This must be the place
Pizza. French fry.
Those were the initial instructions I was given the first time I went skiing. I must’ve been around four or five years old. Growing up in the Champlain Valley, surrounded by the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York and the Green Mountains of Vermont, there were innumerable opportunities to hit the slopes and make the most of an unknown weekend.
Pizza. French fry. That was the basic technique to get started. Want to go slower? Turn the front tips of your skis inward in the shape of a slice of pizza. Want to go faster? Turn the front tips of your skis straight ahead like two French fries. Simple enough, eh? Well, not really. Skiing is like golf or fishing, where you can learn to “do it” in a day, but it truly takes a lifetime to master.
So, there I was, a small child, staring down what looked to me to be an enormous downhill (which in all actuality was the “bunny hill” at the nearby kid’s ski area, Beartown). I cruised down slowly, making a pizza slice with my skis for dear life. Reaching the bottom of the slope, I exhaled. I had survived. Phew. Ok, let’s do it again, and again, and again — I was hooked.
My mountain of choice was Jay Peak. Tucked away in the backwoods of the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont, the ski area always felt off the beaten path, even though the trails and glades were world-class. And the “locals discount” was pretty cool, too. My best friend Ben and I joined the high school’s ski club. We’d jump on the old school bus bright and early every Sunday morning and head for the hills with a pack of cronies and unknown colleagues who’d become quick friends after a few runs down the hill.
It was those moments together, outside of school and away from our parents, that our friendships and adventures were solidified. The bond grew even stronger once we’d all gotten our driver’s licenses and crummy first cars, many-a-time finding themselves in snowy ditches on the way to the resorts.
The beauty of skiing, or snowboarding (yes, I will acknowledge you one-plankers), resides in the utter serenity of feeling alive in nature. Hopping off the chairlift, you ready yourself — checking the straps, gloves and goggles so everything is comfortable and attached properly. From there, you take a deep breath and launch off onto the trails. Weaving along through the fresh powder, one almost feels like a maestro in front of an orchestra, where your body moves to the rhythmic motion of the landscape.
When I took my first reporting job in eastern Idaho, I found myself smack dab at the base of the Grand Teton Mountains. With peaks topping 13,000 feet and endless snowstorms, I had found a winter paradise second-to-none.
“You ready to choke on some powder?” I was asked pulling into Grand Targhee Resort in Alta, Wyo.
The snow on the mountain couldn’t be that intense, could it? Yep. You see, a few inches of fresh powder over a sheet of ice was usually considered a good day back east, but here, in the Rockies, one will find out the hard way just how much snow is considered normal. I literally found myself blinded by snowflakes and choking on snow, huffing and puffing my way down the treacherous 9,862-foot mountain. I was hurting after that first day, and pretty much relearning how to ski in “The West,” but I was once again in love with my winter passion.
And thus, here I am in Western North Carolina. Though many skiing aficionados would completely overlook this side of the country for fresh powder, there are some great trails to be tackled in Southern Appalachia. Sure, Boone has snow and such, but here, in Haywood County, we have Cataloochee Ski Area. Known for being one the first resorts to open for business each year, Cataloochee offers everything from a vast trail system to lodging, downhill racing to après ski beverages.
Pizza. French fry. See y’all on the trails.
For more information on Cataloochee Ski Area, click on www.cataloochee.com. With an elevation of 5,400 feet and a vertical drop of 740 feet, Cataloochee is home to 17 trails, five lifts, with 100% snowmaking. Lift passes range from $39 on weekdays to $59 on weekends. Amenities include a terrain park, cafeteria, bar, tubing, gift/apparel shop, rentals and lessons.