Cataloochee is a pretty easy drive from most places in the Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, western Virginia area. That's a huge plus if you don't want to spend $1000 on just the plane ticket to get to a big time ski slope out west or even in New England. For less than the price of a plane ticket, you can drive to Cataloochee, check into lodging, ski for a couple of days and eat. Ski rental included. And, the skiing is pretty good if you time it right.
One thing I generally dislike about East Coast area skiing is that most resorts are hell and gone from civilization. Once you get to other resorts you're stuck, and if you have non-skiers with you they have nothing to do except hang around the ski lodge. But, Cataloochee is located just "up the hill" from downtown Maggie Valley and a short drive from Asheville. Not downtown NYC but who wants that anyway? Lots of little shops to check out, a few restaurants, and a couple of wine shops. I'm not a huge fan of Asheville, but if you insist it's only about half an hour down I40. Easy drive to Biltmore Estate or whatever. But, let's get back to skiing.
From the main drag, it's about 3-4 miles up a windy road to the Cataloochee resort. There are three main parking lots, all uphill from the lodge, rental and lift area. Even on a fairly busy holiday weekend I was able to find a spot, but it's a hump to the lodge from even the closest spots. I wouldn't do it in my boots (some do. . . ). I'd bring some walking shoes and plan on getting a locker to put them in at the lodge. Remember, it's a downhill hump from the parking lot to the lodge. But, at the end of the day, when your legs are tired from skiing, it's an uphill slog, carrying your gear, back to the car. Think about that if you go.
One thing I love about Cataloochee is that they limit lift ticket sales per day. You need to reserve your tickets at least a day ahead or risk missing the boat. This has the advantage of keeping the crowd on the slopes down to a reasonable level. That's not to say it doesn't get a little crowded. Lift lines when I was there were a tad long. And, I don't remember skiing anywhere that stopped the chairlift as often as they do at Cataloochee. Nice if you're a beginner and fall trying to jump out at the top of the hill. Not so nice for everyone waiting in line. Some of the staff manage the lines really well and get singles matched up to fill the chairs. That helps. Still, on a busy day I spent quite a lot of time standing in line at the chair lifts. (There are two main ones and a third over by the bunny hill.)
Back to lift tickets. Couldn't be easier. I love the system Cataloochee uses. Order online and pay. You get an e-mail with a QR code. Bring your phone to one of the kiosks on the bottom floor of the lodge, open your e-mail, scan the QR code and a nice laminated lift ticket pops out. There are plenty of zip ties stashed around. Couldn't be easier. (You may want to have your e-mail pulled up on your phone ahead of time; I had adequate cell signal to open my mail, but it was a little slow.)
The hill is about what you should expect on the eastern side of the US. Longest run is probably around half a mile? I'm guessing. Took me less than three minutes to ski down from the very top at a moderate speed. Again, very rough estimate. Even the steepest slope is manageable for an intermediate skier. There's a short stretch with some gentle moguls. They say 18 trails but in reality it's more like six main lines down the mountain. (I've never believed that you can fairly divide a single line into segments and call each segment a "trail.") But, you can sort of mix and match to make several different lines to keep things interesting. Even with the large holiday weekend crowd I pretty much covered every possible line in an afternoon (one section was unfortunately closed due to lack of snow the day I was there). It's a decent hill. Maybe a little smaller than some but good enough. The bunny hill is pretty good for beginners and has an easy chairlift. There's an even "bunnier" bunny area with a magic carpet lift for real beginners. Oh, and a terrain park if you're into that sort of thing. I can't really comment on the terrain park because I'm not into that. I saw it, it's there, that's all I can tell you.
Snow was actually pretty good, especially considering how warm it was this winter. Evidently they can make their own blizzards at Cataloochee, but I missed that action. Apparently they made snow earlier in the day before I arrived. There was plenty of it - no bare spots (except that one closed section). It was a somewhat packed heavy powder consistency, some loose stuff to kick up but not deep. I found it very pleasant. It warmed up considerably on my second day and things got messy so I only used a couple of hours of my 4-hour ticket. (I noticed a lot of other folks were bailing out, too.) That's just a hazard of skiing in The South, especially later in the season. Timing is everything. Timing and luck.
I brought my own gear so I can't comment on the rental situation. I got a coin-operated locker for my shoes which was a simple matter of putting a bill in the change machine and dropping a few quarters in a slot.
The biggest downside to Cataloochee is the lodge. it's just not much of one. First, there's no real fireplace. You can't have a ski lodge without a big, stone fireplace. You just can't. Technically, Cataloochee's lodge does have a fireplace; it's one of those faux gas ones that looks like a screen saver which you'll have to look closely to find (it's tucked into the wall in the bar area). The main floor of the lodge is more of a cafeteria with a lunch line and a bunch of picnic tables in rows. It was packed. There's a nice little bar area at one end. I don't eat at ski resorts, so I can't tell you anything about the food or prices. Looked like mainly pre-made sandwiches and hot dogs. The bar had a decent dark beer and they made my wife a tasty Irish Coffee. Bar prices were pretty reasonable for a ski area.