For the past several weeks, I have been locked in a cold, merciless conflict with the leaves which invade my lawn.
No matter how many times I subject them to the mechanical might of my gas-powered leaf-blower, within hours of the battle new partisans descend from the branches to take up the fight.
Amidst all this senseless bloodshed, one fact keeps me going: soon, it will be winter, and then the leaf-fall will come to an end. With all the free time I’ll have once I’m liberated from the travails of war, my mind turns implacably towards wintery diversions.
Winter is my favorite season by far, but too often I find myself staring out into the stark beyond, uncertain of what to do with myself in such inclement weather. Luckily, winter in Asheville, NC, can be just as enjoyable as the warmer months, given some research into one’s opportunities. Thus, I invite you to read on, and discover some of the best winter activities in Asheville.
1: Skiing and Tubing
The closest I’ve ever been with a plant was in the winter of 2006. Recent immigrants from un-mountainous Florida, my family was delighting in one of our first genuine Asheville snowfalls by engaging in some backyard sledding. At the time, I probably weighed as much as a litter of kittens, and so my aerodynamics were of supreme quality. It should’ve come as no surprise when my fantastical sledding-momentum carried me up a ramp-shaped snowdrift, through the air, and directly into a stand of rhododendron. For about 5 minutes, I lay there, suspended by the branches, considering how this thorny predicament could’ve been avoided by taking our wintery merriment to a more professional environment, i.e. a ski slope. Fortunately, Asheville lies within about an hour’s drive from a plethora of ski resorts, many of which also offer snow-tubing, perfect for children, and those who’d prefer not to be troubled by convoluted ski-paraphernalia. Just last winter I had the joy to ski at Wolf Ridge, incidentally one of the closest and cheapest resorts, with day passes running from 42$ to 60$, equipment rentals for 24$, and student discounts. As I careened down Wolf Ridge’s bunny slope, rapidly realizing that I would never make the Winter Olympics, my heart was filled with thanks, as there was not a rhododendron in sight. One’s backyard shall always have the advantage of proximity and cost, but for safety, ensured snowfall, and general enjoyment, Wolf Ridge—or some other ski slope—must make its way onto your itinerary of winter activities in Asheville.
Embrace the Season: Note carefully: most ski slopes near Asheville do not open until December 20th. If you desire snow-sports before this date, I suggest calling your desired slope, and informing them that they are speaking to none other than the Ice King. No self-respecting ski resort can refuse the Ice King. They may even offer you a discount, or some kind of package-deal.
Little says “winter” as sweetly as chocolate, hot or otherwise. As befitting such a culinary bastion as Asheville, the town hosts many artisan chocolate-makers, as well as the cafes and lounges which purvey their creations.
The Chocolate Fetish
If one seeks solely to imbibe, I suggest The Chocolate Fetish. Their cases of handmade truffles, dipped fruits, and their decedent, warm sipping chocolate are enough to satisfy even the sweetest-toothed connoisseur. Open through the afternoon weeklong (save Thursdays), The Chocolate Fetish lies in walking distance of Malaprop’s Bookstore and indoor shopping at the Grove Arcade. Both are excellent places to obtain non-edible holiday gifts.
French Broad Chocolate Factory and Cafe
For a more intimate look at the art of chocolatiering, French Broad Chocolate Factory offers brief tours at 2pm and 4pm on weekdays, and more extensive tours at 10am and 1130am on Saturdays—all tickets priced reasonably. It was on one of these tours that for a moment, amidst the churning, mysterious chocolate-machines, I fantasized that perhaps I could have a career in chocolatiering; I’d find myself a purple tailcoat and a top hat and live happily ever after. Unfortunately, I don’t know anything about chocolate-making, and I treat kitchens like they’re wrestling rings, so I’ll have to be content with enjoying chocolate from the consumer’s end.
Dobra Tea’s Hot Chocolate Menu
No matter the season, somehow I always find myself back at my favorite Asheville tea-house: Dobra. In the dark months of winter, Dobra expands their menu to include hot chocolate of tremendous quality, flavored with peppermint, smoky tea, rose, or lavender. In the past, they have also offered hot chocolate seasoned with chaga, a black, sinister-looking mushroom. As interesting as it is to drink chaga-chocolate, I find this flavor conspicuously absent from this season’s menu, and that may be for the best. But in terms of winter activities in Asheville, I can suggest little better than enjoying a cup of hot chocolate, and a slice of matcha-cheesecake at Dobra Tea.
Embrace the Season: Engage in the Conspiracy of Sweets. World powers, secret and otherwise, offer extraordinary prices for the best chocolate-recipes. Ask questions. Where do you get your beans? What temperature should the water be? What’s the proportion of sugar cane to melted caramel? Who, me? Why ever would I want to steal your recipes? Take notes and deposit your report at the dead drop behind the flat iron sculpture on Battery Park Avenue. You will be rewarded handsomely for your service.
3: The National Gingerbread House Competition
For years uncounted, it has been my family’s tradition to view the gingerbread house competition held at Asheville’s Grove Park Inn. Each winter sprouts up confectionary architecture of splendid creativity; one sees everything from castles to wildlife, and while the latter is not a house, it is certainly made of gingerbread. On display throughout the Inn’s environs until January 4th, day-visitors are allowed to view the exhibition after 3pm on Sundays, and at any time from Monday to Thursday, barring holiday hours. Parking at the Inn runs somewhat expensive, at 25$, but I maintain that few winter activities in Asheville are equal to viewing these masterworks of edible construction.
Embrace the Season: Hastily construct your own gingerbread house and present it to one of the Grove Park’s employees. Insist that it be put on display, no matter how many times you are asked to leave. Your art may be difficult to understand, but it deserves an audience.
4: Hot Springs
Winter in Asheville, NC, for all its delights, cannot reasonably encompass the full slew of boreal activities. Fortunately, as the Paris of The South, Asheville lays claim to all territories west of Charlotte and east of Tennessee, thereby encompassing the small town of Hot Springs, 40 minutes to the north. Named for—as one may guess—a certain kind of geothermal aquifer, a visit to Hot Springs Resort and Spa offers opportunities to soak in 100 degree mineral water, piped into modern jacuzzi-style tubs. Rates fluctuate given the size of one’s party, but usually run from 25$ to 60$ per hour. If one thing can be said about winter activities in Asheville, it’s that despite one’s best efforts, they tend to be cold. A visit to Hot Springs is the perfect remedy.
Embrace the Season: Bring soup stock and diced vegetables with you. Add them to your mineral bath, and presto: dinner for free. There’s no need to worry about being kicked off the premises; simply offer your erstwhile evictors some hot bath-soup, and they shall let you relax in peace. The spirit of winter is the spirit of giving, and few gifts are better than a well-made soup.
5: Winter Hikes
When the skies turn gray and the air bites, it is understandable to seek refuge in the warm indoors. However, some of the best winter activities in Asheville lie out in nature, beyond the comforts of human civilization. There are sites to be seen and trails to be walked, and every degree of body warmth you sacrifice shall be recompensed tenfold in the stunning vistas of the Blue Ridge’s winter.
Lying about 1 hour out from Asheville, Deep Creek consists of a variety of trails lying at relatively low altitude, resulting in infrequent snowfall. Although snowfall may be what you’re after in your winter hike, Deep Creek is worth consideration if you’d prefer to avoid weather-complications. The trails wind through no less than three waterfalls, all of which can be viewed in a three-mile loop, peppered with bridges, steps, and few benches to make one’s promenade that much easier.
Looking Glass Falls
With easy roadside access, and a roundtrip running at about ½ mile, Looking Glass Falls is as convenient as it is stunning. With luck, one may catch the falls at below freezing, when they are petrified in crystalline beauty, and the nearby Looking Glass Rock is covered in a reflective sheen. Since the walk to the falls is so short, this hike invites you to stay for as long as you can stand the cold, maybe even settling down for some hot chocolate along the fall’s banks.
Bearwallow Mountain Trail
During the summer, cattle graze at the summit of this 1 mile trail, seeking shade under the historic lookout tower. In the winter, once all the leaves have been blown away, and the cattle have moved out, the summit provides 360 degree views of the surrounding wilds. Your ascent can take place either along a series of rough switchbacks—designed for adventure—or up a gravel-access road, with a smoother incline. Either way, the sights from the summit are some of the best in the area.
Embrace the Season: Shed your jacket, and wherever you’re hiking, run the whole way. Exercise produces warmth, and warmth gives life. Assert your dominance over winter. Laugh at the cold; amaze your friends and family. Crown yourself Ice King.
Wolf Ridge Ski Resort
578 Valley View Cir, Mars Hill, NC 28754
The Chocolate Fetish
36 Haywood St, Asheville, NC 28801
55 Haywood St, Asheville, NC 28801
The Grove Arcade
1 Page Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
French Broad Chocolate Factory and Cafe
821 Riverside Dr Suite 199, Asheville, NC 28801
Dobra Tea (Downtown)
78 N Lexington Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
The Omni Grove Park Inn
290 Macon Ave, Asheville, NC 28804
Hot Springs Resort and Spa
315 Bridge St, Hot Springs, NC 28743
Deep Creek Trailhead
POB 509, W Deep Creek Rd, Bryson City, NC 28713
Looking Glass Falls Parking
Unnamed Road, Brevard, NC 28712
Bearwallow Mountain Hiking
4378-4446 Bearwallow Mountain Rd, Hendersonville, NC 28792