A winter ski trip seems so enticing to Orlandoans … until we start tallying extras. Super-warm jacket. Insulated pants. Ultra-effective gloves. Snug hat. And quickly the idea of a cold-weather getaway seems like a giant, expensive hassle.
It doesn’t need to be. The North Carolina High Country is so close to Florida that its ski resorts cater to Sunshine Staters and other visitors whose homes receive no snow flurries of their own. Some rent the outerwear you’ll need to keep comfortable atop a mountain. One, Appalachian Ski Mtn., even offers gloves and goggles for a modest fee. So you can walk onto the plane to Charlotte with no more than a carry-on suitcase, rent essential wardrobe items along with skis and such, and have an easy and affordable winter-sports getaway.
Spread out in one of many spacious rental condos, such as the two-bedroom, two-bathroom homes-away-from home in Klonteska Condominiums. Then head for the slopes.
Begin your mountaintop adventure at Beech Mountain Resort. Beginners can have lessons on the bunny slope, a delightfully small mound with a shallow incline. You’ll zip back up on a “magic carpet,” a moving sidewalk that accommodates skis. Starter lessons are free on select days if you rent equipment. Take the lift to the mountaintop for a cocktail or cup of hot chocolate at 5506′ Skybar with views of the slope.
Once you’ve mastered the basics, move on to a mid-size slope at Sugar Mountain Resort, which boasts 21 ski runs — more than any other spot in the area.
Appalachian Ski Mtn. is your next stop, in part because its French Swiss Ski College, dating to 1969, will take you to a more advanced level. Younger athletes often prefer snowboarding. Here they’ll find two terrain parks: one for beginners, where boys can be seen practicing on smaller ramps, and another for more accomplished boarders. The features are swapped out daily to keep the courses interesting.
Those wary of shooshing on skis can immerse themselves in the brisk mountain air in other ways. At Sugar Mountain, group snowshoe treks meander through the edges of scenic wood, then head onto the fringe of the ski mountain. Ice skate outdoors at Sugar Mountain with scenic views or in a semi-protected area at Appalachian Ski Mtn. Snow tubing takes no skill at all. Simply sit in a rubber tire and whoosh down a small slope. Train on Sugar Mountain’s six lanes, which are part of a golf course in other seasons, to get the hang of it. Then head over to Hawksnest, with an astounding 32 lanes from 350 feet to 1,000 feet on a series of hills. Or head high. Hawksnest has four miles of ziplines that run over trees, creeks and lakes, in some places higher than where birds fly.
The Boone area’s ski resort may make (and welcome natural) snow from Thanksgiving through St. Patrick’s Day, yet its brewers keep their taps running from January through December. Beer making is serious business in these parts. Sample the latest pours at the woodsy, stone-adorned Beech Mountain Brewing Company, steps from the slopes; at the bustling restaurant Lost Province, where an eclectic menu is served with house-made brews in a bustling environment; and at the charity-oriented Appalachian Mountain Brewery, a barebones spot with a thoughtful line-up.
For a selection from many brewers, head instead to Mile High Tavern, which boasts the largest portfolio of North Carolina labels in the area. It has 29 beers on tap. Better yet, sip those suds outside around its fire bar, which has gentle flames shooting up around the rectangular table. Snack on wings with house-made blueberry-barbecue sauce.
You may spend on beer what you save on baggage-check fees and snowsuits … but not really. The craft beer is just another boon in Boone.