Perched atop a peak in the western North Carolina high country, Beech Mountain holds the distinction of being the highest ski resort in the eastern United States with a summit elevation of 5,506 ft.
Image Courtesy of the Beech Mountain Chamber of Commerce
Beech Mountain offers an 830′ drop with an exceedingly high base elevation of almost 4,700′. This high base elevation combined with an efficient snowmaking system covering 100% of its slopes makes Beech Mountain the most snowsure ski resort in the region.
The resort has a peculiar feel owing to the fact that it is dotted with octagonally-shaped houses on stilts (imagine oceanside houses in the Outer Banks and you’ll get the idea). There are a number of small eateries and shops on top of the hill but the “village” of Beech Mountain is really exists just to cater to the resort guests. Banner Elk is the closest real town.
The ski resort is divided into two main faces. All but one of the resort’s 16 runs is located the front side of the mountain. A first generation detachable quad brings skiers from the base to the summit, though the ride is far slower than one would expect from an express lift. On weekends, outrageously long lines can build. On the back side of the resort (known as the “Land of Oz”), a single intermediate run is serviced by a fixed grip quad.
Beginners have limited options at Beech. There are two short green trails – Freestyle and Crossover – serviced by two double chairs. These runs are where adult beginners learn to ski. Unfortunately, they also happen to be part of the runouts to trails higher up the mountain. The result is a mixing bowl of fallen beginners and schussing intermediates which can be intimidating for first timers.
Children have a separate J-Bar lift for ski school lessons.
Intermediate skiers will find plenty of options at Beech. From the top of the express quad, the majority of blue trails are found to the skier’s right. Robin’s Run and Shawneehaw are the main two trails with a short connector (Crossover) linking the two together. Both trails merge together into Lower Shawneehaw as they turn left and back towards the base. The slopes are wide and moderately pitched. The lack of beginners on the upper slopes makes them far more pleasant towards the top than as they run headlong into the beginner terrain at the bottom. Lower Shawneehaw is also serviced by its own double chair (Lift #1), which is usually far less crowded than the summit quad.
On the other side of the summit is the Oz Run. This lone blue trail is serviced by its own fixed grip quad with a vertical drop in the 500 ft. range. Although it does not drop the fall vertical of the mountain, it is our favorite run on the mountain because it is the only true trail (the other runs are more wide slopes than trails). The Oz chair also tends to have a shorter liftline.
There are two black diamond runs at Beech Mountain – Southern Star and White Lightning. Both are wide slopes of a moderatly steep pitch. They won’t get a real expert skier’s heart pumping, but are steeper than some of the other black diamonds at other resorts in the region, excluding Sugar Mountain. True expert skiers will find more challenging offerings across the valley at Sugar, most notably the double black diamond Whoopdedoo run.
The resort has a small mountaintop village near the slopes, consisting of the ski resort base lodge, a handful of restaurants, a retail shop, and an ice skating rink. The adjacent town of Beech Mountain is the highest incorporated town in the Eastern United States.
The closest large town is Banner Elk at the bottom of the Beech Mountain Parkway.
On the mountain, skiers have a few selections for lunchtime fare. The main base lodge has an adequate cafeteria (the View Haus) and a very old school wood-panelled sports bar (the Beech Tree Bar and Grill). The resort has also recently added a micorbrewery (the Beech Mountain Brewery) in the base village. Lastly, the new 5506′ Skybar at the summit of the resort offers food and drinks either on a large deck or in the glass-enclosed confines of an umbrella bar.
Unlike Sugar Mountain, where the only real dinner options are located in Banner Elk, there are enough restaurant options in the mountaintop village of Beech Mountain to keep most vacationers happy for a few days. Our favorite is the Brick Oven Pizza and Pasta on the Beech Mountain Parkway, where a large selection cold beers and crunchy pizza highlight the offerings. It’s an apres-ski must.
Beech Mountain operates a central reservations desk to book guests in condos and slopeside homes. The quality of the accommodations can range widely, so be sure to ask for pictures of units in advance.
Beech Mountain is popular with families from across the Southeast because its high base elevation allows for the best chance of a snowy vacation. Sledding is popular on the open slope near Brick Oven Pizza and Pasta. The resort’s ice skating rink is also popular in season.
To reach the ski area, guests ascend almost 1,000 ft via the Beech Mountain Parkway from the town of Banner Elk. 4WD is highly recommended in winter months as the road tends to be snowier than most in the region due to its high elevation.
Driving Distance / Approximate Drive Time
Charlotte, NC – 122 mi / 2 hour 30 minutes
Atlanta, GA – 275 mi / 5 hours
Philadelphia, PA – 325 mi / 5 hours
Top: 5,506 ft
Bottom: 4,676 ft
Vertical: 830 ft
Skiable Area: 90 ac
Annual Snowfall: 84 in
Lifts: 7 (1 express quad)
+ high base and summit elevations
+ skiing on two faces (main and Oz side)
– slow lifts (even the “high speed” quad)
– often crowded
– limited natural snowfall
Updated for Winter 2015-2016 – David B. Cronheim