Friday, March 5, 2010

Snow A Blessing to Beech Mountain & NC's High Country Ski Slopes

Snow Days: Cold, snowy winter a blessing for ski resorts

BEECH MOUNTAIN, N.C. – Nobody’s complaining about this winter’s abundant snowfall in the ski-lodge villages of North Carolina’s High Country.

“When I see the snow everywhere I get really excited,” said Talia Freeman, the marketing director for Ski Beech. “It’s beautiful – the mountain range and the trees. It looks great when it’s covered in snow. It’s how it should look all the time.” All the time? Well, at least, during winter, said Ilena Accardi, co-owner of Beech Mountain’s Brick Oven Pizzeria. Just as there can be no such thing as too much sunshine in Florida, Accardi said, there can be no such thing as too much snow at Beech Mountain, N.C. “We are absolutely weather-related,” Accardi said. “If the weather is good and there is a lot of snow, then business is good.” And this year?

“Business has been great for the shops and the restaurants and the ski resort,” said Peggy Coscia, the director of the Beech Mountain Chamber of Commerce. “The skiers have reveled in the natural snow.”

‘NO MELTING’ Incorporated in 1981, Beech Mountain calls itself “Eastern America’s Highest Town.” Located slightly east of Carter County, Tenn., Beech Mountain rises 5,506 feet along the Watauga-Avery county line.

It’s been a ski resort destination since 1967, when Ski Beech opened, originally promoting itself as a Bavarian-style village with Austrian instructors.

Here, people take snow seriously. On the front steps of the A-frame that houses Fred’s General Mercantile, a big white pole proudly measures how much white stuff has covered the community each winter.

The high point marks 123.5 inches having fallen in 1995-96. But this year, storeowner Fred Pfohl said, “I’ve had people telling me we’re going to have to raise the snow pole in front of the store.” Pfohl serves as Beech Mountain’s official weatherkeeper for the National Weather Service. And, this winter, Beech Mountain has sat beneath a blanket of snow, with more than 100 inches having fallen. “Every business has a mountain of snow in the parking lot,” Pfohl said. That is unusual, Coscia added. “There has been no melting since December. This is just snow on top of ice on top of snow.”

Actually, about the only time even a bit of snow melted occurred on the third weekend of February. But, even then, the sunshine that melted the snow turned it into black ice on the streets. And then? More snow fell within days. “This is as constant as I ever remember seeing it,” Pfohl added. “It’s just kind of been one shot after another.” But, hey, he said – that’s cool. “If it had been a snowless winter,” Pfohl said, “we would have all been broke by now.”

‘MOST CONSISTENT’ Snow gets people in the mood to do go skiing, Freeman said. And business literally snowballs. “Definitely, this late in the season, our ski rental business is up,” said Rob Hancock, the night manager of Alpine Ski Center on Beech Mountain. “The amount of business we have steadily coming in is unusual.”

“I think any time we get a large amount of snow, it sparks interest among people in surrounding areas to come,” Freeman said. “And that combines with the excitement of people watching the Winter Olympics.” Business has doubled – maybe tripled – at Ski Beech, Freeman added. “It’s definitely the most consistent winter that we’ve had in years.” Beech Mountain authorities have reported little trouble with access to the isolated community, Coscia said.

“The state clears the main road to the slopes as it is a state road,” Coscia added. “Only problem is when people come here without chains or four-wheel drive. If the state light is on at the foot of the mountain, one must have use of chains or four-wheel drive. Or, else, park at foot of mountain and take the shuttle up to Ski Beech.”

Sometimes, still, an abundance of snow can scare away visitors, said Brad Moretz, the general manager of nearby Appalachian Ski Mountain in Blowing Rock, N.C. “Sometimes it helps, and sometimes it doesn’t help,” Moretz added. “Even though we scrape our roads and salt them, some people feel a little bit nervous about coming.”

Without snow machines, Moretz said, there would be no skiing in the mountains of North Carolina’s High Country. But, this year, resorts like Ski Beech and Sugar Mountain have turned off their snow machines. “It’s been cold enough,” Hancock said, “and they’ve been able to hold onto the snow ... Last year, they had to shut down without the snow.” The mild winter of 2009, Pfohl said, nearly wrecked the wintertime industry on Beech Mountain. “Last year, we didn’t hardly have any snow,” said Judy Decker, the manager of the Pinnacle Inn at Beech Mountain. “There wasn’t any snow up here, and they were skiing around bare spots ... People were leaving early because there was no snow.”

‘PLAY IT BY EAR’ Now, everyone wonders how long winter will last. If the snowy conditions and cold weather continue, will that mean a longer skiing season? “We haven’t released an exact closing date yet,” Freeman said. “We always shoot for the middle of March. We’re just going to play it by ear and see what the weather does.”

At nearby Sugar Mountain Ski Resort in Banner Elk, “Weather and skier traffic will dictate our closing date,” said marketing director Kim Jochl. “Our season typically ends in late March.” Freeman, for one, has contemplated a season extension.“We’d like to try,” she said. “It’s just going to be a last-minute decision that we make, depending on the weather.” Moretz, meanwhile, already has his mind made up. “We’re now skiing to April 11,” Moretz said. “Last year, we closed on March 30 ... But if winter holds on, it will really be something.” Indeed. Still, Decker said, spring will eventually arrive. “It doesn’t matter how much snow they have,” Decker said. “Once the daffodils and the tulips are popping out, people are thinking about flowers. They think about gardening, and they don’t even think about skiing any more.”


What: Beech Mountain Chamber of Commerce Where: 403-A Beech Mountain Parkway, Beech Mountain, N.C.Info: (800) 468-5506 E-mail:

Article from Bristol TN Herald Courier