I'll keep this one short since I have 16 modules to test in the duct this morning.
I took a day trip out to the Cataloochee Ski Area in Maggie Valley, NC yesterday. It is a 3-hour drive from where I live in Atlanta. The purpose of the trip was for my gf to learn how to snowboard.
Lift ticket prices: I paid $166 for two lift tickets and a single 1-hour private lesson. All things considered, not that great a deal.... but geography is largely to blame. You get less than half the terrain of a big resort for more than half the price of a big resort... but this was NC in mid December. Every bit of snow on the mountain was blown and the daily high was a sunny 46ºF
Lessons: Group lessons were 1.5 hrs for $20. A very good deal on days without crowds. Private lessons were $50/hr for one person (does not include lift ticket). Much cheaper than larger resorts, but you will not be learning to carve or ride moguls at this facility. Price is alright for what you get....I can't see private instruction costing much less if the instructor is going to make any money out of the deal.
The hill: While it did exceed my expectations somewhat, Cataloochee is still close to the minimum in terms of making it worth a trip out. The runs at the very top of the hill were not open ( Trail Map - Cataloochee Ski Area, Maggie Valley NC
). Instead, the Rock Island lift that goes 3/4 up the mountain was the longest run available. I timed myself at typical speed (just cruising) from top to lift line... 1 minute and 30 seconds. Hard to build up one's snow legs when the entire run takes less time than a commercial break.
The crowds: Early Sunday was a good time to be there. No lift lines, no one in ski school, not many people on the runs. One of the workers said that the local Sunday crowd doesn't show up until after church. He was right... by 2:00PM there were lines at the lift (albeit, short ones), people cutting me off at the lip of the slope, dummies sliding across the run without looking uphill first, and lots of traffic to dodge (2-4 people would just wipe out in front of me on every run... it was comical). With this in mind, I cannot imagine how bad Saturdays there are.
The people: Young! I would say that the average age of a person on the hill is probably about 10 years younger than the average age of a person at Vail/Breck. My guess is that lift ticket cost has a lot to do with the difference. Also, more snowboarders than skiers. I did see a couple of people throwing 180's and butters, but overall the skill level was off. I got knocked over twice coming off of the lift. Once by a skier (I think he was trying to help his kid...understandable). The second time the boarder to my left knocked me over. C'est la vie.
The snow: 100% artificial snow. They blow it all morning until just past noon. The cover is decent (not great, but acceptable) in the morning and becomes tough and icy in the afternoon. I washed out twice on the same patch where I just could not get my edge to dig in (tiny steep at the start of the run). BTW, those snow guns are LOUD. If I go back then I will bring earplugs.
So there's my review. While I would recommend Cataloochee as a day trip for a beginner who wants to learn... 3 hours one-way is about an hour too long for me to consider going regularly myself (unless someone else is doing the driving and I have my mobile internetz with me).
Go on a weekday, or failing that a Sunday. Get a AWD/4x4 vehicle if it has rained because they have some steep ass dirt/gravel roads you have to drive on to get to the main parking lot.