Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Travel List: Sugar Mountain

For Valentine's Day weekend, Stephen and our friends Emma and Austin decided to head up to Sugar Mountain for a long weekend. I've never been skiing before but I've always wanted to go, so I was very excited for our trip - and I'm sad that it's all come to an end! This is quite the long post for a short trip - but I experienced so much that I want to share.

Stephen and I started our trip on Thursday morning, making the drive to Blowing Rock, where we stopped for a couple of hours. We wandered in and out of shops, grabbed some coffee, and ate ice cream at Kilwin's (yes, it was 25 degrees). We had no concrete plans for the day other than just to spend time together and enjoy the scenery, so we made our way over to the Blue Ridge Parkway, which ended up being closed about 10 minutes into our drive. I was a little disappointed because the view on the parkway is gorgeous, but we took a scenic road towards Grandfather Mountain which proved to be quite interesting! It was just beautiful, but Stephen really couldn't enjoy the view because the roads were so curvy and narrow - as to be expected on the side of a mountain. We wanted to do the Mile High Swinging Bridge at Grandfather Mountain, but with winds up to 55 miles per hour and a wind chill well into the negatives, the bridge was closed - no surprise there. 

We drove into Linville and looped down to Banner Elk, a small but bustling mountain town right at Sugar Mountain. We stopped by the rental office to pick up the keys to our condo and made the trek up the mountain to our home-away-from-home for the weekend. We both thought it was on located on the side of the mountain, but we definitely thought wrong. Our condo, located in The Reserve, was about a 10 minute drive up the mountain to the very top. Though it was considered ski-in, ski-out, let me assure me that the closest I got to that slope (a black diamond, might I add) was by walking there, and I had no plans to ski down it. The view, however, was absolutely phenomenal and all I wanted to do was stare out the window or stand on the deck. 

The rest of the evening was spent renting our skis - we chose Alpine Ski Center - finding a dinner place, the Bayou, and going to the grocery store for some necessities for the weekend. We did do some exploring over by the slopes, and I quickly realized how cold man-made snow is. 
Lucky for us, we woke up to a gorgeous snowfall on Friday morning, on top of the 4-5 inches Sugar had already received before we arrived. It snowed all day on Friday, and though it was freezing, I certainly had no complaints. We headed down the mountain and then back up again to the ski resort, and I can assure you I was pretty nervous about skiing. And I made mistake #1: only going down the bunny slope twice. After two brief runs, I hopped on the ski lift, and I wasn't too worried about it because I had no clue what to expect. Disclaimer: I can't ski well. At all. 

I surprisngly made it off the lift without falling, but that was only the beginning of the struggle. The first hill was okay, but when I got to a larger one, it all went downhill from there. Literally. Y'all - the videos Stephen has of me trying to ski down the green slopes is hilarious. I look like a cross between a newborn giraffe and a grandma with a cane. I knew if I turned my skis the way they were supposed to go I would start going fast, so I kept them turned in like a pizza as much as I possibly could, which was a sight. Maybe one day, I'll share that footage but for now... Seriously though, it's hilarious. I finally made it down the baby hill only to start going fast and stick out my ski poles to stop myself which resulted in a wipeout. It only took two runs down the green slope for me to call it a day (pathetic, I know), but we had only purchased a half-day lift ticket for Friday anyway so we weren't cutting our time too short - it took me a long time to get down that slope. 
By the time we made it back up to The Reserve, Emma and Austin were pulling in. We helped them get all of their things inside, chatted for awhile, and then I got ready for dinner. We went to a nice dinner at Stonewall's, a steakhouse in Banner Elk, all thanks to Instagram recommendations from a few personal and blog friends. The dinner certainly did not disappoint! I opted for a salad and a twice baked potato because potatoes are by far favorite food. We went back to the grocery store to pick up a few more things before heading back up to the condo for a cozy night in of movies and games. 
Saturday morning, we all cooked breakfast before getting ready to ski. We had to stop by two places to pick up skis for Emma and Austin because the mountain was so busy, which should've been clue number 1 that my day might not go so well. We managed to get an excellent parking spot thanks to some very patient waiting, so after waiting to get lift tickets, we were on our skis and in line for the ski lift. The atmosphere on Saturday was immediately different - packed with tons of people and lots of waiting. I didn't do any skiing until it was time for me to get off the lift, which might I add, is very difficult in my opinion. Unfortunately, a couple ahead of us got tangled up and fell down, and the lift attendants were helping with them, so my clumsy self fell trying not to run into them. Then, by the time I finally made it over to the top of the slope, a snowboarder ran me over, so that was two times down in about 5 minutes. There were so many people on the green slope that I was immediately overwhelmed and frustrated. I knew I was in the more experienced people's way, I had no clue what I was doing, and to be completely honest, I was terrified. I saw one girl go flying past me and about hit a tree because she couldn't stop, and I could guarantee that was not going to be me. At one point, I popped off my skis and walked until it was a bit flatter because I was so intimidated that I couldn't even make myself push off onto the hill. 

Luckily, my best friend is a trooper, so Emma and I sent the boys off to the blue and black diamond slopes, and we drank hot chocolate in the 5 degree weather. Yep, the high that day was 5 degrees! It wasn't snowy like Friday, but it was definitely cold. We had purchased a twilight ticket, which meant we could ski early afternoon and then again at night, so once the boys were done, we went back to the condo to eat pizza and warm up before night skiing. Everyone kept saying how great night skiing is, but considering my experience in the daylight, I was very skeptical. But they were so right! After a little bit of liquid courage, we headed back over to the ski slopes, and I spent about 30 minutes on the bunny slopes by myself which is exactly what I needed. Once I worked up my courage, I joined Stephen, Austin, and Emma on the green, and though I'm sure I still looked ridiculous going down the hills (pizza all the way!), I was a lot more confident in my ability - or lack thereof - and just took my time and went at my own pace.
Night skiing is also a lot less crowded, so it was much more enjoyable and I didn't have to worry about getting in someone's way or getting knocked over. I managed to go down the green several times without falling - thank goodness - but managed to knock Emma over the one time we rode the ski lift together. Sorry, Emma! I was very glad the boys had each other to do the big slopes, and Emma kept up with the boys on the green, that's for sure. As for me, I have some more learning to do, but I'm looking forward to the next time! I'm very thankful that everyone was so patient with me - I let my frustration get the best of me a couple of times and I was definitely the newbie, so I appreciated all the help that Steve, Emma and Austin gave me. 
We were all exhausted by the time we turned in our skis and got back, so we watched movies and ate cookies for the remainder of the night. On Sunday, I was nowhere near ready to head back because I loved our view so much, but we packed up, cleaned up, and headed off the mountain and over to Boone, where we ate a family-style breakfast at the Dan'l Boone Inn. It's such a neat little restaurant that used to be a doctor's office and residence, a hospital, and a house for students of Appalachian State Teachers College before it was transformed into a restaurant in 1959. After a delicious meal, we parted ways with Austin and Emma and made our trip out of the mountains and back to the coast.

I absolutely love going to the mountains, and I was so glad we had a gorgeous snowy view the whole time we were there. Though I am not a fan of cold weather, the cold didn't bother me too much during this trip - it made it that much more exciting! If you want to know more, I'd love to share! And if you have any ski tips, I'm all ears. I'll be sharing some of the things I've learned as a beginner next week.

P.S. A HUGE thank you to my friend Hillary for lending me her ski gear! I'm glad I got to borrow hers before I invest in my own - it gave me the perfect idea of what I need to buy for our next trip should skiing become something we do more frequently! Her jacket is Volcom but is no longer available online! Isn't it the cutest?

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