Snow much fun: Ober Gatlinburg offers something for all ages
By Linda Braden Albert | (email@example.com)
East Tennessee is blessed with a number of attractions, and at this time of year, Ober Gatlinburg’s snowy slopes are favorites of both local residents and tourists.
Kathy Doyle, director of marketing at Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort and Amusement Park, said, “We opened tubing Nov. 17, and we opened the ski slopes on Dec. 23, just in time for the holidays.”
If Mother Nature doesn’t send snow, Ober Gatlinburg can create its own, Doyle said.
“We’ve got two different systems,” Doyle said. “One is in the tubing area. That is more of an all-weather type of snow-making. It’s slightly different than regular snow-making you do when it’s below freezing. You are shooting water up into the air and the cold air freezes it, and it comes down as snow. The system we use in tubing actually freezes it inside a small building and blows snow out. It’s actually called a snow crystal.”
Anyone, ages 3 and up, can participate in tubing.
“It really takes no skills,” Doyle said. “You do need to be able to stand, you need to be able to get in and out of the tube, but that’s pretty much the skills that are required.
“You take a ‘Magic Carpet,’ which is a lift, like a conveyer belt, which you stand on with your tube that transports you up the hill. You get in your tube and ride back down. That’s easy to do regardless of skill, and you don’t need any instruction to do that. It’s fun for all ages and for those who want a taste of snow sports without getting into the skiing or snowboarding.”
Doyle said a good percentage of skiers and snowboarders are new to these winter sports.
“For example, much of our business from the past week and a half is from Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi — places where they’ve never seen snow before,” Doyle said. “So it’s very unique for them. And we do offer lessons.”
January has been designated as “Learn to Ski/Snowboard” Month at Ober Gatlinburg. Three-session packages in these snow sports will be offered throughout January, Doyle said, and will have special appeal for locals.
“People don’t realize how blessed they are to have a ski area right in their own back yard, for the most part,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity for those locals to learn how to ski or snowboard, and it’s at a very good rate.”
Participants will have three progressive lessons and do not need any skills prior to beginning. Doyle said, “In the first session, you’re learning how to stand in the skis, how to slide in the skis, how to stop in the skis. Then the next session, you learn a little bit more, and the third session, you learn even more. You’re building on your skills each time. It’s kind of like learning to drive for the first time. You really don’t know what you’re doing until you’ve tried it a few times.”
All ages, all seasons
Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort and Amusement Park had its beginnings as the Gatlinburg Ski Resort in 1961. The Aerial Tramway, which was constructed in 1973, and the Ski Resort became Ober Gatlinburg in 1975, eventually becoming the year-round attraction it is today.
Doyle said the fun begins in downtown Gatlinburg.
“We have a small mall downtown with shops, and that’s where the 120-passenger aerial tramway begins,” she said. “It lets you off into a Resort Mall, as we call it. The centerpiece of that is an ice rink.
“Up there, we also have a Wildlife Encounter. All of the animals are native to the Smokies. Right now the bears are in hibernation, but we do have the river otters, the birds of prey, raccoons and skunks and squirrels — small mammals — and reptiles.”
A carousel is also located inside the Resort Mall, and for the small children, there is a Cubbies Snow Zone. Doyle said, “It’s a little play area in the snow where they can make snow angels, roll in the snow, make snowmen. To do tubing they have to be 3 and over, so we wanted the little tykes to have a place to play in the snow, as well. That’s open on weekends and holidays only, it’s not open during the week.”
Another year-round activity is the scenic chair lift.
“This offers a beautiful view of the Smokies and all over,” Doyle said.
A restaurant and lounge as well as snack bars are located there, as well. For complete information, visit the website at http://www.obergatlinburg.com .