Guide to Tennessee’s 1 Ski Resort
Ober Gatlinburg proudly touts itself as Tennessee’s number one skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing destination. Although it’s also Tennessee’s only skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing destination, it could certainly hold the mantle of being one of the state’s most entertaining places to visit.
Situated at the top of Mount Harrison, the Ober Gatlinburg Ski Area and Amusement Park is a popular hub every season of the year. The downhill ski resort can be accessed by catching a tram in downtown Gatlinburg, then riding more than two miles up the mountain. Upon exiting the tram visitors discover a mall area and a plethora of activities like an alpine slide, mountain coaster, ice skating rink, carousel, bumper cars, shopping, and dining.
Ober Gatlinburg’s resort is located at an elevation of 3,208 feet with a 600-foot vertical drop. There are ten trails and one terrain park over 38 skiable acres. A quarter of the runs are green or black and the remaining half is blue. Runs are surprisingly spread across the mountain considering the ski area’s size, although many are narrow trails carved through trees. The longest run is nearly a mile long.
Tennessee Ski Season
Ski season usually begins in mid-December and lasts until mid-March with a goal to remain open for 90 days each year. Wet and warm weather can wreak havoc with attempts to create snow, so check with the resort in advance to ensure that all areas are operating before purchasing tickets.
Tennessee receives more than 50 inches of rain annually and is among the country’s wettest states, but the resort still receives an average of 35 inches of snow each year.
Before the natural snow falls, Ober Gatlinburg relies on its large number of snow machines to create enough powder for a skiing and snowboarding base. The cold nights in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park can sometimes make it easier for the ski area to create snow in the winter, but even if the snow is too slushy there are plenty of other things to do including a 10-lane tubing park.
“Ober,” meaning “upper” in German, distinguishes itself from the rest of Gatlinburg in name but not by activities. Both elevations are filled with shopping, dining, and entertainment. All of these additional activities plus the tram ride can be expensive for some families, so driving to the top of Mount Harrison is an alternative.
The rental shop has everything a skier or snowboarder needs, from basic equipment to bibs and helmets, for one-day rentals. There is no lodging available at the top of the mountain but plenty of accommodation below in Gatlinburg.
Lessons are mandatory for those experiencing their first time on the slopes. Private and group lessons are an option or a four-week program for all ages and skills. Starting in mid-January, Thursdays are race night at Ober Gatlinburg. Skiers and snowboarders can register in advance for each of the eight weeks of races or can register the same night. The series is open to anyone and prizes are presented to the top performers at the end of the season.
Although Tennessee doesn’t have many downhill skiing choices, fortunately, their only one is a good one. It’s a rare downhill ski area that offers so much fun packed into a small resort.