“Cataloochee tomorrow?” my publisher Scott McLeod asked from across our table.
“Sold,” I saluted my pint glass.
Overnight, layers and layer of white powder coated Western North Carolina, creating a serene silence throughout our communities as folks buckled down and got cozy throughout the evening.
Come morning, I found myself eagerly peering through the living room shades out onto a Winter Wonderland in Southern Appalachia. My cell phone soon vibrated on the desk. It was Scott, and he was outside ready to get first tracks at Cataloochee Ski Area in nearby Maggie Valley.
The roads heading out of Waynesville were quiet, even for 8 a.m. Snowplows were still trying to clear U.S. 19 as we slowly entered Maggie Valley. Pulling up to the Skis & Tees, I was in need of some equipment, seeing as I left my gear back up at my parent’s farmhouse in Upstate New York.
Behind the counter was professional skateboarder and snowboard aficionado Jared Lee. Seemingly the one person in Haywood County who should definitely be shredding Cataloochee that day, Lee had to not only man the rental shop, but also deal with all the eager faces ready to tackle the mountain he so desperately wanted to tame himself.
“Hopefully, I’ll be able to get up there for a few runs at lunchtime,” he optimistically stated.
To my surprise one of the exits of the rental shop enters a café. Maple donut and coffee in-hand, it was up Fie Top Road to the ski area. As a skier since I was a toddler, the excitement of hitting the slopes never wavers, not even at age 30. Like a little kid on Christmas, I couldn’t wait for the vehicle to reach the base lodge, to unwrap my present of mountain fun from the heavens above.
With the slopes opening at 9 a.m., the clock said 9:02 a.m. as I clicked into my skis and meandered down to the chairlift, immediately getting on because the usual midday rush of people hadn’t even gotten out of bed yet.
Riding up the lift, I had a bird’s-eye-view of heaps of untouched fresh snow. My legs and skis were continuously shaking, ready to attack the groomed trails and curiously playful glades covering Cataloochee. As I neared the top, I could hear numerous “whoo-hoo” shouts echoing below from those ahead of me on the lift diving right into the wintry ocean of powder.
Finally at the top, I launched myself down the “Upper Omigosh” black diamond trail. Swaying back and forth, a crisp wind hit my face, with my skis disappearing beneath nature’s gift. Gliding down the hill, my mind became at ease, with all impending thoughts and daily responsibilities evaporating. Back down at the bottom of the hill, I skidded to a stop and took a deep breath — all was right in the world, again.
After several runs, the late morning masses began to arrive, and so did the aching in my leg muscles that aren’t used when I go running or mountain biking. The lines and lifts started to fill up. My solo missions up and down the hill were now accompanied by other playful adventurers looking for the same outdoor thrill I was.
On one ride up, the guy sitting next to me was from Atlanta. A real estate agent, who moonlights as a wedding DJ on the weekends, Richard skipped out on work and drove up to Cataloochee in hopes of fresh powder.
“This place is so beautiful,” he said. “What a day, huh? Where are you from?”
“I live here in Haywood County, in Waynesville,” I responded.
“You’re lucky, man. I wish I lived this close to paradise.”
We parted ways at the top, to which I once again charged down the mountain. Around lunchtime, the sun made an appearance as all the frolicking bodies surrounding me stopped momentarily to soak in the joyous moment.
Nearing the early afternoon, my legs were happily exhausted. It was time to pack up my gear and head for the lodge for a celebratory beer with Scott to conclude the day. We spoke of how it’s days like today that justify why we choose to put down roots and thrive in Western North Carolina. To truly be part of this region, one must participate in the glory of the rich nature, people and heritage that runs deep here. Simply put, if you’re bored living here, then you’re probably boring.
Eventually, other familiar faces joined our table. We caught up on each other’s lives, rehashed beloved stories and were full of hearty laughter as we clinked our cups together. And as I looked around the table, at dear friends who were once strangers when I first moved here three years ago, I thought of what Richard said. I thought about my existence in Waynesville, Haywood County and greater Western North Carolina. I thought of how right he really was — this is paradise found.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1 The DuPont Brothers (acoustic folk) will perform at 7:30 p.m. March 13 at The Strand at 38 Main in Waynesville, and at 8:30 p.m. March 14 at Nantahala Brewing in Bryson City.
2 Neil Simon’s comedy “Plaza Suite” will hit the stage at 7:30 p.m. March 5-7 and at 3 p.m. March 8 at the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre in Waynesville.
3 The Highlands Annual Chili Cook-off will be from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. March 14 at the Highlands Community Building.
4 The Jackson County Arts Council will host a “Trashion Show” at 4 p.m. March 14 at the Jackson County Public Library in Sylva.
5 The Carolina Cud Chewers (Americana/old-time string) will perform at 9 p.m. March 6 at No Name Sports Pub in Sylva.