Posted by Leif Palmer in Things to Do
The cold days of winter are fully upon us here in the Great Smoky Mountains. And there's no doubt that the pace of life has slowed up, only if just a little, in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville. Dollywood and many of the local music theaters are on their annual winter hiatuses, and the lines to get into the attractions that are still open are shorter than they are during their summertime peaks. Other telltale signs, like shorter waits to get into restaurants and lighter traffic on the Parkway, surely indicate that things have slowed down a bit during this off-season.
But there's one place in the Smokies that's a true hotspot in winter. In fact, although it's open all year, things don't really kick into high gear until the weather gets nice and cold. And that's just the way they like it at Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort, which overlooks its namesake community from Mt. Harrison. Ober Gatlinburg indeed has a lot to offer for warm-weather visitors, but when the mercury dips close to freezing and below, it's time to break out the cold-weather gear and enjoy a wide variety of outdoor activities.
Obviously, snow skiing is one of the main attractions at Ober Gatlinburg. With a base elevation of 2,700 feet above sea level and a peak elevation of 3,300 feet, the resort's eight different slopes offer as much as a 600-foot drop in elevation. Slopes range from easy to challenging, with varying levels in between. There are even two easy slopes for ski-school students and beginners. Along the way, seven different lifts service these slopes. Note that not every slope is open every day. Resort managers will open individual slopes on a daily basis, depending on recent snowfall, levels of machine-made snow and impending weather conditions.
Speaking of which, Ober Gatlinburg does rely on machine-made snow to help out Mother Nature when the real white stuff isn't falling from the sky. As long as the temperatures on the mountain are conducive, their snowmaking system sprays a mixture of air and water that combine to form real (though manmade) snow.
In addition to finding snow skiers on the slopes of Ober Gatlinburg, you'll also see snowboarders in action, and boarders also like to take advantage of the terrain park that's set up on the Castle Run slope. This course has features like rails and tubes that allow snow boarders to hone and practice their skateboard-like skills.
If you've never skied or snowboarded before, Ober Gatlinburg is a great place to learn. They have a ski school on site, where instructors will show you all the basics of either skiing or snowboarding and help you find your footing as you try out your newly learned skills on the easiest of slopes. They even have equipment and clothing rentals, so there's no need to invest in a lot of gear for your first outdoor skiing adventure.
But skiing and snowboarding aren't the only ways to have fun in the snow at Ober Gatlinburg. One of the resort's most popular wintertime attractions is the 10-lane snow-tubing course. You hop on an inner tube at the top of the slide and coast your way down to the bottom of the 350-foot long course, losing about 50 feet of elevation along the way. Tubing sessions last 90 minutes, and the best part is that you don't have to climb back to the top of the hill for each ride. The course has a “Magic Carpet” outdoor escalator that takes riders back to the top with zero effort.
For the youngest of Ober guests there's the Cubbies Snow Zone, a discovery play area for kids. It's only open on weekends, but little ones can have a (Arctic) blast building snowmen, making snow angels and more. Unfortunately, snowball throwing is not allowed in the Snow Zone.
We've covered a lot of snow-capped ground already, but there's a lot more to see at Ober Gatlinburg during winter. On the resort grounds, their Ski Mountain Coaster (an alpine coaster) is in operation during winter as is their scenic chairlift to the top of the mountain. Inside the resort, you'll find an ice-skating rink (fee includes skate rental) and ice bumper cars, which are exactly what you're probably thinking; they're bumper cars that operate on a frozen rink. Attractions like an old-fashioned carousel and a wildlife encounter round out the wintertime fun.
There are two ways to get to Ober Gatlinburg. You can drive Ski Mountain Road from downtown Gatlinburg to the resort's parking area. Or you can take the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway from its downtown loading station at the intersection of Parkway and LeConte Street for a 2.1-mile ride directly to the resort.
Although it's primarily a means of getting from Point A to Point B, the Tramway is practically an attraction in its own right. It's one of the nation's largest aerial tramways and climbs more than 1,400 feet from downtown to the resort. Each of the two gondola cars can carry as many as 120 passengers and at times reaches as high as 300 feet off the ground. Since its debut in 1973, the Tramway has carried millions of passengers to Ober Gatlinburg and back. Tramway cars depart on a regular basis, making continuous runs from station to station. During the ride, passengers are treated to amazing views of downtown Gatlinburg as well as nearby mountains like Mt. LeConte.
To get daily slope reports as well as more information on individual activities and their ticket prices, visit www.obergatlinburg.com. And until you visit, you can always check out what's happening on the slopes by visiting one of their two live webcams here: https://obergatlinburg.com/webcams.
About Leif Palmer
Leif Palmer loves residing in the Smoky Mountains. He is an avid outdoorsman: rowing for exercise on the lake, trail hiking, and free climbing rocks in the mountains. He indulges his arty side by periodically beating up pieces of marble by sculpting. He is always frustrated by his inability to sink long putts, and hates his curly hair (but his wife loves it). Leif has been known to muster enough courage to change a diaper, and hopes his son will become a chip off the old block.
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