Facts, tips regarding area slopes

By Michelle Pope
STAR STAFF
mpope@starhq.com

   When the term "sport" is mentioned, skiing and snowboarding aren't usually the first two things that come to mind. However, in the nearby mountains of North Carolina is the small town of Banner Elk, nestled in between four of the state's finest ski resorts.
   As a Banner Elk local, I've picked up some helpful facts and tips when it comes to frequenting the slopes.
   Some may balk at the idea, saying it's simply too expensive, but with a little research of information just a few keystrokes away, one can discover a variety of discounts that the resorts offer. For example, Sugar Mountain offers snow day discounts.
   Every teacher and student in Avery and Watauga (N.C.) counties, or Carter and Johnson counties, who find themselves wondering how to spend the free snow day they've suddenly received, are eligible for $14 lift tickets and $7 ski rentals for the day session at Sugar. All that is required is proof of residency, such as a driver's license or report card.
   If you prefer to ski or snowboard without having to deal with a crowd and pay jacked-up prices, weekends are the worst time to go.
   Can't leave work or school to take advantage of the cheaper weekday rates? Go during the evening, when it's less crowded, and more inexpensive anyway. At most slopes, night sessions start at 6 p.m. and last until 11 p.m., and are normally 10 to 20 dollars cheaper than the daytime lift tickets.
   All four mountains in the Banner Elk/Blowing Rock area offer college and military discounts, usually during the weekdays. After March, many of the rates are cut in half. Beech Mountain, a personal favorite, has a different deal every weekday after January 4. Mondays are Ladies' Days -- free lift ticket, free ski rentals for all women. Two for Tuesdays features a buy one, get one free deal on lift tickets. Another great time to go is on Retro Wednesdays, when the mountain discounts prices to what they were in the 70's: $10 lift tickets and $7 ski rentals. Every Thursday features 20 dollar lift tickets.
   Many people take a run or two down the slope for the first time, realize that they aren't quite catching on to the techniques required to prevent "yard sales" (imagine skis and poles spread around you after a tumble, yard sale-style), and classify skiing in the I'll-never-do-that-again category. If you find yourself relating to this situation, give snowboarding a try. It uses different muscles, a different style of balance, and is often less awkward, yet produces the same exhilarating feeling as you glide down the slope.
   As a former skier, and current snowboarder, I tend to be somewhat biased, but I'll attempt to fairly weigh the benefits of each. I suggest that people who have never tried either sport start with skiing. It's much easier to learn control and gives you the freedom to move your legs. You also get to use poles, which provide a feeling of comfort more than anything else, but also helps with balance. Most slopes offer classes to teach people to ski in as little as an hour, such as Appalachian Mountain's (Blowing Rock, NC.) famous French-Swiss Ski College, which also offers snowboarding lessons.
   The basic technique of skiing is to snake your way down the slope in an "s" figure. The friend who taught me to ski must have been hungry, explaining to form your skis in a pizza slice shape to slow down and stop, and to align them side by side, like two french fries, to pick up speed.
   It's much easier to stand wearing skis, and if you're renting equipment, skis are less expensive than snowboards. At Appalachian Mountain, snowboard rentals are $22 on a weekday, while ski rentals are only $12. Hawksnest Golf and Ski Resort, however, has a smaller price difference, with $12 weekday ski rentals, and only $15 snowboard rentals.
   For the skier who often finds himself doing a split is the alternative to snowboard. While someone who hasn't spent much time on a slope may find the feeling of having both feet strapped to a wooden board a bit overwhelming, it's perfect for someone who despises having sprawling falls, or struggles with keeping their skis from crossing.
   Snowboards, while more expensive to rent from a rental shop or ski mountain, are less expensive to buy than skis if you want to invest in your own equipment. Snowboarders are usually less obtrusive when getting off the ski lift, as they don't have poles to trip fellow riders and don't need to spread into a "pizza" to keep their speed down.
   Whether you ski or snowboard, you will more than likely fall at some point, often repetitively. Falling on a snowboard is, in my opinion, less painful, because arms and legs don't bend in ways that limbs should never bend; instead, falls are more like gentle flops, or if involving higher speeds, rolling somersaults.
   Snowboarders are often accused of cluttering the slopes by sitting in the middle of the slope. I will both defend and agree with this statement. It is extremely difficult to stand on a snowboard, because you have to dig either the front or rear edge into the snow to stop, forcing you to sit or kneel in the snow when not in motion.
   However, I side with the common skier's complaint about boarders sitting in groups, blocking everyone else's path to the bottom. Both skiers and snowboarders must utilize the entire width of a slope for optimal control. A standing skier is the equivalent of a sitting snowboarder, and neither group should block others' path down the slope.
   Once you "find" yourself as a snowboarder, you will be regular or goofy; that is, if you favor going down the slope with your left foot in front, you're regular, and goofy if you go right foot first. The technique of snowboarding is to alternately lean forward and backward, simultaneously digging your front and back edges into the snow, known as carving, which is similar to the "s" shape that skiers cut through the snow. Regulars tend to favor their back edge, while most goofys are more comfortable stopping on their front edge.
   The choice of which resort to ski at depends on what you want from your experience. Sugar Mountain boasts the steepest, fastest slopes, and is always the first to open and last to close. Beech has a wide variety of slopes, enveloping both the amateur and the expert. Sugar and Beech have the reputation of being the largest slopes, but have more expensive rates. To compensate, they offer a wider variety of discounts.
   Hawksnest and Appalachian are smaller, and have cheaper rates, but don't offer as many discounts. Hawksnest prides itself in later hours, and less expensive year-round rates. Appalachian Mountain is more family-oriented, and also offers low seasonal rates.
   When the snow starts falling, instead of growling about the bad weather, take a short drive to North Carolina, and enjoy one of the lesser known sports.