I have to admit that I had always thought Beech Mountain was just a ski resort, so I was pleasantly surprised on a recent visit to find a whole little town at the top of the mountain. Dubbed “Eastern America’s Highest Town”, Beech Mountain sits at an elevation of 5506 feet and offers amazing views of neighboring states. Once you get up the mountain, you never really have to leave. Restaurants’ offer fare ranging from pizza and beer at Brick Oven Pizzeria, to fine dining at Alpen Restaurant and Jackalopes. Then there’s Fred’s Mercantile which has a little something of everything, serving as the town’s deli, grocery, hardware, and clothing store.
There are also plenty of options for lodging with inns, chalets, condos and homes available for rent (or purchase). I stayed at the Pinnacle Inn Resort. It’s an older condo property and could use a little TLC, but it’s clean and I had a great view of the snow-covered ski runs. It has an indoor pool and hot tub as well as tennis and shuffleboard courts. There’s even a Redbox DVD rental kiosk in the pool area so you can rent movies and go back to your condo for some evening entertainment. The Beech Mountain Resort shuttle bus picks up at the main entrance of the Pinnacle (this is available for most of the major condo developments in Beech Mountain) to take you to the ski slopes so you don’t have to worry about parking or driving on snow covered roads once you get there.
Of course the main draw in the winter is the skiing and snowboarding at Beech Mountain Resort. This Bavarian style ski resort was first built in 1967 and has defined southern skiing over the years. The resort is constantly evolving, depending on demand, but remains a mainstay for skiers from all over the country. At one time Beech offered snow tubing, but took that out to make more room for snowboarding as it’s increased in popularity. Terrain parks are also becoming quite prevalent and Beech has two – one for beginner skiers and snowboarders and the other for the more advanced. Night skiing sessions are quite popular and Beech also has something else that few ski resorts in the US have – a west facing ski run called Oz. West facing runs are uncommon as the sun melts the snow quicker but when this run is open (this is the last run to open and stays open only a short time) you can get remarkable sunset views and a unique experience.
The resort also has the only high-speed quad lift in North Carolina and according to Ryan Costin, Beech Mountain Resorts’ General Manager, skiers now have access to “more vertical skiing in a day than any other ski resort in the South.” I agree – there were no long lift lines and the slopes weren’t over-crowded when I visited, so there was a lot of opportunity to get in as many runs as you possibly could.
Even in times (like this year) when there isn’t a lot of natural snow and temperatures hover in the fifties and sixties, Beech is able to make their own snow. They have dozens of snow guns across the mountain with twenty-three of them being the new high-tech SMI Super PoleCats. What that means to those of us that know nothing about snowmaking equipment is: they have the best equipment to make lots of snow quickly and to keep the slopes nice and powdery. Last year they were able to offer 100 days of skiing and snowboarding and hope to provide a similar number of days this year.
Skiing and snowboarding lessons are popular as a lot of visitors to Beech don’t live in a snow-type atmosphere (think Florida, Georgia and South Carolina). Beech has over 120 part and full-time ski and snowboard instructors available, with programs beginning from ages four on up for all different skill levels. There are both group and private lessons offered and even beginner skiers can learn the basics on the bunny slope and be riding the lifts by the afternoon.
Ice skating is another fun and popular activity at Beech Mountain. There is a 7000 square-foot outdoor ice skating rink. The rink is most crowded in the evenings and on weekends and offers an alternative for people who might not ski or snowboard a chance to get outdoors and enjoy the fresh mountain air.
The Alpine Village area at Beech Mountain Resort is a great place to unwind or take a break from the day’s activities. There’s the Beech Mountain Bakery and Gift Shop which has hot chocolate, coffee and espresso as well as apparel and other souvenirs.
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he Beech Tree Bar and Grill offers live music, pizza, salads, burgers and sandwiches. There’s also a full winter sports rental facilities area, as well as Roots Rideshop which is a freestyle-based ski/snowboard shop.
If you’re still looking for something else to do, the Parks and Recreation Department of the Town of Beech Mountain offers snowshoeing. They have snowshoes for rent and you can use them on over thirty miles of town-maintained trails. This is one sport though that is dependent on Mother Nature. Man-made snow doesn’t make it to the trails so check ahead to see if this activity will be available if it’s a “must do” on your schedule.
Kids twelve and under will enjoy Sledding Hill at Beech Mountain. This is Eastern America’s highest sled run. And the best thing about sledding hill – it’s free. According to Daniel Scagnelli, Director of Parks and Recreation, “there’s nothing else like this in the Southeastern United States”. There’s an artificial snow making machine here too, so again, if the skies aren’t producing snow, not to worry. The Beech Mountain Parks and Recreation Department maintains Sledding Hill and have lined the area with hay bales and have safety officers on staff to keep the kiddos safe. Bring your own plastic sled and be prepared for hours of fun.
Beech Mountain is only a three hour drive from our area so it makes a great weekend getaway. With so many options of things to do it’s time to don the jackets and boots and get outdoors for some great winter fun.
For more information on Beech Mountain, please visit their website at www.beechmtn.com or call 1-800-468-5506.