There’s something eerie about skiing down a mountain and seeing the brown, bare ground flanking both sides of the trail. Yet the conditions at Cataloochee are surprisingly excellent from December through March. Perched at 5,400 feet by the edge of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, this tiny ski area (where the vertical is a modest 700 feet) gets cold enough nearly every night in the winter for its snow guns to blast thick powder onto the trails as soon as the three lifts close, but it warms up during the days so that anything dumped by an occasional storm melts within days. Cataloochee truly is a place where the tobacco-chawing South meets the Alpine world (complete with glove and parka rentals in the lodge’s upstairs equipment shop). You’ll see New England Yankee transplants snowboarding down the 17 trails next to teenagers from Alabama who just emptied off of their church group’s bus for the day.