Locals do what it takes for fresh tracks

For seasoned Smoky Mountain outdoor enthusiasts, snow in the forecast means the chance to indulge suppressed fantasies. Whether its getting fresh tracks on some obscure slope they see on the road to work or heading up to the blocked-off Blue Ridge Parkway to enjoy a de facto ski slope, most people have a plan for when the snow falls.

Juan and Alex Pena have lived in Maggie Valley for six years. After past snowstorms, they’ve hiked to the upper meadows at Cataloochee and skied Thunder Bowl, but on Saturday they wound up Soco Road to the Parkway entrance with their cross-country skis.

Just past the gate blocking Parkway, Juan said the turnout was crowded with sledders and snow-gawking motorists.

“There were a bunch of people tubing and sledding at the entrance,” Pena said. “There were even some people who never saw snow before. We just skied past them, and then we had fresh tracks.”

The Penas went up the Parkway toward Cherokee all the way to Heintooga Ridge through about a foot and a half of fresh snow.

“I just love the feel of fresh powder. The way it grabs,” said Juan. “You could still kick and glide and it tracked really nicely.”

After a beautiful ski, Juan and Alex headed into Maggie for dinner. When they got home, their driveway was still impassable, even with chains on their truck.

“We just had to walk back up the driveway in the moonlight,” Juan said.

If you’ve visited the outdoors store at Mast General Store in Waynesville, you’ve probably seen Brent McCoy. The Kitty Hawk native grew up surfing the Outer Banks but he traded that lifestyle for the mountains six months ago.

What’s a lonely surfer to do after a snowstorm? McCoy said he’d had his eye on a steep slope above his father-in-law’s goat pasture out in Crabtree, so on Sunday he hiked straight uphill with his snowboard on his back.

“I’ve been thinking of ways to get down it,” McCoy said. “I was thinking I could get a dirt board and ride down it. It worked out pretty good because I’ve been eyeballing that thing for a while.”

McCoy revealed his surfer roots by complaining of the walk up the hill to get first tracks in what he estimated was two and a half feet of powder.

“I was pretty beat last night,” McCoy said. “I was like ‘We need to get a helicopter if we’re going to do this tomorrow.’”

Now that’s a thought –– heli skiing the Smokies.

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