Pros: Close to Atlanta (but not worth the trip)
Cons: Everything else
To sum up my lengthy review--boring slopes, no options whatsoever, slow & old lifts, crowds, scores of newbies that run into people, ridiculous prices, horribly inappropriate for families with small children (under 4), extremely poor management. For details, read on.
I decided to take my family (myself, my husband and my mom, all of us intermediate to advanced skiers, and our 3-year-old son) on a long weekend to Cataloochee based on its proximity to Atlanta. Because of many unflattering reviews that I read about the resort, we headed out with very low expectations and with the conviction to keep our minds open for a fun, albeit not the most exciting, ski vacation. Little did we know that what awaited us was worse than anything we had imagined.
We headed to Chataloochee on Saturday morning with the intention to ski half day on Saturday, all day Sunday and half day Monday. Because our son is only 3, we planned on having one of us spend time sledding with him, somewhere just next to the ski runs or on the bunny slopes. Upon arrival at the ski area, we were immediately told that we cannot sled anywhere on the property of the ski area. So what can we do with a 3-year-old? Not much apparently. Ski lessons begin at 4. So we decided to rent ski gear and buy ski passes for me and my mom that day (only 2.5 hours left until the day pass expired) and have my son and husband wander around and find something else to do. They were stuck by a dumpster "playing" in the snow for 2.5 hours because there was no place for little ones to play anywhere on decent snow terrain, safe from novice skiers smashing into people. In the meantime, my mom and I were able to ski for a whooping total of 8 minutes (4 runs, 2 minutes-long each) for the next 2.5 hours, because of the extremely slow lifts (by the way—advertised 5 lifts? Think again--2 are the belts on the bunny slopes and the 3rd one is a tiny green run, therefore, we were left with 2 lifts to "choose" from, one of which was ridiculously short as well and missed the better part of the so-called "black diamond" run). So the lifts are super slow, very outdated, could not handle the smallest group of skiers/snowboarders that I have seen and stopped working every 5-10 minutes resulting in the most expensive and unsatisfying skiing day that I have ever had (including the time I almost tore my ACL and writhed in pain for days to follow). The one lift that was of any remote interest (Omigosh), had to be stopped for repair, after my mother and I hung in the air for over 20 minutes on one of our ascents up. So, $130+ for two adults and we had skied for 8 minutes. Hooray!
To make things worse, the slopes are cluttered with novices who cannot control their skis/snowboards and threaten to sweep even the most experienced skier off their feet and down the run. The runs themselves are mediocre at best and boring at their worst, with the most challenging run (Upper Omigosh) yielding an unsatisfying short section of a true black diamond and swiftly transitioning into a gentle blue/green slope. Half-way through the run, you start getting the “Slow Down” banners because the slope merges into the green run—who came up with that brilliant idea?
Chalking up Saturday's experience to bad luck, we decided to give it another shot the following day and to rent skis for our son. We did that, again at what felt like a ridiculous splurge for what we were getting, at $56 per adult for ski passes, $23 per ski set for adults and $17 for kids. The day actually turned out better than the one before. The weather was nice, there were far fewer people and the lift--imagine that--stopped only a few times throughout the day. We actually skied that Sunday and my son loved it!
Reenergized and optimistic, we came back on Monday for one final day, but we had only 3 hours to spare on the slopes before getting back in the car. We decided to save some cash and have my mom stay with our son on the bunny slope, while my husband and I skied. Well, what do you know--you cannot do that without ski or snowboard shoes + a ski pass!!! At the ticket counter they told us that we have to buy my mom an adult day pass and rent her a set of ski gear, for a total of over $70, although she would not be skiing. I politely asked if they could give her a complimentary pass since we'll only be there for 3 hours and our son really wants to ski again. "No, but we could sell you a 30-minute private lesson, if you'd like or you could talk to the general manager, said the apparently soulless cashier at the sight of my sobbing disappointed son. The general manager was clueless, to say the least. After being presented with our situation, he had the audacity to declare that he does not know the prices of the ski area he manages and that the prices are irrelevant anyway. I am not sure how Mr. Bates makes his money, but ours is hard-earned, so to me and my family it is very much relevant how and where we spend that money and the value we get for it. So I asked him directly whether he would be willing to provide us with a free pass and a set of ski boots and make us happy, or would he rather see us not spend $140+ today, never come back to this place and tell everyone who cares about our experience. You guessed it--he was as insightful as to say that he cannot give us anything for free because he’d have to start offering free passes to everyone. Keen.
I looked outside and saw all of 10 people on the slopes (of course, a very slow Monday in the Great Smokies) and imagined the hundreds of pairs of ski boots sitting idle in the rental shop, not bringing any money to at this moment. Indeed, it would have been a great loss to Cataloochee to provide us with unused gear on a super slow day to ensure our satisfaction and future return. I knew that very moment that it is useless to argue with ignorance, shortsightedness, lack of logic and utter absence of any managerial skill, so I turned around and left. Not only will I never go back to Cataloochee, but I will not grace any NC ski area with my presence or monetary patronage ever again. And I strongly urge you to heed all negative reviews you read about this area and seriously consider your options before you risk repeating our bad experience at Cataloochee.