Atlantans looking to hit the slopes close to home this winter will need to head over the state line, because the mountains of north Georgia don’t contain any ski areas. Alabama, Tennessee and North Carolina each have winter sports resorts within a 2 to 3.5-hour drive of downtown. Some are tiny but well-suited for beginners; others much larger with varied terrain to suit all skill levels.
If you’ve never skied or snowboarded in the Southeast before, be prepared to make tracks on artificial snow. Natural snow blankets the resorts from time to time during winter, but it’s not common. Still, below-freezing overnight temperatures and plenty of snow-making machines are all the resorts need to open their runs. And snow-making technology has become so good that the fake, powdery stuff can be preferable to the wet snow that often falls in the Southeast. Lessons and equipment rentals are available at all the resorts listed here. Most ski areas in the Southeast now also have snow tubing runs and lit slopes for night skiing, allowing for even more mountain fun when Old Man Winter comes around.
Cloudmont Ski & Golf Resort
The closest and most affordable ski area to Georgia is Cloudmont Ski & Golf Resort, tucked away atop the wide Lookout Mountain Plateau in the northeast corner of Alabama. Cloudmont has two slopes, one a bunny hill for novices, the other a longer run for those with more experience. Advanced skiers won’t find many challenges at this family-run resort, but the gentle terrain makes Cloudmont a good place for those just starting out to get a feel for the sport. Nearby Mentone is brimming with old-school mountain town charm, and 104-foot Desoto Falls, not far from the resort, is one of the more beautiful waterfalls in the entire Southeast region.
Weekend/holiday adult lift ticket: $30.
Cloudmont has chalets and cabins for rent near the slopes; rates $65-$75. Outside resort grounds, Mentone and Desoto State Park have an array of lodging options.
Alice’s at the Springs. Casual gourmet fare served in the restaurant of the nearby Mentone Springs Hotel, housed in a circa-1884 building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Entrees start at $13. 6114 Highway 117, Mentone. 256-634-4040; mentonesprings.com.
Cloudmont Ski and Golf Resort. 721 County Road 614, Mentone. 256-634-4344; www.cloudmont.com.
Perched above bustling and touristy Gatlinburg on the border of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee’s only ski resort has served winter sports enthusiasts in the region since 1962. The resort has nine slopes — seven for beginners and intermediates and a couple of black diamonds for the experts. Advanced skiers and boarders can also do some hot dogging at the freestyle terrain park with its ramps, half pipes, rails and other stunt features. Ober Gatlinburg is connected to downtown Gatlinburg by an aerial tramway. The tramway is one of the centerpiece attractions in town, not only for skiers, but for general sightseers as well. It makes it easy for those staying downtown to reach the resort and, conversely, if you’re staying in a cabin or chalet on the mountain, you can take the tramway down to the town’s many tourist attractions without having to get in the car.
Weekend/holiday adult lift ticket: $65
Ober Gatlinburg doesn’t operate its own accommodations but it has many lodging partners, from mom-and-pop motels near the aerial tramway downtown to chalets near the resort. Chalet Village offers a variety of cabins and condos on the mountain; average starting rate between $125 and $250. 800-262-7684; chaletvillage.com.
The base area of the resort contains a few snack bar/cafe-style eateries and one more traditional restaurant, Seasons of Ober, serving steaks and a variety of other grilled meats, along with pasta dishes. Entrees start at $12.95.
Ober Gatlinburg. 1339 Ski Mountain Road, Gatlinburg (aerial tramway base at 1001 Parkway in downtown Gatlinburg). 865-436-5423; obergatlinburg.com.
Sapphire Valley Resort
Sapphire Valley Ski Area is part of the much larger all-season Sapphire Valley Resort near Cashiers in western North Carolina. This bucolic spot in the Blue Ridge Mountains sees a lot of visitors interested in more than just snow skiing, as there are plenty of other activities at this expansive, full-service resort area 2.5 hours from Atlanta. The ski area is small, with a short, easy slope for beginners and a longer, more challenging run for intermediate-level skiers and boarders. The town of Highlands is also nearby, a good place for shopping, dining and sidewalk strolling along charming Main Street, when you need a small dose of city life on your mountain getaway.
Adult lift ticket: $36; $27 if staying with a lodging partner of the resort.
Use the request form at the Sapphire Valley Resort website to book accommodations, or call 828-743-7663 to make reservations. Mention that you’ll be skiing to receive a discounted rate on lift tickets and rentals. Rates start at $129 for the villas closest to the ski area.
Sapphire Mountain Brewing Company. Located on the grounds of the Sapphire National Golf Club, this brewpub and restaurant is open to the public, serving craft beer, wood-fired pizzas and a wide selection of entrees starting at $9. 50 Slicers Ave., Sapphire. 828-743-0220;
Sapphire Valley Resort. 67 Cherokee Trail, Sapphire. 828-743-7663; skisapphire.com.
Cataloochee Ski Area
In the Smokies of western North Carolina, Cataloochee Ski Area has been a favorite winter sports destination for families since 1961. This is the largest ski area less than 4 hours from Atlanta, with 17 slopes ranging in skill level from beginner to expert. The resort is three miles up a winding road from the rustic mountain town of Maggie Valley. The higher elevation (summit: 5,400 feet) and lower average temps at Cataloochee make for better snow conditions and a longer ski season than other resorts closer to Atlanta. Advanced skiers and boarders can cruise a glade run through the trees or test their skills at the freestyle terrain park. Asheville, with it’s many attractions such as Biltmore Estate, is an easy 35-mile drive from Maggie Valley — a nice side trip to add into your winter vacation itinerary.
Weekend/holiday adult lift ticket: $61.
Cataloochee doesn’t have overnight accommodations, but plenty exist close to the resort. The resort’s website has a list of lodging partners. Cataloochee Guest Ranch is less than a mile from the slopes, with rates starting at $115 for a room, $155 for a cabin. 119 Ranch Drive, Maggie Valley. 828-926-1401; www.cataloocheeranch.com.
Joey’s Pancake House. Breakfast at Joey’s is a family tradition for many longtime visitors to Cataloochee and Maggie Valley. Under $10. 4309 Soco Road, Maggie Valley. 828-926-0212; www.joeyspancake.com.
Cataloochee Ski Area. 1080 Ski Lodge Road, Maggie Valley. 828-926-0285; www.cataloochee.com.