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Soaking It All Up: Randy Johnson Shuts Down Ski Season on the Slopes – and the Cross-Country Trails

by Randy Johnson

April 1, 2014. Today, the last of the High Country ski areas, Sugar, has closed to end the 2012-13 season—and there’s still a pristine blanket of white covering virtually every skiable inch of terrain.

The same thing happened at Beech and Appalachian last weekend, where “Closed” signs hung —with wall-to-wall snow still sitting there.

Roan Mountain at Carvers Gap - Photo by Randy Johnson
Roan Mountain at Carvers Gap – Photo by Randy Johnson

No complaints! We know why that happens. The Piedmont crowds just stop coming when the azaleas bloom beside the golf course. But Sugar stuck it out this year—rolling with the promising weather and making us proud—and happy. Sugar and the ski shops at its entrance did some of their best late March business in memory. The parking lots were busy, some of the folks were no doubt spring breakers. 

Great March

Last week’s snow put a lot of people in a bad mood—I am told—for I was not one of them. Last weekend was a true joy for me—because I set out to “Shut Down The Season.” Believe it or not—last weekend I  shut down two ski seasons—one of them was also the cross-country season.

Downhill skiing on Sugar Friday and cross country skiing on Roan Mountain Saturday—I just soaked up the great snow and sun and got a major glimpse of why we live in a special spot called the High Country.

From Halloween, when Sugar Mountain opened for it’s season with that freak early-season snow event, to now, when the resort closed on Easter Sunday, it’s been a long and memorable ski season in the High Country.

After seeing only 49 inches of snow in 2011-2012, a fairly lamentable snowfall year, Sugar’s records show 120 for winter 2012-2013. Of course snowmaking plays the key role in a great ski season, but a snowier, hence colder winter, often permits more machine-made snow.

Best part of it—natural snow and snowmaking weather seemed to arrive pretty consistently throughout the winter—in fact, rescuing the Christmas and Martin Luther King Holidays with the sudden and well-publicized return of snowy weather.

Then came March—with four or five multi-day snow events that kept conditions great—and kept skiing front-of-mind for the folks in our “market area.” 

Nordic, Too

Believe it or not—last weekend was still part of the cross country season!

That consistent snow I just mentioned kept bringing cross country back all winter off and on—with the noticeable lack of good skiing on the Parkway where little snow seemed to fall on the Eastern Blue Ridge. But great high elevation snow, at Roan Mountain and Elk Knob State Park, was enough to keep interested cross country skiers returning to the ExploreBooneArea.com Nordic ski report and tapping into the High Country Nordic Association’s Facebook page. 

(ExploreBoone link: http://www.exploreboonearea.com/PlacestoPlay/CrossCountrySkiing/NordicSkiReport/tabid/338/Default.aspx)

Skiers on Sugar Mountain - Photo by Todd Bush
Skiers on Sugar Mountain – Photo by Todd Bush

That kind of new technology—more accurate Internet weather reporting and personal communication among fans on the Web—is actually keeping the cross country crowd’s spirit alive and well even with the ups and downs of natural snowfall in the High Country. A community is developing—and more and more people living way off the mountain are finding their way to the Nordic trails when the snow falls.

I was one of them just a few days ago when I skied Roan Mountain Saturday with 6 foot drifts. There was great Nordic skiing on the gated road up the mountain and on the Appalachian Trail. Imagine—it was 51 degrees down at Roan Mountain State Park and 37 degrees on the peak. On the north side, frozen flakes of snow were still floating down out of trees frozen with hoar frost. 

Sweet Day On Sugar

I skied Sugar on Friday. A perfect sunny weekday, with a surprisingly big, smiling, happy crowd of skiers. It was simply magical. Firm spring snow underfoot—very nice conditions, and as usual, with the great slope grooming we’ve come to expect at all three High Country ski areas (with an added nod at the particularly fastidious and focused professionalism we’re used to from Gunther Jochl at Sugar).

All-in-all, this turned out to be a pretty darn good ski year—and the best thing of all for me and likely many people, was that the year ended on a welcome uptick of great downhill ski conditions that also included natural snowfall and fine cross country skiing too.

Shut It Down!

I’ve always said that one of the saddest sights I ever see—is snow melting. This year, with ski resort “Closed” signs hanging on slopes still covered with snow—I have to confess, I’m happy to welcome spring.


Randy Johnson is a longtime local and ski writer and author of “Southern Snow: The Winter Guide to Dixie,” due out in a new version from UNC-Press in 2016.