Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and the entire area that makes up the Great Smoky Mountains of east Tennessee and western North Carolina are beautiful during the fall, spring, and summer, but also during the winter.
Whether you’re going to rent a mountain chalet or a cozy cabin, there is a little something for everyone in the Smokies, and that includes winter sports. The area may not be the first place you think of when you think winter sports, but there are some fantastic options, no matter your preferences.
The following are some things to know about winter sports near Gatlinburg and throughout the Smokies.
Ober Gatlinburg is the area’s most well-known ski resort as well as being an amusement park. If you’re staying in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, or Sevierville, getting to Ober Gatlinburg is very easy because parking is located in downtown Gatlinburg.
At Ober Gatlinburg, ski and snowboard season usually begins in early-to-mid December and sometimes continues through mid-March.
Ober Gatlinburg starts offering snow tubing the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and that continues through March 31st.
When you arrive at the entrance to Ober Gatlinburg, you can board the Aerial Tramway so that you can be brought up to the top of the mountain without driving. The Aerial Tram is an attraction in and of itself, year-round.
It offers one of the best views of the Smokies you’ll find anywhere, and it’s one of the largest aerial trams in America. It soars more than 11,000 feet above Gatlinburg.
If you’re interested in skiing, you do need a ticket and approved equipment. You can rent equipment and get lessons, and if you’ve never skied or snowboarded, the resort does require that you take a lesson from one of their instructors.
Ober Gatlinburg is home to fun options for all ages, including Cubbies Snow Zone. Cubbies Snow Zone is a play area for kids that’s only open during ski season.
Snow tubing is one of the most beloved winter events at Ober Gatlinburg. You can purchase tickets for 90-minute sessions, and rather than having to climb up the hill after each time you come down, you can take the outdoor escalator back up.
If you want something more rugged, Gatlinburg and the surrounding Smokies are great for cross-country skiing during certain times of the year. A lot of visitors to the area make their way to Great Smoky Mountains National Park to cross-country ski, and one of the most popular trails for doing so is Clingmans Dome Road.
The road is open to cars and vehicles most of the year, but during the winter season, it closes and becomes an unofficial cross-country skiing trail.
The Roan Highlands, which run along the border of Tennessee and North Carolina are home to a strong backcountry ski culture, according to Blue Ridge Outdoors. There is a massif that receives more than 100 inches of snow a year, and it’s one of the areas of the High Country that receives the deepest snow. Specific backcountry ski options around Roan include Summit Road and Rhododendron Gardens.
Cataloochee Ski Area
The Cataloochee Ski Area is in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, a relatively short drive from Gatlinburg.
This Smoky Mountain ski resort received an overhaul in the summer of 2010 to the tune of more than $1.2 million in capital investments. There are gentle slopes such as Rabbit Hill and Easy Way, which are serviced with a beginner’s chairlift.
For intermediate skiers and snowboarders, there is Rock Island Run, and there is also the Lower Omigosh.
If you’re more advanced, there’s the challenging Upper Omigosh, and there’s also the Cat Cate Terrain Park with ramps, boxes, and rails.
Cataloochee offers now tubing, and there’s a lodge for apres-ski. The Cat Lodge features a double-sided fireplace, food, and drinks, and sometimes there’s live music.
The Maggie Valley ski area has an elevation of 5,400 feet.
Beech Mountain Resort
If you’re willing to make a bit of a drive from the Gatlinburg area, one of the top ski resorts in the area is Beech Mountain.
Beech Mountain is in North Carolina, and it’s the highest ski area in the eastern part of the country. There are 98 acres of skiing here with 17 slopes, and there’s a vertical drop of 830 feet. Beech Mountain receives more than 84 inches of snowfall a year.
Beech Mountain features a new high-speed quad life for shorter lines and the ability to make more runs in a day, and there are group and individual skiing and snowboarding lessons
The snow-tubing park at Beech Mountain is a can’t miss. It operates from the Alpine Village, and it offers 700-foot runs with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The tubing area features the Magic Carpet lift.
Also at the Alpine Village portion of the resort are shops, eateries, and a beer brewery as well as a massive ice skating rink.
There’s a free sledding hill at nearby Beech Mountain Town Hall for kids who are 12 and under.
Snowboarding is popular at Beech Mountain Resort, thanks to the views.
Close to Beech Mountain is Sugar Mountain Resort. While the elevation isn’t as high as it as at Beech Mountain, the summit elevation is still 5,3000 feet. There are 125 acres of skiable terrain and 21 trails. There is 100% snowmaking coverage, and Sugar Mountain offers night skiing and snowboarding.
Other winter sports activities at Sugar Mountain include snowshoeing, ice skating, and tubing.
Sugar Mountain, like Beech Mountain, isn’t in the Smokies but is instead in the Blue Ridge Mountains, although they’re within a couple of hours’ drive of one another.
Sugar Valley receives around 78 inches of snow a year, and there are eight chairlifts. It’s estimated that 40% of the trails are for beginners, 40% are intermediate, 16% are advanced, and 4% are expert. The longest run is 1.5 miles.
As you can see, the Smokies, as well as the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains, offer plenty in the way of winter sports, regardless of your skill or experience level.
Of course, before you head out on your ski trip it is important to pack the right clothing. Flip flops and shorts are not going to cut it. You might want to research skiing mid layers, snow shoes, jackets and more!