A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

In this monthly online series, we ask the experts to go in-depth on some of our favorite topics from the magazine. North Carolina may not be the first stop for

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

In this monthly online series, we ask the experts to go in-depth on some of our favorite topics from the magazine. North Carolina may not be the first stop for

Our State Knows Best: Skiing

In this monthly online series, we ask the experts to go in-depth on some of our favorite topics from the magazine.

North Carolina may not be the first stop for skiers from up North or out West — but that’s precisely what makes our state so special. The southern Appalachians are the first place that people from throughout the Southeast go to find fresh powder. And if snow hasn’t fallen here, it’s been made. It’s the place many people learn to ski.

“This place is a little unique,” says Jason Coggins, a ski instructor and staff coordinator at the French-Swiss Ski College at Appalachian Ski Mountain in Blowing Rock. “This is the only spot on the face of the earth where skiing meets sweet tea. You don’t get that out in Colorado, or Utah, or upstate New York. This is the unicorn. Here at Appalachian and Beech and Sugar — we’re the place where you get Southern hospitality and skiing at the same time.”

Ready to hit the slopes? We talked to Coggins and two other experts — Kimberley Jochl, vice president of Sugar Mountain Resort and a former member of the U.S. Alpine Ski Team; and Dean Blanton, past director of the Ski & Ride School at Beech Mountain Resort — to find out their best tips for beginners.

Our experts


Jason Coggins
Ski instructor & staff coordinator at French-Swiss Ski College at Appalachian Ski Mountain
Kimberley Jochl
Vice president of Sugar Mountain Resort
Dean Blanton
Past director of the Ski & Ride School at Beech Mountain Resort


How did you get into skiing?

Jason Coggins: I came to Appalachian State University as a student, and they offered skiing as a PE class. I thought, “That sounds like fun, let’s sign up for that!” I come from a family with an education background — my mom and dad, my uncles, are all educators — and then I fell in love with skiing. And I knew that it was cost-prohibitive for a starving college student to be able to do a lot of skiing, so I got a job here to afford to do it. That was in November of 1994.

Kimberley Jochl: My dad taught my sister and me to ski when we were 3 years old in the backyard. From an early age — about 6 years old — I spent most of my on-snow time training and competing. When I was 16, my twin sister and I qualified to be members of the U.S. Alpine Ski Team, and I was a member until the age of 23. After retiring, I coached other aspiring athletes for a short period of time.

What’s your favorite memory on the slopes?

Jason Coggins: I don’t know that I can put my finger on just one. When you’re a 20-year-old kid learning to ski, you have different priorities in your life than when you’re a 35-year-old dad teaching your kids to ski. I’d have to say that I think what I’ve enjoyed the most is sharing my enthusiasm for the sport with my children.

Kimberley Jochl: I have many favorite memories of skiing. The list is long. But a few that come to mind are winning the Junior World Championship gold medal in the giant slalom in Alyeska, Alaska, in 1989 and the Overall North American Super G Title in 1990. Other general memories include skiing in Grindelwald, Switzerland — one of my favorite resorts. There was so much snow we skied over cabin roofs and the village streets were like bobsled runs. It was magical. I also love spending days skiing with my family.

Dean Blanton: Any day skiing with my friends up here in the North Carolina mountains.

What’s the hardest part about learning? We don’t want to have a wipe-out!

Kimberley Jochl: Figuring out balance. Though if you start at an early age, balance is often automatic. But at an older age, I think balance becomes the hardest task to grasp because your skis will slip out from under you. Or they’ll go backward or sideways.

Jason Coggins: I think the hardest part from an instruction standpoint is balancing people’s expectations with reality. There are preconceived notions inside people’s heads, like skiing is dangerous, or it hurts. And having that mindset when you step on the snow will often make that a premonition that will come true. It’ll become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think that’s one of the things we struggle against — finding a way to make everyone comfortable in a learning environment. At the French-Swiss Ski College, we say that our goals are safety, fun, and learning. And it’s absolutely in that order. We have to make sure that people are comfortable and relaxed and that they have fun so that they come back and do it again.

Dean Blanton: Skiing is not all that hard — it’s like learning to drive. When you learn to drive, you’re not going to go out to Daytona and go 200 miles per hour to start — you’re just going to go out to a parking lot and parallel park.

What advice would you give to a beginner?

Kimberley Jochl: Commit yourself to several lessons over several days and keep practicing as often as possible. I always encourage young kids — or anyone — who is really interested in becoming good skiers to wear their ski boots off season, walk around the house, and then put their skis on in the house and angulate their feet back and forth. If you do that, you can get a feel for what you will experience once you get on the slippery snow.

Dean Blanton: We advise everyone, every chance we get, to take lessons.

Jason Coggins: The biggest piece of advice that I would give would be to just be patient. Michael Jordan wasn’t an all-star after signing up for a single lesson. Signing up for lessons is great; obviously, I’m an instructor so I benefit from people signing up for lessons. But you don’t become proficient in something after one lesson. It’s learning a movement pattern. If you come to this sport from a tennis background, well, you didn’t learn that serve in an hour. You didn’t learn how to drive a golf ball down the fairway in an hour. You’re not going to learn how to be an intermediate skier and fly all over the mountain having fun in one hour. It’s a set of skills that are acquired and built upon. It takes time and monetary investment to see real rewards. As I said, you don’t get Steph Curry’s jump shot after one lesson.

Got it! So what gear do we need before we strap on our skis?

Kimberley Jochl: Warm clothes, a jacket, snow pants, base layers, and long socks. Often people don’t realize they should wear socks that come up over their calves. And hats, gloves, and goggles — often people leave out the googles. But even if it isn’t snowing or raining, it’s often a good idea to wear goggles, because you go fast, so if you have something over your eyes, you won’t be squinting.

Jason Coggins: A great way to mitigate some of the costs of learning how to ski is renting equipment like skis and poles. But the boots are the most important part of skiing. People who complain about a bad experience in skiing very often return to boots that didn’t fit or were painful. I’ve given this advice over the years: Buy boots. Get boots that fit your feet and make sure that they’re comfortable. The boots are what translate the movement of your feet and your legs into a movement that helps you control the skis and the sliding that you’re doing on the snow. If the boots don’t fit right — I use the mental image of wearing gloves and trying to play the piano; your fingers may be moving up and down and hitting exactly the right spots they’re supposed to, but because the gloves are in the way, the music sounds terrible.

How would you describe skiing to a total newbie?

Dean Blanton: It’s the closest thing you can do to flying and still be on the ground. You feel so free, and you’d be surprised how easy it is. Your body will do the work for you — there’s a freedom to it. You just can’t imagine. There’s an inconvenience when you’re waiting in lift lines, but once you’re on the slope, it’s freedom. It’s just free-flying. I mean, it’s wonderful.

Jason Coggins: That’s tough because your description could either break down or reinforce people’s preexisting ideas of what skiing is. It’s tough to not understate the fact that we have gravity and people do fall; it’s tough to not dwell on just how much fun it is. It’s almost like flying, but you’re not really leaving the ground.

Kimberley Jochl: Electrifying.

This story was published on Dec 14, 2021

Michelle Kurilla

Michelle was a fall 2021 editorial intern at Our State.