We all have preconceived notions about skiing.

There’s no ski resort in Mexico. Actually, there is one: Bosques de Monterreal and when there’s no snow, people use a dry, bristle surface.

There’s no place to ski in South Africa: There is. It’s called Tiffindell and it receives ample natural snow.

The American South doesn’t have much to offer when it comes to skiing. WRONG. WRONG. WRONG.

I’ve been reading Southern Snow: The New Guide to Winter Sports from Maryland to the Southern Appalachians, (472 pps; UNC Press) and it’s fascinating! There are 23 ski areas south of the Mason-Dixon line, most of which are in the Appalachian Mountains, the same range that provides elevation and vertical drop for skiers in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. But down South, the mountains are higher than their northern cousins, and because of geography and weather patterns they attract a surprising amount of natural snow, supplemented, of course, by snow-making.

The author, Randy Johnson, published the first edition in 1986 and did a thorough update for this 2019 edition by The University of North Carolina Press. His articles and photographs are widely published and, for most of two decades, he was editor of HemispheresUnited Airlines’ inflight magazine.

Johnson does a thorough exploration of his subject. He explains the geography and the weather systems that deliver cold and snow to the region. I found the history particularly interesting, especially the region’s pro-Union role during the Civil War, and how these higher elevations became summer playgrounds for residents of Washington, Roanoke, Baltimore and other flat-land cities. 

The book presents the development of the southern ski industry. The SCWDC (Ski Club of Washington D.C.) organized early winter forays into the mountains, cleared trails, and installed rope tows. More sophisticated lifts were in place by the late 1940s. Howard Head developed the first metal ski in Baltimore. 

Each of the Southern ski areas is categorized by state; the most extensive areas are in West Virginia and North Carolina where vertical drops are as high as 1,500’ (Snowshoe, WV) and 1,200’ (Sugar Mountain, NC). This section includes places to stay and dine. While that information is kept current on the Internet, it’s helpful to have the author’s preferences.

The last part of the book details places for cross-country skiing, winter hiking and winter mountaineering. These cover, among others, state parks, national forests, Blue Ridge Parkway, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The book is infused with personal accounts and points of view. The author is a booster for the region he loves, often comparing conditions there to those on New England and, a few times, to those in the West.

Southern Snow immerses the reader in a general understanding and appeal of winter in the southern Appalachians. In this comprehensive and interesting read, Randy Johnson shares his love of the Southern highlands. Now I feel the need to add some of these resorts to my life list. If only there were world enough and time….

One Comment

  1. Avatar Ross Prezant says:

    I bought Southern snow last year and read it cover to cover!
    Besides assessments of traditional areas, he shares tips on how to maximize your ski day/ experience. Randy J gives up info on diverse topics such as cross country options, weather and topography for Southern mounts. Even a chapter (excellent one) on winter driving concepts.
    Cool read!

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