Appalachian Ski Mountain opened its new Welcome Center near the Blue Ridge Parkway at the intersection of US Highway 321 and Edmisten Road on September 8. Located just 1 ½ miles from the ski area, this 1500 square foot facility will be o open Monday-Saturday 9am-5pm, and Sunday 9am-3pm.
The facility, designed by Blowing Rock architect Larry Greene, carries through Appalachian Ski Mtn’s Bavarian architectural theme, and includes signature elements such as its orange gingerbread-style fascia trim, white pine feather-edge siding (also known as Blowing Rock siding), locally-quarried and crafted elk stone rockwork, diamond-style window grids, and cedar shake roof shingles.
Since 1969, Appalachian Ski Mtn. had a double billboard on the property across from its Edmisten Road entrance road. This billboard was removed in 2015 when Appalachian Regional Healthcare designed the entrance road for its new Chestnut Ridge post-acute care facility. The Chestnut Ridge entrance drive was designed to utilize the current ski area intersection as a common intersection with the addition of a traffic light across from Edmisten Road. Unfortunately, this necessitated the drive be constructed through the footprint of this historic billboard.
Due to federal D.OT. regulations, that had grandfathered Appalachian’s former double south and north-facing billboards, a new billboard could not be constructed anywhere near the ski area entrance road. In fact, because of a 1991 amendment to the Highway Beautification Act, Appalachian Ski Mtn. would not even be allowed any sort of general business signage at the entrance road to the Ski Area. This amendment to the Highway Beautification Act prevents any outdoor advertising within 1,200 feet of a Scenic Byway. Since the Blue Ridge Parkway is a Scenic Byway, this Act of Congress not only prevented billboards, but also prohibited having a general business directional sign on land owned by that business – if the business is not located on that property.
The new Welcome Center location on US Highway 321 between Blowing Rock and Boone is one of the busiest traffic areas in Western North Carolina, with an estimated annual traffic count of 8 to 10 million vehicles. The solution to this signage problem was to build this Appalachian Ski Mtn. Welcome Center, since signage is allowed for an ongoing business concern.
The Blowing Rock Town Council graciously amended the city sign ordinance to allow for more significant signage in consideration of a number of reasons including Appalachian Ski Mtn.’s economic impact on the community as Watauga County’s largest private sector winter employer, the economic impact of the ski area on other tourism businesses, the area’s dependence on visitors that aren’t familiar with this area, the existing precedent with the existing grandfathered Blowing Rock Attraction sign, as well as the increased speed limit in this ETJ area, and its prospective use as an official regional DOT Welcome Center by High Country Host.
The Welcome Center pictured below is the result of a year of design work, including architectural design by Larry Greene, landscape architecture design by Ron Cutlip, civil engineering By Valor Engineering, geotechnical testing, architectural rendering, landscape rendering, environmental consulting, electrical engineering, as well as over 6 months of governmental meetings and public hearings to approve the Conditional Use by the Town of Blowing Rock as well as an amended sign ordinance and municipal sewer hook-up with Blowing Rock.
During this design and governmental review period, High Country Host, who will operate the welcome center, was notified by the N.C. D.O.T. that due to sales interest from a potential developer of the adjacent former Boone, N.C. K-Mart property, the D.O.T. had agreed to sell the N.C. Welcome Center Facility occupied and managed by High Country Host for 32 years.
High Country Host President Chris Robbins and the High Country Host Board of Directors saw the potential marriage of the common organizational interests between Appalachian Ski Mtn. and High Country Host, and both organizations reached a long term agreement for High Country Host to operate the new Welcome Center. To better suit the needs for High Country Host as a long-term tenant, Appalachian Ski Mtn. increased the Welcome Center’s size from 984 square feet to 1,552 square feet.
After beginning construction on September 15, 2015, the project was approved for occupancy on September 7, 2016, just short of one year after initial site-work.
The building interior showcases a 23-foot custom-made poplar reception counter handcrafted by local artisan, Gaines Kiker, as well as interior stonework and flagstone flooring by Roy Kannup, vaulted ceilings with knotty alder paneling, and custom chandeliers.
In addition to High Country Host’s member information, the Welcome Center will feature current and historic Appalachian Ski Mtn. images and videos as well as live-streaming web cams showing Appalachian’s slopes. The Welcome Center will also be selling Appalachian Ski Mtn. name drop/logo’d merchandise on a year-round basis. Ski tickets will not be sold at the Welcome Center.
This Official Regional Welcome Center is located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Milepost 291 Exit, at 6370 US Highway 321 South at Edmisten Road between Blowing Rock and Boone.