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Getaways – Hitting the Beech for Spring Break

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By Patricia Baldwin

beech-mountain-resort-webRISMEDIA, February 6, 2009-(MCT)-Southern. Spring. Skiing. Connect the dots, and you’ve got the picture of North Carolina’s Ski Beech at Beech Mountain Resort, which, at an elevation of 5,506 feet, is the highest ski area east of the Rocky Mountains.

Elevation, along with accessibility, spells success with downhill skiers, snowboarders and fans of other winter sports. In fact, this writer-formerly a western ski enthusiast-confesses some skepticism when it came to skiing in my new home state. But, it was just an 84-mile drive … so easy, so why not.

A weekend later and I’m no longer a skeptic, although I’m still an easy-way-down skier. I appreciated the three beginner slopes (along with eight intermediate slopes and four expert runs). And, whatever your skill level, you can appreciate the beauty of the scenery dominated by, what else, beech trees.

Ski Beech, the Beech Mountain Resort skiing operation, entered its fifth decade this season with a variety of improvements and new options. The resort added a tubing park, a second terrain park, new quad chairs on the Oz lift, two new grooming machines, and 56 high-tech snow guns.

No doubt, the snow-making capability ensures the snow quality-and quantity, especially with the South’s constant change of temperatures. It also stabilizes the ski calendar, from Thanksgiving through mid-March. (Note: There’s still time to plan for spring break.) The current season opened prior to Thanksgiving because Mother Nature got an early start on her average annual snowfall of 80 inches.

And afternoon snowmaking sessions lengthen the days with top-notch conditions for night skiing, said Gil Adams, the resort’s director of marketing. He added that an advantage of snowmaking-beyond 100% slope coverage-is that machine-made snow melts more slowly than natural snow.

Obviously, from the activity observed during a recent Saturday, the youth sledding hill is another popular attraction. There is no charge for the sledding hill, which is open daily. The hill is reserved for kids age 12 and under, although parents can ride with smaller children.

Ski Beech is anchored by an Alpine-like village of shops and services built around a 7,000-square-foot outdoor ice rink. Visitors find a mountain experience complete with rental equipment in the Sports Shop, a Snowsports Learning Center, a Youth Learning Center and a nursery that provides care for infants and toddlers ages 6 months to 3 years.

One of the latest additions to village amenities includes an open-pit fire ring.

Harry and Grover Robbins, the brothers who created the resort in the mid-1960s, were “ahead of their time,” said Jim Brooks, president of the Beech Mountain Chamber of Commerce. In addition to envisioning a mountain dotted with second-home communities, the brothers enhanced their real estate projects with a focus on year-round recreation. In addition to skiing, there is cycling, hiking, swimming, golf, tennis and horseback riding. Nearby rivers add canoeing and rafting to the list.

And over the years, the second-home communities have transitioned with many homeowners like Peggy Coscia, who eventually gave up her Miami home base to live in her “second” Beech Mountain home full time.

Locals claim other bragging rights for their High Country hometown.

- They boast that legendary cyclist Lance Armstrong won two Tour DuPont titles atop Beech Mountain in the early 1990s and returned later that decade to train after his battle with cancer.
- Guided hikes are offered on 10 maintained trails.
- The annual Autumn at Oz celebration, slated for Oct. 3-4 this year, pays tribute to the Land of Oz theme park that, in turn, paid homage to the 1939 movie “Wizard of Oz.” The park operated on Beech Mountain throughout the 1970s. The family-oriented Oz event includes food vendors, a petting zoo, tours of a mini-Oz museum and a nostalgic stroll down the Yellow Brick Road.

As one skier recently told me, when you buy a lift ticket for a North Carolina ski outing, you’ll also receive the friendly reminder: “Y’all come back.”

If You Go:

Beech Mountain, N.C., is 117 miles north-northwest of Charlotte. The Tri-Cities Regional Airport near Johnson City, Tenn., is 48 miles away. There are more than 4,000 beds available to visitors, with condos, townhomes, chalets and resort hotels. For more information, visit www.beechmtn.com.

© 2009, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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