Compared to some of the massive western ski resorts, Cataloochee is relatively small. However, it's a great place to learn, and a fun place to play. With a total drop of 740 feet, none of the runs are very long. The Cataloochee website claims to feature 16 slopes and trails that are 25% beginner, 50% intermediate, and 25% advanced to expert. Keep in mind that the ratings are relative to each other, and do not necessarily compare to similar ratings at other ski areas. In other words, a black diamond here may not be quite like a Squaw Valley black diamond. To service the slopes, Cataloochee utilizes 3 lifts: 1 quad, 1 triple, 1 double chair. There is also a moving carpet surface lift for the beginner bunny slope/ski school area (they advertise two, but we saw only one).
Cataloochee has some sweet snow grooming equipment. The slopes seem to be in great shape considering the latitude and altitude. Warm sunny days can easily melt the surface snow and re-freeze causing a glaze. Not to worry. The crews will be out grooming the slopes and making snow all night long (as long as it's cold enough).
The ski area has a good number of instructors, and they offer a decent value for a ski class/rental combo for kids. We noticed that the rental equipment seems new, or at least well maintained. That's pretty rare for a Southern ski area.
The lodge isn't a pretty building by any means, but it's pretty functional. Ski equipment rental is downstairs, and upstairs houses a gift and ski shop and a large food concession area and bar. On most non-holidays, the lodge, lifts, and slopes are just fine. On busy holiday weekends, it is absolutely packed.
Maggie Valley is the local town, and we have camped there several times on Jonathon Creek. There are plenty of restaurants, hotels, and activities to keep the family entertained in and around Maggie Valley. Ironically, much of Maggie Valley closes down in the winter. Don't let that stop you from visiting though. You'll find something to do, and remember Asheville is very near.
summary, Cataloochee is a great ski area if you don't
set your expectations too high. If you are used to the
western slopes, you might find this a little
disappointing. However, if you're not a ski snob, and
you just want to have some fun skiing or snow boarding,
Cataloochee is a great destination.
When we arrived at Stonebridge RV park (now owned by NASCAR), we were extremely disappointed in the seemingly poor condition of the park. It turns out, it pretty much shuts down for the winter. No laundry, no game room, inner roads blocked, and on this particular holiday week, the office was closed and no one was around. We couldn't even get horseshoes for the awesome looking horseshoe pits. There was a tarp on the office's roof, and there was a busted water pipe at one of the sites where the water ran all week. Rebecca spoke to the manager on the phone once, but he told her "Lady, I'm on vacation this week." He never returned my call. So, here we are, six of us for six days, with tons winter clothes and no laundry room. Fortunately, Rebecca had over-packed, so we managed. In all fairness, campgrounds winterizing and shutting-down for the season is pretty common. However, prior to our visit, we were receiving daily emails advertising how wonderful the place is in the winter. We'll have to reconsider where to stay on our next trip to Maggie Valley.
On our first full day in Maggie Valley, we thought we'd survey the situation at Cataloochee to determine when and where we needed to be the next morning to enroll the kids in ski school. Unfortunately, we were turned away a the base of the mountain because the ski area was filled to capacity. We were told to get there very early the next morning, and that's just what we did.
The kids' ski day was on the Friday before New Years Eve. Cataloochee Ski Area was packed with folks on holiday, but that didn't hinder the fun. Even with the crowd of people, everything went off without a hitch. We had all the kids in some exceptional rental boots and skis in no time. Although Santa brought some silly ski hats, we put helmets on the kids. The helmets were to protect the kids from other klutzy skiers more than falls. There were a lot of beginners out there.
After registering the kids for ski school, we left them in the care of the competent ski instructors (as we lurked in the shadows). They spent the entire day spoiling the kids with snack breaks and pizza for lunch. By mid-day, our four kids were all working with a single instructor that gave them lots of personal attention. By mid afternoon, the entire Richardson Tribe papooses were loading-up on the lift and skiing down the big hill. They seemed like naturals rarely falling at all. We expected them to be exhausted and sore after so much ski time, but we practically had to drag them away (especially Lainey - see group picture as we were leaving).
lunch and occasional warm-up breaks, Rebecca and I
visited the lodge. This two-story structure is very much utilitarian with a cafeteria-like food
service area, a bar, and lots of tables and seating.
The place was packed though, and finding a seat was
a challenge. In general, the ski area is quite
different from some of the ski resorts Rebecca and I
have visited out west. It's a ski area, not a
resort. We have to keep reminding ourselves not to
compare. After all, flying west, renting a van, and
finding affordable housing with four kids in
Colorado would probably require a second mortgage.
Yup, Cataloochee will do, and do quite nicely thank