Beech Mountain, N.C.

Photo courtesy of Kyle Beckmann

Written by Bre Humphries

I come from a family of avid skiers. I’m not sure how it happened, since we were all born and raised right here in Atlanta, but it’s true. My parents taught my sister and me to ski soon after we started walking, my teenage cousins have mad skills on their snowboards, and even my grandparents used to hit the slopes with us when we were all a bit younger. Now, they’re content to watch for us from an observation deck at the bottom of the hill (“Is that Jake in the crazy snowboarding hat?” “I think that’s Lila there in the plaid jacket…” “Look how fast Shad just flew down that slope!”). Nonetheless, ski trips are a staple in my family. Give us a cozy cabin with enough beds and sofas for all 11 of us (and a table we can gather around to play cards in the evenings), a ski resort with plenty of snow-covered trails, a few other outdoor activities to enjoy and some good restaurants nearby, and we’re set. Luckily, that’s all available in less than 6 hours from Atlanta at Beech Mountain, N.C., the highest ski town in eastern America at 5,506 feet.

Beech-Bound
We were ready to hit the road – seven adults, two grandparents, two teenagers, two lap dogs and as much luggage as we could cram into three cars. It was the day after Christmas and Atlanta, miraculously, was covered in a blanket of white. If we got this much snow at home, how much more would be waiting for us in Beech Mountain? The conditions would be just perfect by the time we strapped on our skis.

By the time we arrived in Banner Elk, the town at the base of Beech Mountain, the snowstorm was swirling around us in full-force. Forget about venturing out west to find fresh snow; with yearly snowfall often exceeding 100 inches, Beech Mountain is touted as “The Snow Capital of the Southeast” and we were finding out for ourselves just how true that is.
 
With 95 skiable acres and a total of 15 trails, Beech Mountain
Resort offers terrain for a variety of ski levels. After picking up our equipment directly from the resort’s rental facility, which added a brand-new shipment of skis and snowboards this year, my group and I struck out to hit the slopes, starting off together at the base of the mountain, then splitting up based on skill level when we reached the top. There are a few slopes for beginners, several for intermediate skiers, a handful of black diamonds for the most adventurous thrill-seekers and two terrain parks for skilled snowboarders. The runs on the front of the mountain kept us all entertained throughout the morning, but long lines at the lifts led us to explore a bit farther after lunch, and we felt as if we’d struck gold when we discovered the Oz trail, which reopened last year on the mountain’s backside. The long, intermediate trail makes for a nice ride to a chair lift tucked away from the crowds at the lodge, allowing us to enjoy shorter lines and spend more time enjoying the snow.
 
When you’re ready for a break from the slopes, swap your skis for ice skates at Beech Mountain’s 7,000-square-foot outdoor rink in the center of Beech Tree Village, where open session skating allows ample time on the ice and a nearby snack shop gives you the perfect spot to warm up with some food or play a game of pool. There’s also a new snow tubing run at the resort, plus a free sledding hill for children 12 and under in the town of Beech Mountain (bring your own sled, or pick one up at Fred’s General Mercantile nearby).

Need another incentive to find your ski legs at Beech this season? Now through March 31, skiers and snowboarders who stay three nights in qualified Beech Mountain lodging can earn two free weekday lift tickets at the resort. (Holiday weekends excluded.) For more information, visit Beech Moutain NC or Beech Mountain Resort.  

Area Points of Interest

Jackalope’s View at Archers Inn, Beech Mountain – Perched on
the side of Beech Mountain, Jackelope’s View delivers what it promises, offering diners at every table a sweeping view of the mountain range out the floor-to-ceiling windows in it’s dining room. This is quintessential fine dining in a rustic mountain setting – hardwood floors and exposed ceilings meet white tablecloths, impeccable cuisine and an award-winning wine list. Though you can see the farthest during the day or at sunset, the restaurant’s evening atmosphere is casually romantic, with soft, dim lighting inside and the twinkling lights of Sugar Mountain in the distance. This would make a great spot for a date night (there’s even a semi-private room in the back with a quaint table for two), but my family of 11 was quite comfortable seated at a large table at the back. We had spent most of the week cooking dinner in our cabin, and we couldn’t have chosen a better spot for our fancy night out on the town.

I recommend stuffed Vidalia onions with mushrooms, roasted garlic, a tangy shallot balsamic reduction and Gorgonzola cheese; shrimp ziti pasta with generous portions of Tiger shrimp, bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms and green peas in a creamy Alfredo sauce; and fresh mountain trout, served one of three ways – nut-crusted with raspberry amaretto butter, blackened, and (my personal favorite) grilled simply with lemon butter. Oh, and save room for the Bananas Foster for dessert, a voluptuous dish of caramelized bananas and rum sauce, made in-house.  For more information, visit Archer’s Mountain Inn.

Famous Brick Oven Pizzeria, Beech Mountain – For a more casual meal in a fun atmosphere, this is my family’s top choice. Catering to customers of all ages, a full-service bar with a large selection of wines and imported and domestic beers will catch the attention of the grown-ups in your group, while kids go crazy for indoor arcade games and outdoor miniature golf when the weather permits. There’s also a coffee and ice cream bar with 35 different toppings for customizing your own creative confections.

“The Works” with pepperoni, sausage, ham, bacon, ground beef, mushrooms, black olives, red onions, tomatoes and banana peppers was a crowd favorite, but with crust this good, we could have inhaled any pizza on the menu. This place also gets a thumb’s up from my dad, who doesn’t even like pizza, because the wings are “excellent.”  For more information, visit Famous Brick Oven

Fred’s General Mercantile, Beech Mountain
This old-fashioned country store is small, but there are plenty of fun items to discover as you squeeze between the well-stocked shelves. Comprising a grocery store, hardware store and clothing store in one building, Fred’s carries everything you need for a winter retreat, and then some. You’ll find fresh fruits and vegetables, gourmet food items, an impressive wine selection, hand tools, plastic sleds, sweaters, scarves, gift items and nick knacks all under one roof. There’s also a ski & board rental section in the basement, and Fred’s Backside Deli with delicious sandwiches, soups, salads, pizzas and desserts.  For more information, visit Fred’s General Mercantile

The Shoppes of Tynecastle, Banner Elk
Shopping is scarce in Beech Mountain itself, but a mere 20-minute drive to Banner Elk is well worth the trip for the treasure trove of boutiques in The Shoppes at Tynecastle. Pop into Dandelion Styles for unique fashions, brand-name apparel, fun jewelry and accessories, plus fashion for your feet and daily wine tastings at its connecting shop, Shooz and Shiraz. Once you’ve picked up a few items for your personal wardrobe, wander into Ken Blackburn’s Rustic Rooster for country chic home interiors and eclectic finds like Italian porcelain pillboxes, ornate wooden furniture from Europe, escargot tongs and hand-painted glass mugs, or Special Additions for a mix of whimsical and elegant home décor.  For more information, visit The DandeLion