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.
While standing atop a black diamond run at Beech Mountain last weekend, several thoughts crossed my mind.
It’s been a really long time since I’ve done this.
Unseasonably warm weather and the drought have combined to temporarily close Cataloochee Ski Area.
When the snow starts falling and Western North Carolina’s main streets, schools and businesses go to sleep in wait for warmer weather, there’s a select group of mountain residents who see the blanketed roads as an invitation rather than as an inhibition.
They’re the cross-country skiers of Western North Carolina, and they’re not afraid of the cold.
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.
Just as I took my first sip of beer I was told to turn around.
Outside the Tipping Point Brewing windows on Main Street, heavy snowflakes cascaded upon downtown Waynesville last Wednesday night. Cars cautiously cruised through the intersection, with the snowfall increasing as the minutes ticked by.
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.
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.