Stop at any Alabama tourist attraction with a gift shop and you’ll find the ever-popular "Alabama Snowman." It’s your typical snow globe with a twist. When you shake it, you won’t see snow fluttering down through the water, but you will see several black chunks that look like coal, a carrot, and a top hat. The snowman has melted.
Yes, that’s your typical winter in Alabama. So, when friends ask you to go snow skiing in the Yellowhammer State you’re well within your rights to look at them as if they’re crazy. But, they’re not. High atop Lookout Mountain in Mentone you’ll find the 800-acre Cloudmont Ski Resort and Golf Course, known as the "Southeastern Most Ski Resort in the U.S."
It All Began with a Summer Camp
The story of Cloudmont begins with a love of Lookout Mountain, the town of Mentone, and a dream that many would have thought was crazy.
More than 50 years ago, Jack Jones fell in love with Lookout Mountain while working at a camp for kids. He loved the mountain so much that he bought Cloudmont, one of the many camps that dot the area.
Jack, his wife, and three children spent many summers on the mountain, and one day his oldest son, Jack Jr., suggested that the family live on the mountain full time. When they moved to the mountain, they also hatched a plan to build and operate a ski resort in the heart of Dixie.
After studying the art of making artificial snow and the ins-and-outs of operating a resort, they cleared the slopes and installed snow makers and towlines. Sadly, just prior to the grand opening, Jack Jr. died in a tragic accident.
Resolute, the family pressed on to make Jack Jr.’s dream come alive, and the venture proved to be a huge success. But, it did require an unbelievable amount of hard work.
What it Takes to Make Snow in Dixie
According to Jack’s daughter and Cloudmont office manager Janis Carrier, it takes a lot of hard work mixed with some luck from Mother Nature to make a classic snow run in Alabama. It all begins, of course, with the weather being just right.
"The temperature has to be in the mid-20s with low humidity," Carrier says. “Then, it takes 20 to 35 hours over four nights to create the base with up to eight snow-making machines.”
Those machines pump more than 400 gallons of water per minute from a nearby pond that is used to make a base ranging anywhere from 3 feet to 10 feet deep. The ice crystals are then groomed and packed and are continually packed throughout the season, which allows the brilliant, glistening snow to last longer as Alabama’s winter temperatures rise and fall like a roller coaster.
It’s All About Timing
Making a ski resort work in the Deep South is an amazing accomplishment to say the least, and the Jones family has deftly learned how to make that magic happen. But, as you might guess, Alabama’s weather can be the resort’s enemy. Carrier says that recent years have been hard on the business. In 2014, the resort was open only 45 days because of warm weather conditions. But, during better years, when the South receives a prolonged blast of Arctic weather, the mountain can see up to 300 skiers on a weekend.
Skiing and More
Skiing is open from December 15 to March 15 (weather permitting). Before you head to the resort, check the resort’s website for slope conditions and hours of operation. You can also check conditions on the SnoCountry Cloudmont page.
The resort offers two 1,000-foot slopes that are perfect for intermediate and beginner skill levels, with a vertical rise of 150-feet. The slopes are equipped with two "pony" lifts that require you to stand on your skis or snowboard as you’re pulled to the top. And don’t worry if you’ve never hit the powder before. Cloudmont has knowledgeable and patient instructors to give you your first lesson for skiing or snowboarding.
Pricing starts at $34 for adults for a half day of fun, complete with lift tickets, equipment rental, and a beginner lesson. Lift tickets start at just $20 for a half day. A complete price list for the current season can be found online.
You can stay right there at the resort in one of its quaint A-frame chalets, which sleep four and are equipped with or without a kitchen. Or, you can spend a peaceful night in the mountains snuggling up before a fireplace in a Cloudmont cabin.
But, Cloudmont isn’t only about snow skiing. The facility is also home to the 9-hole, 18-tee Saddle Rock Golf Course, which sports a unique opening tee perched high above the course on a 30-foot rock. Cart and club rentals are available, and the course is open year round.
And, for something a little extra, the Shady Grove Dude Ranch offers breathtaking horseback rides that take you through the high mountains above the Little River.
Where to Refuel
When you start feeling a little hungry, take a break from the slopes and drive about 3 miles north to the Green Leaf Grill. You’ll probably want to stay a while to enjoy the cozy, rustic charm and big stone fireplace. Plus, the food is delicious. Be sure to try the Bama Grown Catfish, or sink your teeth into a mouthwatering Fried Green Tomato BLT.
Another eatery of choice just up the road is the Wildflower Cafe, a local favorite with a "hippie-chic" vibe.
Start off with their famous Tomato Pie, a savory pie baked with fresh Roma tomatoes marinated in a balsamic vinaigrette and topped with a good helping of a cheese blend. Then, follow it up with the café’s Black and Blue Filet Mignon—8 ounces of tender, blackened tenderloin topped with a blue cheese and parmesan cream sauce.
If you visit the the Wildflower Cafe on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, hang around for the live music.
Originally written for BCBS of AL.