The South’s Best Beginner Slopes
The south wouldn’t be the primary region feeding new skiers into the sport if it didn’t have professional ski teachers and great beginner terrain to learn on.
Leaving out all the “nursery areas” where never-evers ride conveyor lifts, true “beginner slopes” are where the experience of skiing really starts. These slopes give budding skiers room to run and, hopefully, even roam. Ski instructor Perry Alliotti calls this “beginner touring.” The Professional Ski Instructor of America-certified ski teacher, who has taught at Massanutten and Sugar Mountain, knows “proficiency comes with mileage.”
Alliotti says the best way to get that is to focus on the region’s longer beginner slopes, or resorts where a bunch of artfully interconnected green runs multiply your miles. That approach also makes it likely that even novices get a chance to see the whole mountain, reach the highest peak, and soak up the best views that the region’s resorts offer.
The best of those slopes are wide, with spots to eddy out of the flow of traffic for a rest. These runs aren’t off-limits to experts, but they’re usually not routes that accomplished skiers need to use. That often eliminates speedsters and stabilizes a slower flow of beginners, reducing the risk of collisions, and enhancing relaxed exploration.
Why pick a top five? Because no one ever goes from beginner to expert in one season and, depending on where you live, it’s nice to know there are inviting places to improve at a variety of southern ski areas. Basically, this list is an invitation for novice skiers and riders to target nearby ski areas based solely on finding the perfect beginner terrain.
Sugar Mountain, N.C.
Sugar Mountain’s Easy Street is a separate slope with side routes that for a bunch of reasons have beginners coming back for more. This has always been Sugar’s self-contained easy ski zone, the best in the High Country, in fact.
In 2019, Easy Street dramatically improved with the regrading and widening of the slope and installation of a high-speed detachable quad chairlift. On these cutting-edge lifts, the dangling padded chairs release from the lift cable and virtually come to a stop as skiers sit down—the ultimate user-friendly feature for novices. The chair then re-grabs the cable and shoots to the top, before again letting go to almost stop while skiers stand and ski off. That process simplifies using the lift, inspires skier confidence, reduces falls and lift shutdowns, and gobbles up the lift lines.
Perry Allioti especially likes that the new lift loads right beside Sugar’s teaching area, which allows beginners exiting the conveyor to watch and hear his explanation of how to use the lift that many will try next.
In 2015, Sugar installed a high speed detachable “six pack,” or six-person chairlift; and this year, the resort is installing its third high-speed lift, this time, a quad, on intermediate Oma’s Meadow, which has also been widened. In recent years Sugar has replaced another conventional lift and reconfigured two others, reinventing how skiers access the mountain, including the resort’s recently opened, acclaimed newest slope, Gunther’s Way.
Wintergreen Resort, Va.
Upper and Lower X Trail / Upper and Lower Dobie / Lower Diamond Hill Area
Though not a single separate slope, Wintergreen’s upper cluster of greens offers a concentrated easy area to spread out beside Wintergreen Village and Skyline Pavilion. The longest ride is Upper and Lower Dobie, with direct service back to the top on the six-person detachable Blue Ridge Express, the region’s first high-speed six pack. Another serves the expert Highlands slopes.
Big plusses for Wintergreen skiers here include lift views down on the Upper Diamond Terrain park, and easy access crossing under the high speed lift to Lower Diamond Hill, a green leading to Checkerberry Cabin. This cozy on-slope eatery with outdoor decks is a lunch and brew spot a lot like those found at ski areas out West. This winter, Dobie and Diamond Hill also get a significant boost in snowmaking.
Adjacent Upper and Lower X Trail form a looping route left around the Potato Patch teaching area that also takes beginners past another unique, more western sight, the ski tunnel under the road to Ridgely’s Fun Park and the Plunge Tubing Park. This is where better skiers head under the tunnel to Eagles Swoop and a connecting cluster of mostly intermediate runs.
Winterplace Ski Resort, W.Va.
Ridgerunner / Buttermilk / Milkshake / Country Roads / Panorama Glades Area
The South’s only ski resort located five minutes from an interstate highway also boasts a system of interconnected green runs that segregate beginners from the speed and steepness of more difficult terrain.
That starts at the bottom where five beginner lifts serve an expansive teaching area surrounding Winterplace’s Resort Center that also includes long and gradual Highland Run. Greens step up from there via chairs to mid-mountain. Skiing down, take easy slope Buttermilk for a left on Country Roads or a right through wooded Panorama Glades, back to the base. If you veer off right from Buttermilk onto Milkshake, just past the snow tubing park and Mountain House eatery, two other chairs soar to the summit high above most of the mountain’s expert terrain, including Nose Dive and Plunge.
From expansive views on the peak, Ridge Runner goes green all the way down to Buttermilk, Milkshake, and the bottom. Also convenient is the fact that more advanced skiers coming down from the summit can avoid all the beginners following Ridge Runner by using a separate intermediate slope, Compromise. It’s a smartly designed trail system, thanks in part to local skier and Southern ski pioneer Bob Ash.
Snowshoe Mountain, W.Va.
Hootenanny, Flume, Powder Monkey Area
Aliotti says, “Snowshoe’s Basin slopes are ideally set up for beginner touring.” That happens on green runs that form big exes across the mountain. Between the Powderidge lift on the right, and the Soaring Eagle Express on the left, trails like Hootenanny, Flume, Powderidge, Whistlepunk, Powder Monkey, and Whiffletree, link lift to lift, from one side of the slope system to the other. Also inviting: while the main runs named above crisscross the mountainside, there are also other clusters of green side trails to shake up the tour.
Of course, all those options create a visual overview of the whole mountain and provide easy access to summit eateries and The Boat House restaurant at the base of the Ballhooter Express. Two of the five Basin lifts, Ballhooter and Soaring Eagle, are high-speed detachable quad chairlifts, another plus for beginners.
Silver Creek is also part of Snowshoe. That nearby resort’s leftmost lifts access a triangular green grouping of Cubb Run, Cant Hook, Skill Builder and Greenhorn, with great views of terrain parks, food at Black Run Sugar Shack, and, shhh, fewer people at busy times.
Timberline Mountain, W.Va.
Two-mile Salamander is the region’s longest ski run, which may argue for it taking the top spot among the South’s greens. Virtually anyone with a lesson or two under their belt can ski or ride it. That length and the “long switchback” design makes it more of a trail and less of a slope, that’s nevertheless also very wide and very gradual.
Best of all perhaps is that after a few lessons far below on Timberline’s First Flurries teaching area or the cluster of greens just above it, heading for Salamander takes you to Timberline’s summit, a spruce and hoarfrost-covered peak perched on the flank of the alpine-appearing Dolly Sods Wilderness. That gives beginners a big tour of epic scenery. Salamander is the only ski slope in the South that crosses U.S. Forest Service land.
Another great plus; the Canadian forest and heavy snowfall at this elevation offers the chance to weave off trail to the right as you ski, into powdery evergreen glades beside the Dolly Sods, an experience found at ski areas out West. And on the left side at the top, there are a few other named greens to try.
If you’re an advanced skier or rider, or a cross country or telemark skier, there are backcountry trails that link Salamander into the Sods, permitting a bunch of routes that easily re-enter the slope where it switchbacks left on the long descent to the lodge.
Luckily, in the three years since Timberline was purchased by Indiana-based ski company Perfect North, there have been a raft of upgrades at the resort, including the new six-person chairlift to Salamander’s start.
Best advice for beginners? Take a vacation day if needed, but hit these beginner runs and ski schools during mid-week cold snaps for the best conditions and the most successful possible start to a life on skis.
Cover Photo: Cubb Run, at Snowshoe Mountain Resort’s Silver Creek Ski Area. Photo Courtesy of Snowshoe Mountain Resort