TRAVEL: Out on the slopes…
Think you’re too old? Maybe it is too cold? Never done it? That’s what our writer thought. Then she tried it. Her advice? Just do it!
By Jennifer Carter
I was just about to turn 40, was woefully out of shape, and the closest thing to winter sports I‘d be attempting that season were arduous Netflix marathons.
That’s why when the magazine’s director Mark Wallace Maguire asked me to write a travel feature about ski resorts in the mountains of North Carolina, it struck a certain chord of terror in my heart. It had never occurred to me to ski when I was young and fit, and I took this as a sure sign from the universe (and my aging hips) that my skiing window had already turned into a slamming door.
Life is funny that way. Only days earlier, I had pestered him for exactly that: the opportunity to take a little jaunt and then write about what a great time I’d had. But I to have admit that in my mind’s eye I’d projected a more tropical, screensaver scene with a few palm trees and perhaps a swim-up bar. Yes, I had brought this on myself. Still, sorely in need of a respite from a terrible bout with winter cabin fever, I decided to make the best of it.
Re-Defining a “Southern Vacation”
So I shifted my vision to hanging out next to a cozy lodge fireplace with a steaming mug of Baileys (with a wee nip of hot chocolate), waving condescendingly while all the other media suckers went off to hurl themselves down mountainsides with sticks snapped to their feet. But not me. I would catch up on my reading, sample a few craft beers from the many breweries in the High Country, and write a story akin to “10 Things to Do at a Ski Resort When There’s No Way in Hell You’re Going to Ski.”
But a curious thing happened when I arrived at Beech Mountain Resort (https://beechmountainresort.com). The air was practically electric with the anticipation of would-be skiers and snowboarders, and I can’t deny that I felt a slight twinge of longing to be included in their excitement. What’s more, it was a bit demoralizing when kids barely out of their toddler stages were zipping past me with such demonstrative vigor that it quickly became a matter of principle that I should at least try it.
There’s a Zen saying that I read on Pinterest once that purports, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear,” and in the case of Beech Mountain, I found this to be the truth. All I had to do was show up with nothing in tow but the desire to learn. Everything else I needed was on-site: Ski Beech Sports rents out Rossignol skis, poles, and even warm bibs and coats. Note: This makes for a perfect family vacation because there’s no need to pack all of the winter gear into the car or try to fly with everyone’s equipment. And the ski instructor made it so easy for me—he was patient, kind, attentive — and in my case, mercifully tolerant.
And the skiing itself! Let me say: making a conscious decision to push one’s self over a diagonal plane with those poles for the first time can be daunting, but once I gained a little speed (and finally opened my eyes), it might be the first time in my life that I was ever tempted to yell “Freeeeedom!” ala ‘Braveheart’ in public. When I reached the bottom, I felt proud, liberated, and blissfully alive. And I’m happy to report that I only fell once, and that was trying to go uphill on the “magic carpet,” a tricky, bunny-slope apparatus much like a moving sidewalk at the airport.
Feeling a mite triumphant after my first-ever skiing adventure, I decided to celebrate with a trip up the high-speed chairlift to the 5506’ Skybar, a beverage and food bar with both frosty brews, hot coffee, majestic views, and my favorite amenity: their heated bathrooms.
With my newfound confidence intact and my unwillingness to sit on the sidelines, I ventured out on the next day to Sugar Mountain Resort (http://www.skisugar.com) for some invigorating snow tubing and ice skating while some of my new comrades opted for snowshoeing lessons. I realized that I hadn’t really played in the snow as lightheartedly as this since I was I child, and I decided right then on Sugar Mountain, while spinning down a hill on a blue tube, that this North Carolina “jaunt” would turn into a family tradition for years to come. (I wasn’t quite lighthearted or advanced enough yet, however, for their Double Black Diamond run Woopdeedoo, or their newest intermediate slope Gunther’s Way, which spans 150 feet wide and 2,900 feet long. I decided to save those for another season.)
And just when I thought I couldn’t become any more smitten with this newfound winter affair, Appalachian Ski Mtn. (http://www.appskimtn.com) reared its beautifully European alpine atmosphere in my general direction. Even more impressive than its quaint Bavarian appearance is the indelible reputation of its French Swiss Ski College. Renowned for training everyone from beginners to the Secret Service and Navy Seals, their intuitive program is touted by its instructors as “The Place to Learn to Ski.” They insist that taking three lessons (not one) will give you a skill for life.
If all this weren’t enough to convince me of North Carolina’s potential for winter family magic, we were finally whisked off to Hawks Nest Tubing and Ziplining (https://www.hawksnesttubing.com). I was enchanted by their thirty-lane snow tubing park while other members of my party were courageous enough to brave the longest zip line tour on the East Coast, featuring twenty cables, four of which are known in the zip line industry as super or mega zips.
I came away from this trip — and these places — with not only a keen re-evaluation of what I imagined a quintessential Southern vacation has to look like, but also who I had to be to enjoy it. I also realized that if I can ski, than just about anyone can — and everyone should at least once in their lives.
Where to Stay:
>>> Klonteska Condos, Beech Mountain
Located in downtown Beech Mountain, Klonteska Condos are close to shops, restaurants and Ski Beech.
>>> White Wolf Lodge, Beech Mountain
White Wolf Lodge offers chalets, cabins, a gift shop, ski rentals, and homemade fudge. (The latter is a force to be reckoned with. Try the peanut butter fudge if you know what’s good for you.)
>>> Fairfield Inn and Suites, Boone
(http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/hkyfi-fairfield-inn-and-suites-boone) The Fairfield Inn and Suites by Marriot includes a complimentary hot breakfast, an indoor pool, a fitness center and free high speed internet.
Where to Eat:
>>> Lost Province, Boone
(http://lostprovince.com) Be sure to try their brick oven pizza, warm pretzels with house-made mustard, and their awesome selection of craft beers.
>>> Casa Rustica, Boone
(http://www.casarustica1981.com) Don’t miss their Saltimbocca Piemontese chicken dish which is hand-tenderized, sautéed with prosciutto, topped with mozzarella, and finished with a delicate white wine sauce.
>>Mile High Tavern, Beech Mountain
(http://www.milehightavern.com) Their blueberry BBQ wings, seared Ahi tuna and fish tacos with mango salsa are always crowdpleasers. Their outdoor “Fire Bar” is a favorite gathering place for Beech Mountain visitors looking to unwind after a day of activities.