Southern Snow Scene
Along the road that bisects the swath of mountainous valley between Grandfather and the peaks known as the seven devils, many a midwinter's dream has found its fruition.
In our grandest mountain's shadow, and south of the seven devils' gaze, the lucky play through winter.
How easily we ignore that others off our mountain dream of what we have here. Their winters painted with gray and metal, ours blanketed in white-capped fur trees, smiling faces, groomed ski runs, gnarly rail jams and the awakening nip of a wind over rocky frozen crags.
It is here, in our Avery and Watauga counties, where winter is celebrated strongest. The season's plumpest fruit of snowsport squeezed until dry. What was green becomes white, and we take the cue with enthusiasm as we strap on our long johns.
Those off our mountain who know, look to the annual voyage to our peaks as a pilgrimage -
staring down office clocks, eating up highway miles, packing car trunks tighter and leaving ski racks on longer, just so they can touch and identify with what we have here in the High Country.
And now, as we find ourselves a decade into the 21st century - almost 50 years into our chapter of ski slope history - we are not only a winter playground for adults, but we also serve to inspire the youth. The High Country's snowsport acceptance has diversified and now skiing and snowboarding are nurtured alike among our slopes. Thousands of local youth, and thousands more off our mountain, thank us. And if it wasn't enough to offer world-class skiing and snowboarding, now we are home to the largest snow-tubing park on the East Coast, to boot.
So let's look to the upcoming winter as our blessing, and by all means, go play in the snow.
Around the Slopes...
The big talk atop our ski mountains this week is undoubtedly opening dates.
"To be honest, I don't know (when we will open for the season). We're currently sitting in neutral ready to go," said Ryan Costin, general manager of Ski Beech, on Nov. 15.
Costin and his crew have been hard at work in the off season revamping and improving snowmaking and revitalizing the Beech Tree Village at Beech Mountain Resort.
His team has also introduced a new lift ticket pricing plan for winter 2010-11. Beech's new 30/20 Plan offers $30 day and twilight tickets Monday through Friday, $20 half-day tickets Monday through Friday and $20 night tickets Monday through Friday. Prices in the 30/20 Plan will be offered throughout the entire season, excluding holiday periods.
According to Costin, Beech has long been known for its mid-week lift ticket specials, but in years past the fluctuating rates from day to day have become somewhat confusing. "The concept behind the 30/20 Plan was to reduce confusion, while still offering competitive prices," Costin explained.
Since 1992, Appalachian Ski Mountain has only had to close once after it opened for the season, according to general manager Brad Moretz, which is exactly why App staff is waiting for a more consistent and solid cue from Mother Nature before it hits the ground running. "We were shooting for the Friday before Thanksgiving (to open) so people have time to make plans to come and see us, but we are, of course, at the mercy of the weather," explained Moretz, who said snowmaking weather was in the forecast for this weekend. "We don't want to open this weekend and then close, though.
"We are positioned to act as soon as we get a decent cold spell - we're ready," he added.
When Appalachian Ski Mountain does open, the first 100 skiers and snowboarders to congregate at App's ticket window will receive free lift tickets for the day. Also note that for the upcoming winter, Appalachian's slopes will be open continuously from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., and customers can now purchase an eight-hour flex ticket (starts when you buy it), which replaces the traditional seven-hour 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. ticket.
Sugar Mountain Resort took the first-to-open prize this year, striking out on a battle against autumn's last grasp and opening on Nov. 6 - its earliest opening date in 34 years. The mountain was closed as of Tuesday, Nov. 16, even though its staff's calculated snowmaking kept the slopes white for as long as possible, and employees are hoping to reopen by this weekend. Sugar's slopes will surely be ready for Thanksgiving when it offers its annual Thanksgiving Turkey Treat special, which allows customers to ski/ride any four sessions during the four days of the Thanksgiving weekend (Nov. 25 to 28) for $110. To take advantage of the special, customers must purchase a ticket by 4 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 22.
Hawksnest Resort, now the largest snow-tubing park and longest zipline course on the East Coast, is currently open for zipping, yet, like some other mountains, is looking to Mother Nature and waiting with bated breath for the first sign of amenable weather conditions for making some of the white stuff.
"We're looking to make snow later this week," explained Lenny Cottom, owner of Hawksnest Resort, on Nov. 15. "We're hoping to open on the Friday after Thanksgiving, if we get lucky."
When Hawksnest does open, visitors will enjoy 100 percent snowmaking on the resort's more than 20 snow-tubing lanes spread among four snow-tubing areas. Tubing lanes range from 400- to 1,000-feet long, and are serviced by two conveyor lifts and lights for night hours.
Go play in the snow.
Must-Have Contact Info
Appalachian Ski Mountain
Ski Beech at Beech Mountain Resort
Sugar Mountain Resort
Jonas Ridge Snow Tubing
North Carolina Ski Areas Association
High Country Host Ski Website
November through end of season-Spyder Sample Sale, Sugar Mountain Resort
Sunday mornings throughout season-Non-Denominational Church Services, Beech Mountain Resort
Throughout 2010-11 season-Snowshoe Guided Tours, Sugar Mountain Resort
Nov. 19-Scheduled Opening Day, Appalachian Ski Mountain
Nov. 21-Rome Pre-Jib, Appalachian Ski Mountain
Nov. 25-Special Tubing Sessions, Hawksnest Resort
Nov. 25 to 28-Thanksgiving Turkey Treat, Sugar Mountain Resort
December through March-NASTAR Racing, Saturdays and Sundays at noon, Sugar Mountain Resort
Dec. 4-49th Anniversary Weekend, Appalachian Ski Mountain
Dec. 10 to 12-Preseason Ski Clinic, Sugar Mountain Resort
Dec. 11-Boss Hawg Concert, 4 to 6 p.m., Sugar Mountain Resort
Dec. 11 and 12-SugarFest 2010, Sugar Mountain Resort
Dec. 11 to 24-Santa at Sugar, Sugar Mountain Resort
Dec. 17-Fresh Friday 1, Appalachian Ski Mountain