On Your Mark, Get Set, SMARL!
Where else can you race down a slope against Olympic skiers?
Certainly in the great American West, among the "burly" mountains and atop the "fresh pow-pow," professional ski and snowboard talent are less accessible, and perhaps more cloaked in superiority when approached by the masses of regular Joes who congregate on the slopes.
But here in the High Country, where southern hospitality meets winter wonderland, it's all in the family. Every year in January, locals - skiers and snowboarders of all skill levels, even the ones that still use snowplowing to stop - and Olympians race together on six consecutive Monday nights.
Placing less importance on racing and plenty of stock in camaraderie, these locals are part of the Sugar Mountain Adult Race League (SMARL), and you're invited.
Labeled as a beer league for the inevitable party that transpires after each night of racing, SMARL is open to all snowsports lovers in the High Country - skiers and snowboarders are both welcome to compete - but spots in the 100-person-limit league are filling up fast. According to SMARL organizer and Ski Country Sports owner Bill Leonard, less than 30 spaces are still open as of press time. "We've sold out every year," Leonard said. "But this has been the earliest we have had this demand."
Starting after work hours on Monday evenings, SMARL begins on Jan. 10, 2011, and will pit teams of four or more skiers and snowboarders against each other for weekly point grabs. After five Monday night races, a championship is held on the last Monday night, when a winning team is crowned.
To sign up, residents must stop by Ski Country Sports, located across from Sugar Mountain in Banner Elk, fill out a registration form and pay a $40 entry fee per person. On race nights, $18 discounted lift tickets are offered to competitors.
Go play in the snow.
Around the SlopeS
With a white Christmas in the forecast for the entire High Country, the landscape will resemble a snow globe for the holidays as each of our four snowsports resorts are blanketed in healthy layers of natural and manmade snow.
Sugar Mountain Resort marks the official start to winter, which arrived at 6:38 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 21, with a 40- to 76-inch base. Appalachian Ski Mountain comes in with a 58- to 86-inch base, and Ski Beech at Beech Mountain Resort is boasting a 40- to 70-inch base. Atop the ample bases, guests will discover 19-of-20 slopes open at Sugar, 12-of-12 open at App and 15-of-15 open at Ski Beech.
Tubing, snowshoeing and ice skating are currently offered at Sugar, and ice skating is open at App and Beech; snow tubing is expected to open at Beech by this Friday, Dec. 24.
Night sessions are available at all three ski resorts. What's more, Appalachian's Midnight Blast promotion, which allows night skiing until midnight, begins this Sunday, Dec. 26, runs through Thursday, Dec. 30, and then continues every Friday and Saturday night in January and February 2011.
Holiday rates are in effect at all resorts, including Hawksnest Resort.
After opening the entire front side of Beech to skiers and snowboarders last week, Ryan Costin and his crew opened the famous Oz Run, located on the backside of Beech Mountain on what the less-couth call "South Beech," on Wednesday, Dec. 22. Oz's opening means Beech will be 100 percent open for Christmas, and, according to marketing director Talia Freeman, snow tubing should come online by this Friday, Dec. 24, at the latest.
Ski Beech's Christmas Eve Service will take place at 4:30 p.m. this Friday, Dec. 24, around the Beech Tree Village ice skating rink, which is now open for the season. One week later, on Friday, Dec. 31, Ski Beech will host a New Year's Eve Celebration featuring the cover band, Walrus, from Greensboro, whose music comes with rave reviews from Freeman. Champagne toasts, food and a shuttle service to points across Beech Mountain are offered during the event. Attendees will pay $10 to get in and then another $25 to reserve a table.
Sugar Mountain Resort is also ringing in 2011 in style with its New Year's Eve Celebration, which features music by The Johnson Brothers from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., a torchlight parade at 11:45 p.m. and a fireworks display at 11:55 a.m. - all on Friday, Dec. 31. Tickets, which include champagne toasts, are $80 per couple or $45 per single for seating in the band room, and $45 per couple or $25 per single in the lounge area. For reservations, call (828) 898-4521, extension 233, or (828) 898-5737.
"We're hoping to be 100 percent open by the end of this weekend," said Sugar marketing director Kim Jochl, who noted that weather models differ on the forecast for this weekend - one calls for "significant snow," she added, masking her excitement. Sugar's last slope yet to open is Sugar Bear, a speedy, slalom-like chute off Big Red on the right side of the mountain. According to Jochl, snowmaking on Sugar Bear is limited to only the top and bottom of the slope because of its layout, meaning a significant natural snow is helpful in achieving enough coverage on the slope for use.
Santa will be skiing at Sugar every day this week, and then will visit both Sugar Mountain Resort and Appalachian Ski Mountain this Friday, Dec. 24, to grab last-minute gift ideas from good girls and boys. Surely, Santa is enjoying the epic early-season conditions, which is why he's stuck around for so long.
"The conditions have just been fantastic," said Appalachian Terrain Park director Drew Stanley. "We've just got a huge base-winter just came so quick, and it basically buried the place. Now we can focus on getting good snowmaking in to create some good skiing and boarding conditions on top of that base."
To ring in 2011, App is hosting its annual New Year's Eve Extravaganza between 9 p.m. and 12 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 31. The event includes fireworks, torchlight skiing, moonlight ice skating between 10 p.m. and 12 a.m. and breakfast available to guests between 9 p.m. and midnight.
According to an employee at Hawksnest Resort, 16-of-20 snow tubing lanes are currently open at the resort, including a few of the long lanes, which allow tubers to slide for more than 1,000 feet.
Ziplining is also available by reservation only, which may make for a unique holiday activity with the in-laws.
Holiday rates at Hawksnest Resort continue through Friday, Dec. 31. Holiday rates cost $32 for each 1.75-hour snow tubing session. For the upcoming holiday period, tubing sessions will be offered daily at 10 a.m., 12 p.m., 2 p.m., 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., excluding Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Tubing sessions on Christmas Eve, this Friday, Dec. 24, will be offered at 10 a.m., 12 p.m. and 2 p.m., and tubing sessions on Christmas Day, this Saturday, Dec. 25, will be offered at 2 p.m., 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. During the holiday period, a $3 discount per tubing session is offered to military personnel.
Go play in the snow.
Through Dec. 24-Santa at Sugar, Sugar Mountain Resort
Through Dec. 31-Holiday Rates, Hawksnest Resort
Dec. 24-Skiing with Santa, Appalachian Ski Mountain
Dec. 24-Christmas Eve Service, Beech Tree Village, Beech Mountain Resort
Dec. 24 and 25-Special Tubing Sessions, Hawksnest Resort
Dec. 26 to 30-Midnight Blast, Appalachian Ski Mountain
Dec. 29 and 30-USSA Holiday Slalom and Giant Slalom Competition, Sugar Mountain Resort
Dec. 31-New Year's Eve Celebration, Beech Tree Bar & Grille, Beech Mountain Resort
Dec. 31-New Year's Celebration, Sugar Mountain Resort
Dec. 31-New Year's Eve Extravaganza, Appalachian Ski Mountain
Every Friday and Saturday in January-Midnight Blast, Appalachian Ski Mountain
Jan. 1- Boss Hawg Concert, 4 to 6 p.m., Sugar Mountain Resort
Jan. 7-Fresh Friday 2, Appalachian Ski Mountain
Jan. 8-National Winter Trails Day, Sugar Mountain Resort
Jan. 8-Ladies Park Night, Appalachian Ski Mountain
Jan. 8-Boss Hawg Concert, 4 to 6 p.m., Sugar Mountain Resort
Jan. 8 and 9-Winterfest Weekend, Beech Mountain Resort
Jan. 8 and 9-Crescent Ski Council Competition, Sugar Mountain Resort
Jan. 11-Septuagenarian Party, Sugar Mountain Resort
Jan. 16-Boardercross Series Race, Beech Mountain Resort
Jan. 16 and 17-College Race, Sugar Mountain Resort
Jan. 22-Boss Hawg Concert, 4 to 6 p.m., Sugar Mountain Resort
Jan. 23-High Country Junior Race Series Giant Slalom, Sugar Mountain Resort
Jan. 30-High Country Race Series Boardercross Race, Beech Mountain Resort