Day Trips & Beyond: Skiing in Boone, N.C.

North Carolina’s ski slopes offer something for everybody

Looking out from Grandfather Mountain outside of Boone, NC, the Blue Ridge Mountains in northwestern North Carolina fade in layers of blue to black on the horizon. The majestic forest-covered peaks offer vistas that extend for miles of this extension of the Appalachian Mountains. (Photo by Gerald E. McLeod)

From Thanksgiving to March, this scenic region known for its summertime golf courses, trout-fishing streams, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Grandfather Mountain becomes a winter playground. Three ski resorts in close proximity to Boone and about two hours north of Charlotte offer family-friendly services and confidence-building slopes.

One of the oldest ski areas in North Carolina, Appalachian Mountain Ski Resort has 12 trails all covered by snowmaking equipment and open for night skiing. Ideal for beginners and families, the resort has a large equipment rental shop and a top-notch ski school. (Photo by Gerald E. McLeod)

About a 15-minute drive south from Boone, Appalachian Mountain Ski Resort is a great place for novices to refine their skills and challenging enough for experienced skiers to have a blast. The slopes are in a bowl on the side of the mountain that allows for lots of maneuvering room or tighter runs through the trees.

This is the smallest of the ski resorts in the Boone area, but it offers big services. Three lifts serve the 12 trails. Snowmaking equipment maintains a minimum 40-inch snow base at the bottom of the slopes and a 60-inch base at the peak. The longest run is a half mile, which is about the perfect length for less-experienced skiers beginning to get their ski legs.

This is also the home of the internationally known French-Swiss Ski College. Founded the year after Appalachian Mountain Ski opened in 1968, the skiing and snowboarding school has developed fun classes for beginners and wily veterans wanting to sharpen their skills. The school provides advanced training for ski teams from area colleges.

With a vertical drop of 1,200 feet, more than half of the trails on Sugar Mountain are classified as intermediate and a third are rated for beginners. The eight ski lifts service 21 trails that are scenic as well as challenging. (Photo by Gerald E. McLeod)

The base lodge at Sugar Mountain looks like it was plucked out of the Swiss Alps. Huge windows provide panoramic views of the slopes about 35 minutes south of Boone. It offers equipment rental as well as skiing and snowboarding lessons, and snowshoeing tours are offered in a designated area up the side of the mountain.

This is the only one of the three ski resorts that offers true ski-in, ski-out lodging. There is a variety of lodging options available around the ski area, with the village of Banner Elk an easy drive from the resort.

During the summer months Sugar Mountain becomes a premier mountain bike playground.

In the winter the Beech Mountain Resort is recognized as the “snowiest” place in North Carolina with an average of more than 100 inches of the white stuff per season, compared to 70 inches at the other ski resorts. (Photo by Gerald E. McLeod)

The highest town in eastern North America at 5,506 feet, Beech Mountain caters to guests year-round. During the summer the town of around 500 full-time residents is known for its golf course and hiking trails.

About 45 minutes south of Boone, the town is a cluster of vacation houses, condos, and hotel rooms. A free municipal sledding hill is maintained by the community next to the visitors center.

With eight chair lifts and 17 trails, the resort is considered the most challenging of the three ski areas around Boone, but has plenty of areas for novice skiers. The base lodge has three restaurants and its own craft brewer. At the top of the mountain is a fourth restaurant that is open year-round and is accessible only by a ride on the lift. During the summer the ski trails invite mountain bikers to fly down the slopes.

Step back in time with a visit to Fred’s General Mercantile in the village of Beech Mountain. What started as an old-fashioned hardware store has expanded to offer ski equipment rentals, an excellent breakfast and lunch spot, and grocery store. (Photo by Gerald E. McLeod)

All three of the ski resorts outside of Boone offer equipment rentals, ski and snowboarding lessons, and ice skating, and they manicure their slopes with snowmaking equipment. Appalachian Resort does not sell alcohol nor have a dedicated area for snow tubing.

At the northern corner of Pisgah National Forest in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Boone is the largest town of what is known as North Carolina’s High Country. Rivers and streams fall from the sharp precipices into scenic valleys crisscrossed with picturesque backroads and idyllic farms.

Boone sits on the side of a mountain that drops down to the rocky bed of the meandering South Fork of the New River. Legend has it that frontiersman Daniel Boone had a hunting cabin in the valley. A college town with a thriving music scene, country blues singer and guitarist Doc Watson and guitarist Michael Houser of Widespread Panic began their musical careers here.

No visit to the Carolinas would be complete without a shopping excursion to a Mast General Store. With nine locations around the South the original store is in Valle Crucis, a scenic 15 minute drive from Boone. Founded in 1883, the store carries an eclectic mix of the practical and the whimsical from clothing to old-fashioned candy. The best souvenir of your visit to North Carolina might be a four-sided yardstick from Mast General Store that you’ll treasure for generations. (Photo by Gerald E. McLeod)

Whether you use it as a base camp or just a supply depot, Boone is worth a visit any time of the year. If you’re looking for an upscale boutique hotel, try the Horton Hotel downtown, which includes a rooftop bar. Up the street is Lost Province Brewing Company with a varied menu and house-made beers. The top craft brewer in town is Appalachian Brewing Company with a mixture of beer styles on tap. The most popular place with the locals for breakfast and lunch is the Sunrise Grill with its menu of comfort foods (try the all-meat Texas-style chili with no beans).

For information on a visit to Boone and the surrounding area, go to www.visitnc.com.


Gerald McLeod has been traveling around Texas and beyond for his "Day Trips" column for more than 25 years. Keep up to date with his journeys on his archive page.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Day Trips, Boone N.C., Appalachian Mountain Ski Resort, Sugar Mountain, Beech Mountain

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