area’s storied past. Enlarged vintage photos from the early 1940s hang in the one-room lodge. The Midway Cabin, an original structure, still stands along the ski runs. Though Laurel Mountain was at one time an exclusive resort for wealthy Pennsylvania families, it has been available for public use since 1964. Come for the cozy feel, the grand mountain setting, and the steep skiing found on Upper and Lower Wildcat. This combined run drops nearly 1,000 feet of vertical pitch, making it the steepest run in the state.
Most Comprehensive Adaptive Sports Program
When Wintergreen ski instructor Michael Zuckerman agreed to give above-the-knee amputee Vince Fiore a lesson in 1984, little did he know that he would pave the way for more than four decades of on-site, specialized instruction tailored to guests with disabilities. Wintergreen Adaptive Sports (WAS) is currently in its 21st year of operation as an independent 501(c)3 non-profit and is housed in its very own facility at Wintergreen. The highly trained and dedicated staff work with students suffering from a wide variety of ailments, both physical and mental, such as multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, hearing/visual impairment, and traumatic brain injury. Each winter, WAS and Wintergreen Resort host a Wounded Warrior Weekend in honor of our country’s wounded veterans and their families. Outside of the snow season, WAS also offers warm-weather adaptive activities like whitewater kayaking and canoeing.
Best Place to Ski the Trees
Snowshoe, West Virginia
Snowshoe Mountain receives an average of 180 inches of fresh pow a year, and at 4,848 feet, backcountry skiers will feel right at home in the spruce-cloaked forests that dominate the resort’s runs. Silver Creek is the most popular spot for skiing the trees with ample moderate terrain and natural features that rival those found in the area’s Mountaineer parks. While the groomed runs might be sparse in freshies, even after a good dump, the tree stashes are often knee-deep throughout, a rare treat in the Southeast.
Best Place to Drop Knees
Timberline Four Seasons Resort
Canaan Valley, West Virginia
Timberline didn’t set out to be a Mid-Atlantic hotbed for telemark skiers when it opened back in 1982, but that’s just what it’s become. The vast majority of its ski school staff and patrollers have been skiing tele since the very beginning, which made Timberline the obvious choice for hosting the annual West Virginia Telemark Festival. The resort even has its own telemark department, with a Facebook page run by the “Nords of Timberline.” The resort, much like its eclectic free-heelin’ patrons, is a destination unto its own. There are no faux Alps-styled houses here, no in-lodge Starbucks or overrun shopping villages. What the resort does have is affordable lift tickets (especially if you’re a local), 1,000 vertical feet, a detailed backcountry trail system that links Timberline with neighboring Canaan Valley Wildlife Refuge and Dolly Sods Wilderness Area, and a slopeside pub. It’s a tele skier’s paradise.
Most Epic Snow Tube Park
Canaan Valley, West Virginia
Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. Flying down a snow-covered hill in an inflatable tube will bring out the kid in anyone, especially if that hill comes in at a whopping 1,200 feet long. Canaan Valley’s snow tube park is one of the resort’s newer additions and ranks as the longest snow tube in the Mid-Atlantic. There’s a magic carpet that effortlessly hauls you back to the top of the hill, and an outdoor fire ring outside the warming hut should the elements start to take their toll. It’s everything we love about skiing the mountain, but with minimum coordination required.
Most Like a European Resort
You don’t need a vacation to the Alps to get the mountain tram experience. Ober Gatlinburg’s 2.1-mile cable car is one of just a couple dozen tramways in the country. The tram starts in the quaint yet vibrant downtown sector and rises above the treelines, allowing guests to witness first-hand the sheer scale of the Great Smoky Mountains. While some of the bigger resorts out west have long hauled their guests up the mountain via tramway, Ober’s cable car is the only one of its kind in the Southeast.
Best Resort for Beer Lovers
Beech Mountain, North Carolina
Western North Carolina’s craft beer scene has exploded in the past five years with Asheville in the limelight, but about 100 miles northeast of that southern metropolis, Beech Mountain Resort is quickly making a name for itself as one of only a few resorts brewing its own beer on-site. Beech Mountain Brewing Company started in 2014 with enough capacity to brew 100 gallons per day. This season, the brewery is doubling that capacity and revamping its slopeside taproom to include a viewing area where customers can watch the brewing action. The brewery’s flagship beers include the Beech Blonde Ale, 5506’ Pale Ale, Patroller Porter, and Wee Heavy Scotch Ale. Grab a beer after a long day on the mountain or make a midday pit stop at Skybar 5506’. For now, the resort is the only location where you can indulge in Beech Mountain’s beer, but the beverages should be making their way off the mountain in the years to come.
Most Student Friendly Resort
Blowing Rock, North Carolina
Just five miles from downtown Boone, N.C., and Appalachian State University, Appalachian Ski Mountain can feel a little bit like a frat-boy party come spring break, but it’s that youthful atmosphere, social media savviness, and smokin’ good deals that make this resort such a success with the younger crowd. App Ski Mountain offers $10 Sunday night lift tickets the first Sunday of every month, starting in December, and $20 night sessions for students Sunday thru Thursday (tip: buy online for an extra hour of slope time). If there’s a snow day and you’re a student or teacher at any school system in North Carolina, Tennessee, or Virginia, head to the mountain and pay only $10 for an eight-hour ticket. All you need is a report card, school ID, or paystub to prove your school affiliation.
Best Resort for Post-Work Laps
Wolf Ridge Ski Resort
Mars Hill, North Carolina
When townies from Asheville or Johnson City are jonesin’ for a weekday winter escape, they need only drive 45 minutes to Wolf Ridge Ski Resort, the little ski area that could. Its central location off I-26 is a low-key haven for western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. When the snow falls, the runs here are some of the South’s steepest and finest. If you “dare to ski the Wolf,” lap The Bowl till your legs burn.
Best Resort for the Kiddos
Cataloochee Ski Area
Maggie Valley, North Carolina
Even though nearly a quarter of Cataloochee’s terrain is considered expert level, this resort knows how to get ski newbs schooled up and on the slopes in no time. Each January, Cataloochee offers a $59 beginner’s deal, Monday through Friday, which covers the cost of a lesson, lift ticket, and rental. For parents with young children, the resort sweetens the pot even more with kid-specific full-day ($125) and half-day ($95) programs as well as four-week afterschool sessions ($125 for four 180-minute lessons). Once the kids are older, they can take part in the resort’s active middle and high school racing program, which hosts races every week.