Kids’ View: Cloudmont Ski Resort

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You really can snow ski in Alabama – and it’s a lot of fun. 

by ANSLEY GRIDER, age 14

Did you know you can snow ski in Alabama? I didn’t until a few years ago when my dad told me there is a ski resort in the northeast part of the state, near where he grew up. We were living in Tuscaloosa, and I thought he was kidding. (He likes to say outrageous things – or at least exaggerate. My little brother usually believes him, but I’m not that gullible.)

So I asked my mom. When she said it was true, I figured there was something to it. (She’s more serious.) We looked at pictures of a giant snow slope on the resort’s website, but still, it was hard to believe this was in the same state with us. I had only seen snow a few times, and it wasn’t enough to make a decent snowman. My brother doesn’t even own a long-sleeved shirt (yeah, so that’s a little weird, even for Alabama, but he gets by with it.)

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A couple weeks later, we made the three-hour drive. I think my dad was determined to show us he wasn’t exaggerating this time. We planned to do a night ski – from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. – but it was still afternoon when we drove up Lookout Mountain, and Daddy wanted to drive through the resort.

As we entered the gates to Cloudmont Ski Resort, everything looked pretty normal to me. There was nice winter scenery, some A-frame chalets my dad said skiers can rent and a little lake and a golf course in the distance. But no snow. I was beginning to think he’d driven us three hours to prove he was wrong when we turned a corner and there it was: a glittering white snow cap that started at the base of a slope and extended up as far as I could see.

And people were skiing down it. Some were snowboarding. It still seemed out of place to me, but they all seemed to be having a great time.

We returned that night to find the brightly lit ski slope standing out in the darkness. It was definitely cold enough for snow. Everyone’s breath was making little white clouds in the crisp, mountain air. When there isn’t real snow, the resort makes its own using machines, my dad explained.

We went inside a small building directly across from a wall of snow where the ski slope suddenly ends. Here it was very warm, and there were cubbies where we could store our shoes and things we brought with us. The space was full of people getting ready to go out on the slope. I could tell they were from lots of different places. I even heard some foreign languages. My parents, brother and I all got in line to get our skis. The resort staff helped us find the right size boots and skis, which attach to the boots with a clicking noise when you step onto them.

None of us had ever skied before. I didn’t say so, but the slope looked kind of scary to me. What if I couldn’t stop at the end? The staff kept assuring us, though, by telling us to head over to the left slope –the slope is divided in two by a lift that takes skiers to the top – where there would be instruction for beginners (I guess we were that obviously new to this).

Carrying our skis, we went to a mini-slope at the bottom left of the big hill and met our instructor. He told us to put our skis crosswise to the slope (so they don’t slide away) and showed us how to step into them. Keeping the skis perpendicular to the slope (so we wouldn’t slide away with them), we made a line going up the small incline.

The instructor explained the most important part then: how to stop. You’re supposed to tilt your feet in at the toes. That causes the two skis to form a V shape and slows you down. Turning is kind of like riding a bike with no hands. You just lean in the direction you want to go. It seemed simple enough. Then we each took turns (there were about 10 of us in the group) coasting down the slope.

Some people had trouble. They went down the slope at an angle instead of straight. Others (my mom) couldn’t seem to turn their toes in enough to stop. My brother had basic balance issues. This is probably mean to say, but it was nice to find something he’s not good at (he’s never made below an A on his report card and is great at every sport he’s ever tried – except this one, anyway). It was especially nice because I was good at it. The others got better, but from the first run, I made a smooth, controlled descent. It just seemed easy.

Gradually, our practice group got smaller. Once we felt ready, the instructor said, we could take the lift up the big slope. I stayed longer than I needed, increasing my speed, practicing changing direction and making sure I could stop. Pretty soon I was bored, though, and ready to try something more challenging.

That came sooner than expected because, if you ask me, the hardest part of skiing is not the skiing at all – it’s going up the ski lift. It isn’t a ski lift with seats you sit in. Instead, there’s a cable about waist high that moves up the mountain and has bars attached to it every few feet. You position yourself beside the cable, grab hold of a bar and are pulled up the slope. That’s how it’s supposed to work, anyway. But if you aren’t used to it, the bar can pull your upper body and leave your lower body behind. This plants your face in the snow and can cause a mass collision because the people behind you on the lift run into you.

While waiting in line at the practice slope, my family watched this happening, and I have to admit, it would have been funny if I wasn’t thinking about how the poor person doing the face plant was probably going to be me soon. My dad even said it was his favorite part of the outing. (We’re a strange family, in case you haven’t guessed.)

As I had feared, I fell into the snow on my first attempt. I moved out of the way quickly, though, and prevented a pile-up. The bar jerks you forward more quickly than you expect. So the trick is to lean back and hold on tight. The second time I made it. You can get off the lift whenever you want. A lot of people just ski down half the slope. That’s where I stepped off the first time.

I stood there and looked down for awhile. With the lights shining on the snow and everything beyond it invisible in the darkness, I felt like I’d been transported from Alabama to Alaska.

Then I turned my skis in the direction of the slope and started down. I picked up speed a few times until I started to worry I’d go tumbling or wouldn’t be able to stop. I’d make a V out of the skis then until I felt things were under control. I went up the slope several more times, going higher each time. The last time I went all the way to the top.

I really like skiing because it feels great with the sparkling snow all around you and the sense of freedom you get when you’re gliding down the hill. It kind of makes me feel like a bird soaring through fluffy white clouds.

You really should try it. If your parents say you can’t go snow skiing because it’s too far away, show them this article. You can stop waiting for the snow to come to you because you can go find it at Cloudmont Ski Resort.

 Some Fast Facts

  • Cloudmont is the southeastern-most ski resort in the United States.
  • The slopes – Two 1,000-foot, beginner-intermediate slopes with a vertical rise of 150 feet
  • Equipment for rent – Skis, boots, poles and snowboards
  • Other things to do at Cloudmont – Golf at Saddle Rock Golf Course, ride horses at Shady Grove Dude Ranch or stay in a cabin or chalet near the golf course, ski slope or Little River. The property consists of 800 acres.

If You Go

Getting there: Cloudmont Ski Resort is at 721 County Rd. 614, Mentone, AL 35984

When you can ski: As soon as overnight temperatures drop to 28 degrees or colder

Hours: During season, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., weather permitting

More info: cloudmont.com; 256-634-4344

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