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North Carolina's slopes prepare for busy season

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Nov 21, 2017 at 11:28 PM

When the snow begins to fall in Western North Carolina, thousands of skiers and snowboarders travel to Sugar Mountain and Beech Mountain resorts for the winter season. 

Saturday’s flurries came just in time for Thanksgiving weekend, when ski resorts are expecting an influx of tourists looking to hit the slopes. 

But winter sports aren’t just a good time, they’re also big business, contributing about $200 million annually to the local economies in communities surrounding Sugar and Beech mountains.

Sugar Mountain Ski Resort officially began its winter season Monday, welcoming skiers and snowboarders to the slopes. With the addition of natural snow to its man-made snow, Sugar Mountain Ski Resort Vice President Kimberley Jochl said conditions are now perfect for winter sports.

Jochl said the resort is expecting another profitable winter season as the industry continues to flourish in Western North Carolina. With people coming from across the globe — mainly from the Southeast — Jochl said the arrival of winter sports tourists, which she described as a “strong economic engine,” will energize the entire local economy. 

“Sugar Mountain is one of those places people from far away come to experience,”Jochl said. “A lot of the local businesses, like ski shops, gas stations, restaurants and lodging in Boone and the Elk Park area, are certainly impacted by the ski industry in the High Country.”

And after months of slow business, some establishments in the area experience a boom when ski season begins. 

“A lot of restaurants get reinfused with business,” Jochl said. 

In addition to the nine trails and six lifts open at Sugar Mountain, winter sports enthusiasts will also be able to visit Beech Mountain Ski Resort’s nine trails by the end of the week, according to Marketing Director Talia Freeman. 

“We got a little natural snow Saturday night and we’re making snow in hopes to start Friday,” she said. 

Now in its 50th season, Freeman said Beech Mountain is advertising specials to attract more winter sports tourists to the area, which could make regional revenue even higher than previous years. Season-long promotions include 1967 lift ticket prices of $9 for Ladies Night every Tuesday and $9 for Men's Night every Wednesday. Couples Night every Thursday features $16 for the first lift ticket and $8 for the second, according to its website. 

On average, she said the winter sports tourism industry provides about 60 to 70 percent of the revenue for the town, but with local lodging establishments celebrating their anniversaries by offering accommodation specials, Freeman expects a lucrative year for the resort.

“There’s a bit more of a buzz around it this year,” Freeman said of this winter season. 

Beech Mountain Tourism and Economic Development Director Kate Gavenus said the the ski industry is a vital part of the town’s economy. Though last winter was not ideal for winter sports, she said they witnessed a 20 percent rise in revenues from the previous year, and that trend could continue this year with the addition of deals being offered at the resort and lodging establishments. 

“Once we get them here, we get them hooked,” she said. “So if we have great deals, and it brings people to the mountain to see what a great place this is, we’ve done our jobs.”

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