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Wednesday, 29 November 2006 00:00

Snow time like the present

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By Michael Beadle

Cataloochee Ski Area, North Carolina’s oldest ski slope, can now boast the longest running ski season in the state as well — open earliest and closed latest.

 

The Maggie Valley mountain attraction, which has been operating since 1961, started its season this year on Nov. 4 with gentle slopes like Easy Way and Rabbit Hill for beginner skiers, Rock Island Run and Lower Omigosh for intermediate skiers and snowboarders, and the Upper Omigosh slope for advanced skiers. For the first time in several years, the Upper and Lower Snowbird Trails will open (to the left side of Omigosh as you ski down). The Cat Cage Terrain Park is also available for more technical skiers and ‘boarders who can take advantage of ramps, rails and boxes.

As if to put people in the skiing mood, Mother Nature gave parts of Western North Carolina a little snow dusting last week.

“We got about an inch,” said Chris Gates, general manager at Cataloochee Ski Area.

The snow making machines have produced about a 4-foot base so far, according to Gates, and as long as the temperature dips to 28 degrees or cooler, the machines can make plenty more snow. Gates said he plans to have the slopes open until April 1, weather permitting.

As part of an environmentally friendly sustainable slopes program, Cataloochee Ski Area uses more modernized snow-making machines that require less energy. Re-collecting some of the snow melt also cuts down on the amount of energy used to make snow, thereby using less electricity, Gates explained.

And skiing continues to be a healthy business for the area. Cataloochee Ski Area will employ some 260 people at the peak of its skiing season, according to Gates.

“From now until the beginning of March, we’ll be adding more people,” he said.

Cataloochee Ski Area is once again teaming up with local students to offer special programs for fourth- and fifth-graders and home-schooled children to ski and snowboard. The Cat Trackers program offers ski lessons for children ages 4 to 7 while the Cat Explorers program offers ski and snowboarding lessons to children ages 8 to 12. The lessons include half-day or all-day instruction. Private adult lessons range from beginner to advanced classes, and there are snowboarding clinics too.

For a special promotion this season, Cataloochee Ranch has a “Drive, Slide and Stay” package which includes two lift tickets, two ski or snowboard rentals, two beginner or intermediate lessons, a $10 gas card, and two nights lodging at a local hotel or motel. Packages start at $123. Lift tickets and ski equipment prices apply to mid-season, non-holiday rates, and lodging prices apply to Sunday through Wednesday night rates.

While higher gas prices over the past few years may have curtailed some travel plans and cut into the budgets of some tourist destinations, Cataloochee Ski Area hasn’t seen much of an impact on its business, according to Gates. But it doesn’t hurt to offer some discount plans for out-of-state tourists, many of them coming from Georgia and Florida.

“That’s one of the reasons we put together that Drive, Slide and Ski package,” Gates said.

For more information about Cataloochee Ski Area, call 1.800.768.0285 or 828.926.0285 or go to the Web site www.cataloochee.com.

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