Ober Gatlinburg usually kicks off its winter ski season with special events in advance of the slopes opening. As temperatures drop on the mountain and the snow guns start laying the human-made base, waiting for the fresh powder from Mother Nature, the groomers start shaping the new snow for two special areas: the Tubing Park and the Freestyle Terrain Park.
The very first event of the season is typically the Back in Blue Rail Jam. This usually happens in what will open shortly after as the Tubing Park, where the first snows have been laid down and groomed. But first the Rail Jam, with prizes for participants and a great celebration of the first skiing of the winter, even as the fall colors linger in the hills and lower elevations all around.
It’s a nighttime party on the first snow of the season for advanced skiers and snowboarders to practice and show off their moves on rails, boxes and pipes. This is a fun thing to watch simply as a spectator. Night skiing is an atmosphere of its own, and the jumps and turns can be spectacular to watch. A music DJ and party speakers, with multimedia assists, don’t hurt a bit either. There are vendors with ski gear and great food, and snow-based entertainments.
If you’re new to this, it may seem counter-intuitive to plant solid objects in the snow sticking up from the smooth slope, but the minute you see someone on skis jump up and slide sideways along a round or flat edge before continuing down the slope, it all makes sense.
Like everything on the slopes, it never stops being about getting better at what you can do. Ober Gatlinburg has several freestyle sessions during the season, and some claim the ones are at night are the best. Skiing at night under the bright lights is a special world of its own, and if you’re not actually up for doing this yourself, it’s a casual atmosphere worth catching purely as a spectator sport, dressed warmly and with a hot drink.
Nighttime is also a great time for practice, with the slopes cleared of the larger numbers of day skiers. Throughout the season, Ober Gatlinburg offers practice events for different skill levels, with instructors available also, and with slopes prepared to match the event.
Ober Gatlinburg puts a lot of care into grooming its Terrain Park for freestyle maneuvers, piling snow into jumps, and planting the different features of the setup into a smooth sequence of moves down the slope, under the lights and in the view of the spectators.
The sessions vary in theme, from the Back in Blue opening event that usually terraforms the snow tubing slope into a freestyle area, to competitive events with lots of prizes. The Ladies Nights offer a free pass in return for food donations to a local charitable cause, and with tips and tricks from a female coach.
Free Flow Fridays are night-time occasions with “creative setups to encourage progression.” And watch for March, with its Spring Break events including the Pond Skim (hint: not everyone makes it across).
You can find the season calendar of special events here: Ober Gatlinburg Freestyle Terrain.
And here are some tastes of what we’re talking about.