After riding Sugar Mountain on Friday, we opted to go to Beech Mountain Ski Resort, hoping that it would be less crowded than Sugar, and also for a change of scenery. Ullr was smiling on us, as an unexpected snowstorm rolled in around midnight which meant Saturday was likely to be a powder day.
The drive up from Banner Elk which is only a few miles away was relatively gnarly. The snow was blowing and it’s a pretty harrowing drive, about 2,000 vertical feet ascending up winding mountain roads in low visibility. But we made it there right about opening time and secured our parking spot in Lot 1, nearest the slopes.
Temps were lower than expected, in the mid-teens, and wind was high, making white-on-white the story of the day. Visibility was low but the snow was superb. It was in the “Midwest Pow Day” category, of maybe 4-6″, or just enough to be legitimately powder instead of mere “dust on crust”. While the snow was fresh, the overall level of grooming didn’t seem on par with Sugar, there was a lot of ice under the snow, especially up top, compared to almost none at Sugar. It snowed pretty consistently all day and was still coming down when we left at 1:30.
Slightly smaller than Sugar Mountain, Beech Mountain is about 90 acres, just the other side of Banner Elk where we stayed for the evening. There was some apparently sick terrain in the OB areas, like rock & cliff drops, a few barely-inbounds hits, but like Sugar, ducking the ropes seemed to be a definite no-no. Go ahead and pull my Shred card, maybe I’m just getting old… The overall terrain on the marked trails was a bit less challenging, with no legitimate steeps to be found, fewer banked walls and side hits were also rare in comparison.
Beech Mountain Ski Resort lays claim to be the highest ski area east of the Mississippi with a summit elevation of 5,506′. The vertical is a little lacking at only 830′ from top to bottom and the area is small by almost any comparison, with only about 85 skiable acres.
All the chairlifts converged in basically the same base area which creates a lot of congestion and long lift lines. The quad which is allegedly “high speed” (LOL!) was the longest line I’ve waited in aside from Vail on a powder day.
Lift 6 was closed, which was a major bummer because that would have alleviated a lot of the congestion. It was the second busiest weekend in the ski season, so I’m not sure if it was down for maintenance or what..
Also somewhat annoying, they had a short beginner lift which served two mellow trails. This lift was situated right above the Quad and adjacent the rope-served bunny hill, adding to congestion. From the chair, you could just watch people eat it, and while cutting through this mess on the way to the quad you had to be constantly on guard for errant toddlers and denim dads about to double eject right in front of you.
The beginners at Beech seemed more abundant and even less apt. I make no claims to being an extraordinary snowboarder, but I can say with near certainty that I was the best snowboarder at that mountain on Saturday.
On the back side the Oz lift basically was a quad that serviced only one run and for whatever reason, almost nobody was back there. We spent a few laps there once the frontside crowds became unbearable. It was a relief to be able to lap this lift, even if it wasn’t as steep or as powdery. It would be nice if they would expand the terrain accessible by this chair.
Beech had a much better terrain park with all of the requisite features, a few boxes, mostly the large diameter rails which are a bit easier, including a down-flat-down, a down, a flat, and some other stuff, but they had some flat bars and a skinny, as well as two smallish jumps and one bigger jump. The park seemed well maintained but due to low visibility and the fact that I was riding a powder/big mountain board, I only took one lap through.
In addition to a large cafeteria overlooking the bunny hill, there is a brewpub with its own microbrewery adjacent the quad lift at the base. The local IPA was quite enjoyable after a day of riding, and I’d recommend sampling some if you get the chance.
Beech Mountain Ski Resort trail map
Current map as of February 19, 2014, or you can check their site for up-to-date map: