Living in the mountains of Western North Carolina, it is hard to imagine never seeing snow — but Elizabeth Comberg and Amber Damato of Jacksonville, Fla., got their first taste of the fluffy white stuff last Friday at Cataloochee Ski Area.
“The snow is a blast,” 15-year-old Comberg said.
Last week was Comberg and her family’s first trip to Haywood County and first time snow skiing. She didn’t know much beyond the basics of stopping and going, but Comberg was starting to pick it up thanks to a handy mnemonic device well-known among beginners.
“The first thing I knew was pizza and French fries,” she said. French fries, or parallel skis, if she wanted to shoot rapidly down the hill, and a pizza slice, or turned-in skis, if she wanted to stop.
The family spent several hours on a small, crowded bunny slope to the right of the ski lodge and lifts, taking their cues from other skiers while trying to pick up the fundamentals of keeping their balance on the snow.
The beginner slope is neither long nor steep, giving first-timers like the Combergs a safe place to practice before taking on the steeper, more crowded trails.
“This slope is a godsend,” said Laurie Comberg, 45, who last remembered seeing snow in 1989 during a rare snowfall in Jacksonville.
Elizabeth’s younger brother had fallen a number of times and quickly became weary of the slope. After seeing a fellow skier holding onto a child’s ski poles and guiding the child down the hill, Laurie was able to help her son regain enough confidence to ski again.
Elizabeth’s friend, Amber Damato, was not having an easy time either.
“Skiing is hard,” exclaimed Damato, who had fallen several times including a tumble over the blue netting that is supposed to keep skiers from skidding off into a tree.
Damato said the experience of skiing was worth all the spills, however.
The Combergs and Damato planned to stay at Cataloochee until their lift tickets expired at 4:30 p.m. In the end, their goal was to ride the ski lift at least once and then slip and slide as best they could down a trail.
“By the end of the day, we will do it at least once,” Laurie said.
People packed the slopes of Cataloochee Ski Area during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The gangbuster week is the most profitable of the year. Not only is the sheer volume of skiers monumental, but the vast majority are buying lift tickets and renting gear and hitting the lunch counter — as opposed to locals with season lift passes and their own gear who populate the slopes during a more typical week.
But during this holiday week, skiers from across the South were hitting Cataloochee in force — with plenty of newbies among them. The landing at the foot of Cataloochee’s main hill was overflowing with skiers, snowboards and spectators alike Friday. To the side of the slopes, five ski and snowboarding instructors led teams of 10 or more pupils through the basics.
Just on the other side of the blue nets on a barely sloping, super-intro-level straight away, Trey Ford, 30, was helping teach his 3-year-old daughter Lexi how to ski as his wife, Kelly Cooper Ford, watched anxiously to the side.
Kelly has never skied before and was a little nervous to let her daughter try, but Lexi’s grandfather, a former ski instructor, was also on hand to help teach her. Sitting on her heels with her knees bent, Lexi glided down the slight decline more than a dozen times, smiling each time she slide into her grandfather’s arms.
“I am so proud of her,” said Kelly, adding that Lexi has been begging to ski since the idea was first brought up this summer.
Trey and his wife both work at Cooper Construction Company in Hendersonville.
Trey’s father was a ski instructor for many years. However, it was not until the last three years that Trey himself became interested in skiing. He said he wanted to teach Lexi how before she was conscious enough to fear the slopes.
Trey said he hopes to take a family vacation to Colorado or another popular ski destination in the future, but first he will need to get Kelly as excited about skiing as his daughter.
“If I can get my daughter excited about it, then I can get my wife excited about it,” Ford said.
Hitting the slopes
It’s now all systems go at Cataloochee Ski Area. The more advanced trails opened last week thanks to plenty of cold weather (finally) and the resort’s state-of-the-art snow-making technology.
Where: 1080 Ski Lodge Road in Maggie Valley
When: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, non-holiday. 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Holidays. Night and Twilight skiing run until 10 p.m. are also available Tuesdays through Saturdays as well as on Sundays Jan. 15 and Feb. 19.
Cost: The price of a lift ticket ranges from $18 to $71 depending on the day, how long you plan to ski or snowboard, and whether it’s a day, half-day, twilight or night session. Adult equipment rentals run $23 for ski or $30 for snowboard. Group lessons are $20, and private lesson are between $25 and $200 depending on the length of the tutorial.