Spring Break in Sugar Mountain
By Sharon Haukohl
After the second year of a particularly frigid and excessively windy attempt at a mid-March Spring Break Beach trip, our family decided to embrace the chill and head to the mountains instead. I had visited Sugar Mountain, NC in college, read a little bit about its offerings online, and we all decided this destination might work.
Our group included four adults, (two moms who had skied a couple of times in college and could still fit into their original ski pants using rubber bands to connect the pant buttons–kind of like the newly-pregnant), two novice husbands, (with newly acquired beards who honestly wanted to chill out in the lodge area), and five children aged 8-14, none of whom had ever skied, but all of which sported a bizarre assortment of non-matching ski garb borrowed from neighbors and acquired from thrift stores.
(Actually, it wasn’t until after the trip that my own 8-year-old daughter realized that the bright orange Spyder ski suit she wore the entire time was actually designed for a boy.)
We purchased (what proved to be unnecessary) tire chains, rented a roomy cabin in Banner Elk, NC complete with four bedrooms, a hot tub, pool table, and even a few stocked fishing ponds!
(I will say that I have a non-skiing husband whose favorite part of the trip might have been the research and shopping for tire chains…only to be potentially eclipsed by a purposed endeavor to grow an unusually long beard.)
We arrived bright and early on our first morning at the Sugar Mountain Resort and found the line to rent ski equipment a little daunting but doable. Initially, eyes rolled and pre-teens balked when I started my speech about the safety helmets, but I was quickly rescued by a wizened Sugar Mountain resort staff member. Apparently, when a tattooed resort worker with dreadlocks tells your 14-year-old son that helmets are mandatory, for some reason, they nod knowingly like it’s the coolest thing ever and fasten that helmet quickly.
My friend and I sprayed each child’s head liberally with rosemary lice repellant, popped on those safety helmets and checked the five into ski school, leaving the men casually sipping coffee on the overlook deck. The ski school instructors proved to be incredibly patient—even with one child in our group who was on the Autism spectrum—and all five kids left ski school being able to slowly cruise down the bunny hill without face planting or taunting the fallen…at least most of the time.
Don’t taunt the fallen…
Sugar Mountain had slopes that suited everyone in our group: the two younger girls enjoyed the easy green “Magic Carpet Area” and “Easy Street” slopes all week while the older kids ventured through all blue slopes and even hit (or were forced by their brother to hit) the black diamond slopes a few times!
At the end of the day, wet, tired and missing gloves, we were happy to retreat to our mountain cabin.
Of course, all the kids immediately rushed to the hot tub where they bobbed, swam, jumped and somehow soaked 12 beach towels until bedtime. Let me simply say when the condo rules warn against bringing drinks (read juice boxes and Sprite) and snacks (goldfish and Skittles) into the hot tub, they aren’t kidding. We awoke the next morning to the girls screaming that the hot tub was green and smelled like a sewer. Indeed, the tub water appeared a rheumy green…with grayish bubbles…and we had to call the maintenance workers to shock the tub…and this was not the last time had to call maintenance during our stay…for a situation we created.
Besides skiing, there are many other fun-filled activities to do in the Banner Elk/Sugar Mountain/Boone area—including gem mining, hiking, Grandfather Mountain, Mystery Hill, and Linville Caverns which boasts thousands of bats suffering from a troubling malady called “white-nose syndrome” – don’t worry, reportedly it doesn’t spread to humans but you do have to dip your shoes in bleach water when you leave the caverns to avoid spreading it to other bats…I guess?
They sell a lot of candy here. In large bins. Charged by weight. An 8-year-old wandering leisurely with the handy provided bag can effortlessly drop $31.00 here, and that’s a conservative estimate. They sell those teeny tiny jawbreakers the size of BBs that are sure to chip a brand-new adult tooth with a careless crunch. Fun times! They do have educational candies like horehound, maple-leaf shaped brown sugar cakes and flat peppermint sticks that hearken the days of Pa and Little House in the Big Woods.
Behind the store is a large creek where experts fly fish and your children can unmercifully annoy them by throwing pebbles, fashioning their own fly fishing reels out of found sticks and, in our case, actually falling into the icy creek and having to be hauled home, wailing, to change into dry clothing…just in time to hit the Grandfather Trout Farm.
I understand why the Grandfather Trout Farm must stay open 7 days per week, 365 days per year—the need for immediate trout pond fishing never wanes. Fling handfuls of cheap cat food into these ponds and watch these three bodies of water veritably roil with rainbow trout…not that the “farm” condones that practice. Yet if you happen to have a cat food sample in your van, (even though you own no cats), and your children decide cat food is a grand item to bring to a trout farm, then you too can experience this joy…and the subsequent frowns and admonishments of the Grandfather Trout Farm Professionals.
The Grandfather Trout Professionals provide everything you need—from poles to bait to nets. Granted, some of the trout sported troubling protuberances…and some children asked if these were cancerous tumors…loudly…in front of other people…and in front of the Grandfather Trout Farm Professionals. Some, (actually all), of those same children, refused to eat the (what ended up being after cleaning fees and skin removal) the $89 worth of trout fillet…even when it was fried and doused with ketchup…even when it was sautéed with butter and white wine.
The Grandfather Trout Farm is wonderful for the young, inexperienced child who is satisfied with catching one or two smallish fish, posing for a photo and moving along to get ice cream.
It’s also great for pre-teen girls who feel grossed out by farm-raised trout with weird growths and refuse to participate.
However, if you find yourself with semi-experienced teenagers in your group who can haul in 2-3 fish every few minutes and insist on fishing only in the pond with the largest fish, prepare to lay down some serious cash. And, if your experience is like ours, prepare for these same teens to refuse to eat any of the fish once they’ve had a little time to ponder the crowded nature of the three ponds, potential pesticide runoff, and the fish’s crazed desire for cheap cat food.
I highly recommend staying in a cabin as part of a Mountain Spring Break experience when you have four adults and five children because there is room to spread out and relax…and dry all of your wet stuff. Friends have recommended some of the smaller condos right on the slopes where you can “ski in and ski out.” That all sounds great in theory, but also extremely loud, with no pool table or hot tub or stocked fish pond or separation from the children.
In the mountain cabin, our group thrilled to the pool table, conveniently located in an open game room complete with a balcony overlooking the kitchen/family room. I’d like to focus on the words “open” and “pool table” and “overlooking” and then share the stark reality that the kitchen/family room included a glass-topped coffee table.
We sailed along smoothly with these novice skiers who also doubled as entry-level pool players until the last night when our parental diligence grew a little lax and our chaperoning of the pool table area waned somewhat. Let me just share that it is loud…and messy…when a pool ball launches over a balcony onto a large glass-topped coffee table below.
So again, we were forced to call maintenance about this unfortunate situation…and they notified us they would indeed bill us for the replacement glass. Yet low and behold the next morning as we were packing the vans to leave, the youngest child, while digging in the gravel driveway for fossils, found the long-lost wedding band of the cabin owner who, when he learned of this development, waived the replacement cost of the glass.
And there you have the ending of a perfect Spring Break. Yes, the Sugar Mountain/Banner Elk/Boone area proved to be a wonderful Spring Break destination offering a variety of adventures for the skier and non-skier, the fisher and the fearful, the careful and the clumsy.