After playing a record number of rounds of golf in January, I have to admit I was ready to hang up the short sleeve polos and trade the clubs in the trunk for some skis on the roof.
And when the temperature finally dropped a little I declared a Monday (February 6, 2006) snow day, packed the SUV and pointed it due south and west toward Beech Mountain, N.C., just outside of Boone, N.C. Mother Nature had dealt a cruel deck of January cards to the Boone area resorts (Appalachian, Ski Beech, Sugar Mountain, Hawksnest). Record and near-record high temperatures delivered only a dusting of natural snow and left snowmakers with many days off. Not good news for southern atlantic ski resorts which typically have only a four-month season in good years.
Not only had the preceding weekend delivered a cold blast for snowmaking, but a natural dusting of the white stuff had covered the 5,500-foot town of Beech Mountain (they claim to be the highest east of the Mississippi). That made for pretty vistas and set the mood for skiing. In an aggressive stroke of marketing, Ski Beech is running Monday through Thursday specials that provide free lift tickets for ladies on Mondays, men on Thursdays and “buy one get one free” tickets on Tuesdays. Wednesday everyone skis for $15. On this Monday there was a nice turn out of snow bunnies but far from a crowd and no lift lines all morning.
I broke in the winter-legs with a couple of easy cruises down beginner run Freestyle before tackling the top of the mountain. As my 10-year-old daughter Hanna zipped by me, she was quick to remind me that all the “old folks” like me were on skis, while the young people were snowboarding. She likes skiing, but I think secretly yearns to break free of her “parent’s” way of getting down the mountain and take up a board.
The snow guns blew all day and Upper and Lower Shawnee were in nice shape considering the January weather. The backside was closed as were a few expert runs, but the trails open offered some loose powder much of the morning. Robbins Run and Southern Star had iced up by the time I got to them in the late afternoon. The terrain park was open but it looked fairly limited and the halfpipe had weeds poking through the snow.
It was my first time at Ski Beech and while the ski trail system is relatively small, the Town of Beech Mountain is widely developed with several restaurants and a variety of lodging options fro cheap rooms to million dollar homes atop the summit. Two nice touches are an outdoor skating rink in the Village at the base of the slopes and a free municipal sledding hill complete with snowmaking.
With Tuesday starting to get closer, we realized school and work were calling us back home to Virginia so we passed on the extra amenities. For the money spent and the lack of lines, it was a great Monday skiing.
Born and raised in the D.C. area, George Lyle is the County Attorney for Henry County in southern Virginia., a former newspaper columnist, and mediocre but enthusiastic skier.