Monday, December 31, 2012
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When it comes to the outdoors, Chattanooga’s got it all. Breathtaking mountain peaks, trails and rivers. Although, admittedly, one thing area outdoor lovers can’t find at home is … snow.
But in spite of the 70-degree weather that often occurs in the middle of a Tennessee winter, snow sports continue to hold a place in the hearts of Chattanoogans. Just ask the Chattanooga Ski Club members — all 250 of them.
“To me, skiing is the closest thing to flying, and it’s a constant challenge,” says club president Hilda Jones. “You’re up in terrain that you would otherwise never ever experience. It’s something a small percent of the population gets to experience.”
Some people (mistakenly) think that skiing is only a destination sport, but Jones first discovered her love for skiing in Mentone, Ala., less than 50 miles from Chattanooga. “The first place I ever put on a set of skis was in Mentone — that little hill over there,” she says. “I thought how cool would it be to go to other places to do this.”
The ski club proves that hitting the slopes is not such an elusive activity for Chattanooga locals, and members celebrate the mantra that states “skiing alone is boring.” Annual dues for the club are a mere $25 for individuals and $35 per family. The club takes three, sometimes four, ski trips each year to places like Aspen, Colorado; Park City, Utah; and even Engelberg, Switzerland and Paris, France. With its large numbers, the club gets discounted airfare and resort rates along with a deep sense of camaraderie.
“The great thing about skiing is the freedom — being outdoors, smelling fresh air, feeling the wind in your face,” says Erica Reiter, public relations and communications manager of Crested Butte in Colorado. “But it’s also having the five minutes in the chairlift with your friends. It’s the camaraderie of skiing.”
Other than the fact that skiing is a great group sport, it is also compatible with almost any age. “It’s a pretty unique sport where a 3-year-old can ski with her mom,” Reiter says. Many skiers discovered their love for the wintertime sport at an extremely young age. “I’ve been skiing at Beech Mountain since I was 2 years old,” says Ryan Costin, general manager at Beech Mountain Resort in North Carolina. “It’s tough to beat being outside in an environment like this.”
That wasn’t the case, however, for Chattanooga Ski Club member David Conner, 74, a New Orleans native who didn’t take to the slopes until he was in his late 30s after a colleague convinced him to try it out. “It just kind of hit me as something fun to do. I took lessons with my family and we all started skiing,” he says. “We had such a great time that I have been skiing every year since.”
Soon, Conner was attracted to the racing aspect of the sport. At the age of 73, Conner won third place in the NASTAR National Championship at Winter Park in his age group, proving age has nothing to do with skill. He says he’s even met a 93-yearold on the racing slopes.
The rest of the Chattanooga Ski Club doesn’t leave racing out of its expansive repertoire. The club has a race team of about a dozen skiers who face off against 250-plus skiers at competitions in places like North Carolina and West Virginia. “We do it for the thrill of competition,” says Chuck Corey, club racing chair. “Racing allows you to compete at any age group at your own level. It is also probably the fastest way to improve your skiing ability.”
PLAN YOUR OWN SKI TRIP, NEAR OR FAR
Cloudmont Ski and Golf Resort (Alabama)
Distance from Chattanooga: 48 miles; 55-minute drive
Highest Peak: 1,000 feet
Less than an hour away from Chattanooga, Cloudmont Ski Resort remains the perfect spur-of-the-moment ski fix for locals who wake up to white powder on their lawns. The site includes two 1,000-foot slopes that are perfect for beginners or for those who want to get back in the swing of skiing before taking a trip to higher peaks.
For more information visit www.cloudmont.com.
Ober Gatlinburg (Tennessee)
Distance from Chattanooga: 150 miles; 2.5 hours Highest Peak: 3,300 feet
The only skiing destination in Tennessee, the drive time to Ober Gatlinburg is short enough to make this a great one- or two-day trip on a cold Saturday or Sunday. What makes visiting Ober this winter even better is the fact that the site is celebrating its 50th anniversary of skiing in Tennessee, so the winter season will be full of celebratory events. Ober provides all needed equipment for rent onsite. Special features include a scenic chairlift, indoor ice skating and activities for the kids.
For more information visit www.obergatlinburg.com.
Beech Mountain Resort (North Carolina)
Distance from Chattanooga: 260 miles; 4.5-hour drive
Highest Peak: 5,506 feet
Beech Mountain Resort makes for the perfect three-day weekend getaway. Just over four hours away from Chattanooga, the resort features 15 slopes and the only high-speed quad skilift in North Carolina that will get skiers to the top of the mountain in less than 3.5 minutes. The Alpine village adjacent to the slopes includes 13 different buildings with restaurants, shopping opportunities and an ice skating rink, plus plenty of lodging along the slopes or in the town of Beech Mountain just minutes from the resort.
For more information visit www.beechmountainresort.com.
Snowshoe Resort (West Virginia)
Distance from Chattanooga: 473 miles; 7.5-hour drive
Highest Peak: 4,848 feet
It may require a longer drive, but Snowshoe Resort makes up for it with its 60 ski trails and Cupp Run, the revered black diamond advanced run. Snowshoe also promises a total resort experience with lodging and condos, retail shops and restaurants in the village area. According to Dave Dekema, director of marketing at Showshoe, the resort has the most ski terrain open in the mid-Atlantic region.
For more information visit www.snowshoemtn.com.
Crested Butte (Colorado)
Distance from Chattanooga: 1,425 miles; 5–7 hours by plane
Highest Peak: 12,162 feet
Welcome to the big leagues. A trip to Crested Butte may take some serious planning, but the Colorado ski experience is one no ski-lover should miss. This particular ski destination is full of small-town charm and surrounded by almost 2 million acres of national forest. The site includes more than 55 kilometers of cross country skiing and 1,500 acres of downhill skiing, suitable for beginner level all the way up to advanced. Crested Butte sees 300 inches of snow annually, and it’s home to the steepest slope in North America — the Rambo at a 55-degree slope.
For more information visit www.skicb.com.