Snow Skiing in the Heart of Dixie

On the Road, People, Sports, Travel Destinations
on December 23, 2001

Jack Jones was 8 years old in 1926, the year one of his Miami neighbors opened a summer camp on Lookout Mountain near Mentone, Ala. (pop. 451). Cloudmont, as the camp was known, became Jack’s summer home.

“I’ll never forget that first trip up there,” he laughs. “The bus broke down, and we had to walk the last 11 miles.”

But he returned year after year, going on to work as a camp counselor during college. After graduating from the University of Florida and marrying his wife, Olive, he had an opportunity to buy Cloudmont and immediately jumped at the chance.

The couple continued to operate the boys’ camp, but even as the Jones family grew, so did the ideas Jack envisioned for their 1,000-acre spread atop the mountain.

“Our whole mission at Cloudmont was things to do,” he explains. “We kept hearing about North Carolina and all their snow skiing, so my oldest son, Jack Jr., and I went over there and looked around. We both said, ‘We can do that.’”

Climatic conditions in the Deep South produce very little snow, so artificial snowmaking was an absolute must. Jack Sr. purchased the necessary machinery, and Jack Jr. eagerly set about learning the process. On Christmas Day in 1970, the Jones family skied on Cloudmont’s very first man-made snow.

The celebration that day ended in tragedy, however. A high-pressure pipe broke loose from the snowmaking equipment, striking Jack Jr. and causing his death.

“It was terrible,” Jack Sr. shakes his head. “My youngest son, Gary, was only 12 then. But he shared Jack Jr.’s love for snowmaking. Jack Jr. was the first person ever to make snow in Alabama, and Gary was determined that we were going to finish his brother’s dream.”

And finish they did. The Jones family completed two 1,000-foot beginner to intermediate slopes and installed lifts and lights for night skiing, opening Cloudmont Ski Resort to the public in February 1971.

“Even after all these years, people are still surprised to find out they can snow ski right here in Alabama,” Jack chuckles.

Doug Hair, Jack’s son-in-law, serves as Cloudmont’s master ski instructor, but at least four other instructors generally work the slopes each year. Most impressive is the cost: A person can rent skis, boots, and poles; ride the lift; and receive lessons—all for around $30, making Cloudmont a very popular place each winter.

“We don’t have to charge a lot,” Jack points out. “We don’t have a fancy lodge for folks to sit around in. We have a small space where we sell hot dogs, chili, and such, and that’s about it.”

The gadgetry along Cloudmont’s ski runs speaks—and produces—volumes. Even with the South’s mild winter last year, skiers enjoyed 70 days of downhill fun.

“What most folks don’t realize is that 12 inches of natural snow packs to a skiable base of only two inches. What comes out of our machines packs itself. We generally have a base of between two and five inches, and that makes for good skiing,” he says.

Not surprisingly, Cloudmont is the only game in town when it comes to snow skiing in the Heart of Dixie. Each year about 10,000 skiers test its slopes, with almost 90 percent of those being beginners.

“I’m 83 years old now, and I’ve skied every year since we opened,” Jack says with his eyes twinkling. “I love it. This place started as Jack Jr.’s dream and went on to become Gary’s. I believe he’s become the finest snowmaker in all the Southeast. That makes me really proud.”