The sky is a flawless, cloudless blue over Cataloochee Ski Area as Mark Brogan, 37, suits up for a morning on the slopes. A U.S. Army veteran who was previously stationed in Alaska, Brogan has a longstanding love for the outdoors and for the unique thrill that comes with a snowy slide down the side of a mountain.
All set up with rented gear and an instructor, Brogan delays his journey to the lift long enough to hold his 19-month-old son Connor in front of the ski school lodge as his wife Sunny snaps a picture.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has an amazing array of mini-ecosystems — from peaks over 6,000 feet to low valleys, from moist densely forested coves to dry meadows. A walk from mountain base to peak compares with traveling 1,250 miles north. Several resident plants and animals live only in the Smokies.
Unseasonably warm weather and the drought have combined to temporarily close Cataloochee Ski Area.
As the sun goes down on the snow-covered mountain at Cataloochee Ski Area, anticipation spikes among the enlightened few who know what Thursday night on the slopes means.
It’s a feeling that Chris Bates can’t shake. “Being outside, in the winter, on the mountain — there’s nothing like it,” he said. “There’s a sense of exhilaration when you’re on a pair of skis. It’s a rush I’ve never gotten enough of.”
Bates, who has been the general manager at Cataloochee Ski Area for 17 years, is sitting inside the main lodge high above Maggie Valley this past Monday morning. Gazing out the windows onto the snowy slopes, the troves of eager skiers and snowboarders already cruising down the mountain, Bates can’t help to be excited that the 54th season at “Cat” got underway this week.
Rain was beginning to set in on a fog-ridden day on the slopes when Annie Dephouse gave her 5-year-old charge, Phillip Meacham, the heads up that it would soon be time to head indoors.
“We can do two or three more,” Dephouse said as the ski lift swung on its way up to Cataloochee Ski Area’s easiest slope.
At 7:30 a.m., darkness is just barely beginning to lift from the pre-dawn fields and forest of Cataloochee Valley. Joe Yarkovich steers his National Park Service vehicle through the valley and past a herd of elk bedded down in a field just past the ranger station. A handful of cars already lines the road, their occupants standing bundled outside holding binoculars and long-lensed cameras. We pass a few more fields, empty of both elk and people, before reaching a pull-off near the Caldwell House. An impressive bull and his harem of cows are practically on the road, close enough to toss a rock at. Or, more importantly, to make a great photo. I tighten my grip on the camera.
“That’s the bull I was looking for,” says Yarkovich, a Great Smoky Mountains National Park wildlife biologist who specializes in elk. This particular elk had lost his radio collar when his neck swelled during mating season, called the rut — for that reason, Yarkovich typically replaces collars on male calves with larger ones as the animals mature.
Watching the 1960 Olympics on television, a young Keith Calhoun saw something that would forever change the course of his life.
“I was in elementary school, and I remember seeing these Olympians skiing,” he said. “And I was just fascinated — I had never seen something like that.”
By Colby Dunn • SMN correspondent
Perched atop the crest of a mountain, with two slim pieces of fiberglass strapped to your feet, that last big push to send you careening down the slope is a leap of faith — with nothing but your own skills, a couple aluminum poles and perhaps the assistance of The Almighty to guide you.
Maybe that’s why the ubiquitous youth group ski trip has long been a staple of churches across the country. Perhaps it’s just because teenage bravado and youthful agility are particularly well-suited to chucking yourself down a mountain at high speeds in unusual contortions.
By Lindsay Wertz • Correspondent
After hours of work and preparation, six terrain elements sparkled imposingly under the lights on Cataloochee Ski Area’s Rabbit Hill Run last Friday night in preparation for the inaugural Cat Cage Rail Jam.
The Maggie Valley’s resort first-ever rail jam — where boarders and skiers do as many freestyle rail tricks as possible during an allotted time frame — attracted more than 50 competitors of all ages and skill levels. The rails and boxes were arranged by skill level and resembled features used in the popular X Games.