Micah McClure photo
Blue Ridge Parkway in the snow
Through the evening and into the night, snow softly fell outside my first-floor apartment, piling on 10 inches that transformed my Toyota Camry into nothing but a rounded lump in the well-covered driveway. Friends and co-workers in my little mountain town grew steadily more anxious as the chances of power outages and icy roads increased, but I progressively became more excited.
When I moved to North Carolina, I’d brought my cross-country skis with me, but I’d been skeptical they’d get any use so far south. As each snowflake fell, those narrow strips of fiberglass seemed more and more unfit to stay in the closet.
The next day, I put on my snowsuit and ski boots, threw the skis and poles in the car, and set off in search of a place to set them gliding. I began backing out of the driveway and—boom—the engine guard cracked against the buildup of packed snow. The plastic loudly dragged against the asphalt. There would be no highway travels that day.
Instead I trundled a half-mile down the road to the town’s greenway, tossed the skis on the snow, hooked my toes in, and grabbed the poles. As I glided forward with my left foot, then my right, the crisp smell of winter and freshly fallen snow filled my nostrils and my body warmed from the exercise.
Until the trail ended, too soon, at a crowded apartment complex.
“Look, skis!” a child exclaimed to her mother. People around here must not do this much, I thought.
Josh Whitmore, director of outdoor programs for Western Carolina University, agreed.
“There are folks I know that when we get 12 or 14 inches or more, they’re out doing that kind of stuff,” he said. “It takes a really special storm to make that happen.”
Special indeed. After getting my vehicle highway-worthy once more, I set for the Blue Ridge Parkway. Since no salt is allowed on the Parkway, the road is closed when it snows, and I’d heard good things about the wide asphalt’s ski-worthiness.
“There’s some elevation there, and you don’t have to have a ton of snow on top of the paved road to get enough surface to do it a little bit,” Whitmore said.
Higher elevations, particularly the Brevard area between intersections with N.C. 215 and U.S. 276 in North Carolina, are perhaps more recommended, but I didn’t really want to take my little front-wheel drive car up the windy access roads, never mind that I was fitting in my little jaunt amidst a workday, before the snow melted. Balsam Gap, located near the Haywood/Jackson county line in Western North Carolina, was my easiest point of access.
It was a gorgeous day—blue skies, temperatures in the high 40s turning the winter day to summer as I started to sweat from the workout, snow a little slushy with pavement peeking through in places, but the layer of white was plenty to keep me going.
My heart pumped and smile widened as I reveled in the best form of exercise yet invented (except for, perhaps, hiking). Reluctantly I turned around, responsibility calling me off the trail, but I’d got my first taste of skiing in the Southern Appalachians, and it wasn’t half bad.
I drove back to town daydreaming about riding out the next winter storm on the Parkway—woods silent but for the rhythmic squeak of waxed skis, drifts of white still layered on pine branches and bare limbs—and so began to wait for more snow.
Give it a try
Cross-country skiing is a sporadically available sport in the Smoky Mountains, since snow doesn’t often stick around long enough to form a solid base and trails tend to be too steep for easy skiing. But it’s still possible—and rewarding.
Where to go:
• The Blue Ridge Parkway, especially the higher-elevation sections through Western North Carolina
• Local greenways, which often provide easy access to flat trails
• Roan Mountain State Park in Tennessee
• Moses Cone Memorial Park, which has 25 miles of maintained carriage paths
Where to rent:
Possibly the only place to rent cross-country skis in the Southern Appalachians is High Country Ski Shop in Pineola, N.C. Skis rent for $18 per day, and lessons are available.