My family loves to snow ski. We all ski, even my youngest who is five. She started when she was three! Our favorite place to go is Snow Shoe, West Virginia, but there are plenty of other resorts within a day’s drive or shorter that are great. If you have never been, I suggest enrolling in Ski School — they teach you not only how to ski, but also emphasize mountain etiquette and it is VERY IMPORTANT! I also suggest putting your kids through ski school. We all know our kids listen better to other adults when learning new skills, and this will give you a few hours to hit the slopes on your own!
Once you go a few times and decide it is for your family (literally our ski vacations are our favorite as a family, even over the beach!), you might want to look into getting your own gear. You will save a ton of money and not have to wait in the long rental lines. We buy all of our gear used. Check out Alpine Ski Center at the end and beginning of each season as they usually have good used equipment. We have also found tons of our stuff at second hand and thrift type stores. In the spring, the mountain sells off old rental equipment that is usually in great condition. If you are there right before the close of the season, definitely check them out. We rent for our youngest because she is still growing, but once we were fairly certain our teen was done growing, we bought her boots and skis.
Another thing that makes skiing fun is how you can be in sub-zero, blizzard-like conditions and still be comfortable. Invest in good layering ski clothes. The outer layer must be waterproof, especially if you are new to the sport because you will spend a fair amount of time in the snow. The great thing is once you buy them, you will always have them, and no one cares about fashion on the slopes. The important thing is comfort. You will only need one jacket and pants/bibs your entire ski life! But invest in something that will last and that will keep you comfortable.
I also believe every single skier/boarder should wear a helmet.
It is easy to lose control and fall and you do not want to get a head injury. Plus, the amazing helmets are so comfortable and they keep you warm! They also have vents to open up so if you get hot you can get a little air.
The first time I skied and used the lift I actually fell off. We were trying to disembark, my daughter and I, and let’s just say we are neither one the most graceful or athletic. So we tangled our skis or something and the next thing I knew, we were both on the ground in front of the chair which was head straight for our heads. I grabbed her head and pushed it down, but forgot to get my own out of the way. So I got hit in the back of the head by the lift chair. I did have a helmet on, but it still knocked me hard and I ended up with a huge headache about 15 minutes later. I was also so embarrassed that I started crying half-way down the trail. Silly, I know now, but at the time it seemed like something to cry over.
Liftopia is a great resource for purchasing your lift tickets online ahead of time. You can get lift tickets to almost any ski area at a discounted price.
Here is my list of the 10 best ski resorts in our area:
With 58 trails, 14 lifts, 251 ski-able acres, and a 1,500-foot vertical drop, Snowshoe Mountain has something for every level of skier. They even have tubing, snow mobile rentals, shops, restaurants, indoor and outdoor pools, and night skiing. So even if you would rather not ski, it’s a perfect winter vacation spot for everyone.
We love to stay in Powder Ridge or Shamrock. They both offer front-door parking, with mudrooms for all your wet gear. They have full kitchens, one-three bedrooms, balconies, and are ski-in-ski-out. Night Skiing at Silver Creek is so fun, too. Snowshoe runs regular buses all day and night at no extra cost, so you don’t have to drive anywhere once you get there.
A lot of people prefer to stay at the Village where all the restaurants and shops are. We would rather have front-door parking, mudrooms, and a kitchen-to each his own, right?
The downside: It is about a 7-hour drive from Knoxville. It is well worth the drive, though.
Pricing: We usually get the Ridiculous Season Pass they offer in February for a limited number. You pay about $200, but you get the rest of that season, then all of next season. No blackouts, no limits. A regular season pass is $479. They also offer 3-day passes for about $150. A day pass is $56-$75, depending on weekday or weekend or holiday. So you can see what a great deal the Ridiculous pass is. We usually try to make at least one week-long trip and one long weekend trip to get our money’s worth out of the season pass. Kids 12 and under are $10/day and seniors are $30/day! They also offer college and military discounts, so be sure to ask. They offer discounts for buying lift tickets online ahead of time, so it’s a good idea to get them before you head to the mountain, at least 72 hours in advance.
Only a two hour drive from Knoxville, Catalochee offers over 50 ski-able acres, a 740-foot vertical drop, three lifts, 16 trails, and night skiing. You can drive, ski all day/night, and even drive home in one day. They also offer plenty of places to stay so you can make it a long weekend or longer trip.
The downside: It isn’t huge, and if you are a very skilled skier you might get bored quickly.
Pricing: Season Pass $680 (see why Snowshoe calls it the “Ridiculous” pass??) Lift and rental packages: Weekend Adult: 1 day $93, 2 days $186, 3 days $279. A Weekday Adult 1 day pass is $68, 2 days $136, 3 days $204. You can also get packages that include lessons, so check that out before you buy. Just lift tickets start at $65 for day, $75 for day and night, and $32 just night.
Just a four hour drive from Knoxville, and on the way to Snowshoe, Winterplace is the best place for learning to ski. With 90 ski-able acres, 10 lifts, a 603-foot vertical drop, 27 slopes plus two terrain parks, night skiing, and a tube park, Winterplace gives you the most bang for a short drive. I learned to ski here and so did my oldest and some of our extended family. It is very beginner friendly. The beginner slopes are long and meandering through the woods, quiet and picturesque. There are lots of fast lifts, too.
The downside: Winterplace isn’t a luxury resort like some of the others. They have some cabins that are right there, but you can’t really stay in any condos or ski-in-ski-out places. Most of the lodging is actually off-site and a short drive to the slopes. They are nice enough hotels, just not luxurious. But if your main goal is to ski, that really doesn’t matter. It’s a nice, clean place to lay your head.
Pricing: Season passes for adults are $599. Lift tickets vary from $21- $69 depending on holiday and weekend pricing for one day lift tickets. But they offer a great deal that includes a lift ticket, equipment rental, and a 90 minute lesson for $60-$100 (depending on weekday or weekend). This is how we got started with our skiing love affair. It is such a great deal, and the reason I feel Winterplace is the best resort for beginners. You can also get multiple-day tickets with a bigger discount. Check them out online.
Offers 95 ski-able acres, 17 trails, eight lifts, an 830-foot vertical drop, night skiing, tube park, and ice-skating. Beech is only a 3-hour drive from Knoxville, too. I find that they have more man-made snow than the West Virginia slopes (but so do Ober and Cataloochee). The trouble with man-made snow is that it tends to be icier. All of the slopes do their own snow making; it’s inevitable and the only way to stay open, but nothing is better than fresh powder.
The downside: Only 15 trails (two of the 17 are terrain parks) – perfectly fine for beginners and intermediate skiers, but the more seasoned skier might get bored quickly.
Pricing: Season passes start at $525, but in October they offer a limited number of passes at $400. Lift tickets start at $28 for half day, $38-$65 for all day. Kids four and under ski free with an adult!
With 125 ski-able acres, 21 slopes, seven lifts, plus ice skating and tubing, Sugar is a great ski resort. Just a three hour drive from Knoxville, they also have night skiing. Because it is warmer there, they currently only have 10 slopes open and four lifts, but, hey, it’s WARMER! So ski in your snow pants and a sweatshirt and enjoy East Coast skiing! Season passes are $760, 1-day tickets range from $43-$72, and you can get a deal with multi-day tickets.
The downside: The weather is warmer so most of the snow is man-made and you are not going to find as big a base at Sugar that you will at some of the other ski areas.
Just a 1.5 hour drive from Knoxville, Ober has the best prices around. They have 12 slopes, four lifts, one tram, two magic carpets, a 556-foot vertical drop, and 38 skiable acres. They also have a tube park, ice skating, tons of shopping, a ski mountain coaster, and an aerial tramway that anyone can ride. Weekday night skiing is VERY affordable, and totally doable mid-week.
The Downside: It is usually very icy because, you know, we just don’t get really cold temperatures or a lot of natural snow around here. It is small, and very crowded. BUT any money you spend goes to help support the people of Gatlinburg, so that totally negates any downside in my book.
Pricing: Season passes are $399, and full session lift tickets start at $39-$65. The best deal is weekday night skiing for just $20! Easily drive up, ski night, and drive home. What a deal!
15 trails and four lifts and just a 2.5 hour drive from Knoxville. I confess I haven’t been to Wolf Ridge, but it is on our list to ski this season or next!
Pricing: Season passes start at $395, and they give a discount for family season passes. Individual passes start at $40, and you can ski all day and night for as little as $47-$71 depending on day of the week or holiday rates. GREAT PRICES!!!
11,000 acres, 21 slopes, and five lifts. It is only a 5.5 hour drive from Knoxville, and they also offer a tube park, luxury accommodations, and plenty of other things to do besides ski.
The Downside: Again, I haven’t been here, but I will say the drive is a little longer than some of the other options.
Pricing: Season Passes start at $319. 1 Day/Night tickets range from $59-$94. They also offer multi-day discounts and other package deals.
100 acres of ski-able terrain, 41 trails, and four lifts. It is a seven hour drive from Knoxville.
The Downside: Timberline is comparable to Snowshoe as far as the drive, snow base, elevation, and vertical drop. Where Timberline isn’t quite as good as Snowshoe is the number of acres, trails, and lifts. If I am going to drive that far, I really want more options.
Pricing: $499 for a season pass, $69-$74 for 1-day tickets, $122 for 2-day tickets, $159 for 3-day tickets. They also offer package deals.
47 slopes, three lifts, and a 7.5 hour drive from Knoxville. They also offer plenty of restaurant choices, shopping options, lodging areas and pool/spa activities.
The Downside: I am going with the same thing I have said a lot here, too long a drive for what you get out of it. But I am sure it is a great place and provides a fabulous vacation! This post is about drive-able ski vacations from Knoxville, right?
Pricing: Season passes range from $199-$500, depending on when you buy it. They offer a lower price for people that purchase their passes in the spring. A 1-day lift ticket is $45, $80 for 2-days, and $120 for 3-days. They offer package deals, too.