When a good snowfall covers the slopes of North Carolina’s ski resorts, skiers and snowboarders benefit from living in one of the state’s several ski towns to quickly hit the trails. It’s the best way to take advantage of a limited window of fresh powder.
While southern states might not be top of mind as great ski destinations, North Carolina boasts the highest peak east of the Mississippi. Mount Mitchell (elevation 6,684 feet) may not be attached to an official ski resort, but the surrounding state park has many trails and areas for backcountry skiing. It’s a nice perk of residing in or visiting any of these three nearby ski towns.
Here are the top ski towns in North Carolina to live and visit, in no particular order:
Banner Elk, NC
Located in northwestern North Carolina not far from the Tennessee border, Banner Elk is situated near two of the state’s premier ski resorts. With Beech Mountain Ski Resort a few miles to the north and Sugar Mountain Resort a few miles to the south, it’s possible to ski both resorts within a single day and still be home for dinner.
Banner Elk has been recognized by USA Today as one of North America’s best ski towns. Beyond proximity to the slopes, the walkable downtown area has art galleries, specialty shops, and general stores. Food options range from fine dining to small cafes, with a mixture of flavors and cultures.
This town in the Blue Ridge Mountains was incorporated in 1911, although the land was once hunting grounds for the Cherokee. The first settlers were farmers and fur traders, and today agriculture is still an important industry. Banner Elk is known for its abundance of tree farms and Christmas tree exports. While the estimated population has decreased from around 1,473 in 2020, there is a wide range of amenities in the area.
Activities like snow tubing and ice skating are available in the cold months, and experiences like the alpine coaster, hiking, and zip lining are offered year-round. In the summer, fishing, horseback riding, and rafting bring residents outdoors.
Those who prefer to stay inside enjoy the Beech Mountain History Museum or tastings at the local winery. The variety of lodging in the area is ideal for visitors interested in exploring all that Banner Elk has to offer.
Blowing Rock, NC
Along the Blue Ridge Parkway, the ski town of Blowing Rock was an early home to Scotch-Irish immigrants who settled there in the mid-18th century. The region attracted farmers, hunters, and trappers, and became a refuge from fighting during the Civil War. It transformed into a summer vacation destination after the war and remains a tourist haven today.
The population was 1,376 in 2020, yet amenities and activities abound in the community. A winding road leads to Appalachian Ski Mountain a few miles to the north. In the summer, visitors spend time at the local theme park, Tweetsie Railroad, or hike to the geological formation known as Blowing Rock
The small village’s Main Street abuts a memorial park, with courts for volleyball, tennis, and basketball, plus a playground and a recreational center. At the heart of the park is a gazebo popular for photos or summer concerts.
Downtown is filled with antique and boutique shops, with an abundance of dining options that include coffee, ice cream, brunch, cafes, delis, and fine dining. The lodging options are just as varied, with bed and breakfasts, inns, cabins, hotels, and even campsites.
Maggie Valley, NC
Due west of Ashville, one ski town is known as a haven for retirees, but also has a suburban vibe with access to plenty of schools and amenities. Maggie Valley had a population of 1,680 in 2020 and is close enough to urban destinations while still feeling like a secret retreat.
The story of Maggie Valley begins with the story of Maggie Mae Setzer Pylant whose family lived isolated in the middle of the Great Smoky Mountains. When her father tried to establish a post office in the area in the early 1900s, he had to select a name. His first choices were taken by other nearby communities, so he offered the names of his daughters. Maggie was the one officially approved.
Today the community is known for an abundance of festivals and events, from concerts to motorcycle rallies, and from art shows to automobile shows. Fishing, golfing, horseback riding, hiking, and rafting are all enjoyed in the summer, with tubing, skiing, and snowboarding taking over in the winter. Cataloochee Ski Area is along a winding road to the north and is one of the area’s most popular destinations.
There’s truly something for everyone in Maggie Valley, with dozens of shops and restaurants lining the long stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The community has plenty of inns, hotels, and resorts, as well as nearby campgrounds.
Living in any of these three ski towns in North Carolina, it’s easy to reach the slopes as soon as the perfect snowfall covers the mountains. All of these areas have amenities for a temporary ski destination, a year-round vacation home, or a full-time residence. Finding the optimal balance of convenient facilities and resources is the best way to find the right ski town.
While the southern states aren’t usually considered top ski destinations, these mountain towns prove that there are many options east of the Mississippi. Have fun exploring the Appalachian Mountains within “The Old North State”!