Leave the sun, see the slopes

Florida is known to have only one season: summer. Even during the colder months, skiing and other winter sports are out of the question.

But an affordable vacation with winter sports happens to be just hours away in North Carolina.

For Emily Roff, a college student, escaping the heat of Florida for some skiing in North Carolina is worth enduring the ten-hour drive. Roff said the state provides an affordable way to spend a, enjoyable vacation due to the different seasons and the friendliness of its people.

“We drove up for the Christmas vacation and we heard the slopes were beautiful and we decided to go. It was well worth it,” Roff said.

There are many ski hills throughout the Smoky Mountains including the Cataloochee Ski resort, which is located in the heart of Maggie Valley.

“I went skiing in Maggie Valley, N.C. There, I was able to afford it and have a blast. There were over five different slopes open and I was able to ski over jumps and have fun,” Roff said.

For someone used to the temperate winter climate of Florida, the relatively short journey north throws up sharply contrasting conditions.

“It’s nice to go up to North Carolina because there are actual seasonal changes. The day I woke up to go skiing it was only 30 degrees. Our vacation was the first time I had ever seen snow flurries and I was excited,” Roff said.

For the non-skiers there is also tubing and ice-skating.

“I have never tubed on snow before; it was a definite first for me. I also went ice-skating,” Roff said. “North Carolina has never let me down; it is so peaceful and relaxing. I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else for vacation.”

A further attraction of the region is the 865 miles of trails through the Smoky Mountains. Backpackers for the March spring break are advised to go to the Smoky Mountain Visitor Information Center to get an itinerary and a permit to go camping.

“This permit is necessary to have and it’s free,” said Rose Broxtic, the manager of the bookstore inside the Smoky Mountain Ranger station.

Broxtic said that there is also more information on the park Web site: www.nps.gov/grsm.

The Smoky Mountain National Park Service keep a sharp eye on the maintenance of developing campgrounds at the ten locations inside the park.

One of the most popular sites throughout the forest is Newfound Gap. There is a trail there that almost guarantees beautiful scenery all year long.

One new convert to the region is Ned Tully, a University of Florida student who visited North Carolina to hike the Newfound Gap trails with friends.

“The drive up here is not bad at all, and we are staying in a cabin at a very decent price,” he said. “We have been hiking up this mountain all day, we have seen icicles taller than us, and the hikers along the way are extremely nice. We are already planing another vacation up here soon.”

There is an endless list of possibilities in the Smokies, Tully explained.

Despite its apparent emphasis on outdoor activities, the quietness and seclusion of the region is also a magnet for those who might spend more time inside than out.

“We came up here to enjoy our honeymoon,” said Jason and Jessica Kirintich, who were hiking the Newfound Gap trail. “We are staying in a log cabin and just hanging out.”