Dave’s Rave and Rant’s – Time for Ski Beech to Pay More Attention to the Little Things by Dave Snow

Editor Entry Note: This is the first entry by Dave Snow. We welcome him to our “fold”. His column will begin appearing in the middle column of the front page beginning early in the week and at that time we will move this first story to that spot as well.  In the meantime, read on.  He has some views to share and we’d be interested in the consensus. Read and email us at [email protected]

Yes, my name is “Snow” and yes it’s a pretty cool name, particularly if you’re a snow sports enthusiast and budding writer for a snow related website. Thanks to SkiSoutheast.com and SkiNC.com for providing me an opportunity to share my thoughts for whatever they are worth. Hopefully a few of you will feel that I am speaking for YOU within this column and email me to let me know if I’m dead on or way off base with my comments. For now – email me at [email protected]  and they will forward me your comments. I think they are setting me up with [email protected] the first of the week.

Before I get too deep into this first entry into my SkiSoutheast.com presence, let me say that I am a frequent visitor of most of the area’s ski resorts. I have not been to all of them and I will make it a goal to visit every resort within the next 12 months. I have, however, skied many of the resorts and have a good take on the differences and public perceptions of each. The focus of this series will be for me to rant and rave where I see fit – while attempting to be fair AND representative of what the general visiting public thinks.

Sounds like a tall order, but here goes.

This first Rave and Rant focuses on Ski Beech.

I have skied at Beech Mountain more than any other resort in the Southeast and Mid Atlantic. I know several others (some message board members) that most often frequent Beech as well. We all agree that we love Ski Beech’s wide, undulating terrain and the fact that they offer the most amazing weekday discounts as well as shorter lift lines among the High Country’s ski areas. Perhaps only Hawksnest has shorter lift lines. Beech’s wide slopes and base areas disperse even the heaviest of traffic and the high-speed quad gets you to the top faster than anywhere else in the area. Other positives would be the beautiful views at the top of the 5506’ elevations; and the location within the beautiful town of Beech Mountain itself. Their ski school staff is among the best and when there’s ample natural snowfall or prolonged snow making opportunities, Ski Beech offers slope quality that’s as good as anywhere else. The ambience of the village shops and The Beech Tree Restaurant area are all positives. Also, I should mention that the staffers at Ski Beech are all very cordial and helpful. You’ll rarely here any stories of the management or administrative staff giving visitors a bad experience.

Now to the “rant”. Unfortunately for this writer, the negatives at Ski Beech too often outweigh the positives. Before I produce a ton of negative emails for SkiSoutheast.com from people wondering why the heck I ski so often at Ski Beech, let me address that. I ski there because there are four places to ski within 30 minutes of each other in the Boone area. I ski all of them. I ski at Beech because the terrain is nice, when it’s all open.

Unfortunately though, the maintaining of the terrain and the lack of attention to the little things that would make for a lot better skier/rider experience, ranks Ski Beech far below some of the resorts such as Sugar Mountain or Appalachian in terms of snow quality and other things that I will address.

For example, I skied at Ski Beech on Saturday. I read on SkiNC.com where The Oz Run was open and that weighed heavily on why I chose to go there, rather than Sugar, Hawksnest or Appalachian. I’m not enthralled with the Oz Run, but I figured I might as well see what all the fuss is about. (SkiNC announces its opening debut annually with the same enthusiasm as they announce The Cupp Run at Snowshoe.) After skiing on Upper and Lower Shawneehaw for a while, I decided to head over to The Oz Run at the beginning of the night session. I exited out of the quad lift house and skied close to the Oz lift. It was already dark and the snowguns were blasting away and I couldn’t perfectly see where I was going, so I ended up missing the veer to the right that would have taken me over the bridge that leads to the run. Instead, I skied straight ahead (there was nothing prohibiting me from doing so) and immediately hit a horrible surface that was ice with frozen bits of gravel in it. While that was bad enough I then hit some kind of sandpaper surface that your skis would stick to and only THEN did I realize that I was off the intended access to Oz and was actually “skiing” across the paved vehicle access road for home owners.

Before some of you give me heck, understand that I have skied at Beech more than a hundred times and this was a mistake that was easy to make, since it was:

a) Dark
b) The access was not roped or blocked off
c) Guns were making visibility nearly impossible at just that access spot

This leads me to my point. Ski Beech should have simply placed a rope or ribbon fence across that which would have kept me and NUMEROUS others from venturing the wrong way. Attention to detail.

FYI, the bridge access to Oz was better but not by a lot! While there was no gravel, there WERE surfaces that would not allow skiing across. So people wanting to get to Oz were left with ski-walking across a surface that you questioned what it was doing to the bottom of my one year old skis!

Attention to Detail – number two…

Those skiers or riders who ventured over to The Oz Run last night probably only rode it ONCE. Ski Beech should NOT have had that trail open on Saturday. I read on SkiNC Saturday where this was probably the first time that the Oz Run opened before White Lightning or Robbins Run. After skiing it ONE time last night, I am saying CLEARLY that it should not have been open on Saturday. The trail was horrible. I am a very experienced skier and I can ski some challenging terrain (not that Oz is offers challenging steeps) but what skiers and riders were faced with on that run last night was terrible. First there was horribly groomed ICE and ice blocks that transitioned to heavy, manmade snow that was pumping out by the moment from the new fan guns. Those areas would make for an experience that had you fighting over ice blocky snow to an almost ski-grabbing stop over the superglue-sticky snow. Then you were met with three of four more of those along the way. The bottom, near the lift loading station was treacherous ice and ice blocks again.

Attention to Detail – numbers three, four and maybe five… (If any of you readers were at Beech yesterday and disagree with this assessment, please email [email protected]  and let them know and I am certain that they will publish your opinion.)

After figuring that Oz wasn’t happening again, I stayed over on Upper and Lower Shawneehaw. Upper Shawneehaw was “okay” as long as you stayed over on the right side. The middle was poorly groomed and full of ice blocks, etc. As the night went on, the conditions seemingly got better on Upper S. Lower Shawneehaw was in sweet shape from the beginning or merge area from “Upper S” all the way down either straight to the quad or even to the left over to “Powder Bowl”. If it weren’t for the Upper trail or Oz, I’d probably give Ski Beech the benefit of the doubt pertaining to their lack of grooming, but even the upper part of Lower Shawneehaw held some sizeable blocks of ice.

Attention to Detail – number six.

If yesterday or last night was an ice-olated case (cute pun huh!) then I wouldn’t be on this rant, but regulars will tell you that Ski Beech is perennially at the bottom of “snow quality rankings” among North Carolina resorts. I am no grooming professional, but it doesn’t take one to know that you can normally find a much better surface to ski on at other resorts. My love of Ski Beech forces me to say that they NEED to get the control of the groomers away from whoever is running it. Whoever is doing the driving is obvious skirting over the slopes as fast as they can; only hitting the higher trafficked areas and paying no attention to what’s coming out of the back end of the machine. I envision something akin to the way we’ve all done a super-fast vacuuming job when guests are nearly at your front door! How often do you guys see the groomers out between sessions??? How often are you guys seeing sweet corduroy at Ski Beech? It happens, but it isn’t often.

I spoke with a couple of visitors last night who began shouting out numerous additional details that could use a look at. Some of the better suggestions were:

1. How about make some snow on the paved access walk up from the parking lot to the slopes, so you could walk up some traction producing snow? The walk up and down often has icy spots that leave many on their rear ends.

2. Make some snow on the walk area between the bunny slopes and the rental building. Last night was uneven, icy ground. Push some snow over onto it and it will not only make it safer to walk on, it will LOOK great and add some ambience for the visitor.

3. Update the interior of the buildings with some needed paint, sanding, doorways and cleaner rest rooms, etc. (See Appalachian’s lodge for an example of what to emulate.)

4. Create some space in the rental building or cafeteria building (the same level as the ski surface) to allow for ticket purchasing. Making people walk down those steps is outdated.

5. Spend a little money on some decent, protective wrappings for lift pole and snow gun pipes to protect out of control skiers from permanently injuring themselves from collisions. I witnessed numerous poles a couple of weeks ago with NO protective padding around them. Last night there appeared to be some wrapped padding around most, although numerous of them were only wrapped some three-to-five feet up. What about us six footers? Additionally, several snow gun pipes were unprotected along the way and I can tell you first-hand that I witnessed on young girl (about six or seven years old) that “clicked” one of these pipes with her skies and it scared her father to the point of scolding his child for skiing anywhere but on the middle of the slopes.

Let’s call these Attention to Detail – number seven, eight, nine, ten and on.

Ski Beech also is usually among the last to open and first to close each season which doesn’t make for a lot of “warm and fuzzy feelings” from the season pass holders up there. Vacation rental businesses and home owners up there never know when Beech will close since they never announce it and most often close on a moment’s notice without even letting their own people know until the day before or in some cases the day OF. I know three ski patrol up there and they know to expect the unexpected from Ski Beech’s management when it comes to closing.

Attention to Detail – Aw heck, let’s quit counting. You get the picture.

The fact is Ski Beech has some of the best terrain and resources to work with, and with elevations above 5500’ they also have some of the best weather to support snow making. They COULD have the best snow, the best terrain and the best experience of any of the ski areas in the state and among the best in the region.

The reason that they don’t is that their management either doesn’t ski (like Sugar’s does) or they stopped caring years ago. It is time that someone either kicks them in the rear, or gets some new blood on the mountain to offer a better, more visitor friendly product up there. People will say that the visitor has a good time up there and that is certainly true. However, it could be the best, with a little attention to detail.

Spend some time properly grooming. Send the groomers to Appalachian, Cataloochee, or Sugar Mountain to learn how to CONSISTENTLY maintain snow. Sugar has the steeps to rival or surpass Beech’s and yet they produce a lot better snow to ski on. All Southeast resorts experience ice from time to time…and some will argue that Beech has more wind to contend with. Any of you ever been on top of Snowshoe’s 4848’? Oh my LORD is it windy there and in that village wind-tunnel. However, you will RARELY find the kind of conditions that are too often found at Ski Beech.

It’s time that we all quit accepting this and make the management KNOW that they have some work to do to keep us coming in increasing numbers! Ski Beech began offering huge mid-week discounts for skiing a few years ago and that is cool. However, I say keep your free skiing and give us more consistently maintained and made snow. Give us a better experience. Give us some better trail and hazard marking and charge us for it.

Pay attention to more detail and make Ski Beech the best that it can be. It doesn’t cost that much to implement these things and in some cases takes nothing more than a little more TLC and time.

I am calling on others to make sure that Ski Beech knows that we are paying more attention to them and their management and make the product that season pass holders and others are paying for – better and more consistent.

Some will argue that my rant is too harsh. I am saying that when there’s a foot of new-fallen snow on Ski Beech, it’s the best place in the state to ski or ride. However, when Mother Nature doesn’t dump the mother-lode then too often it’s hit or miss as to what you’ll find on the slopes and around the village at Ski Beech. What’s wrong with shooting for better than that?

Come on Ski Beech, step up.

In closing, if anything I wrote is wrong, inaccurate or unfair, please enlighten me at [email protected]

Editor’s Note: The views expressed by Dave Snow or Dave’s Raves and Rants are those of Dave Snow. We have to express that most often these raves or rants are the culmination of views of real SkiNC or SkiSoutheast visitors who post on our messageboard or who anonymously or privately submit material or emails to us. We simply provide a forum for (hopefully) humorous (and sometimes unpopular) commentaries.

Now on a serious note: if you have a real problem with something we publish, we encourage you to contact us about it. We’re almost all adults here, and contrary to popular belief, we’re really not out to harm anyone. It’s all in fun and for the betterment of the ski industry as a whole. So relax.

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Mike Doble
Mike is the Editor and founder of SkiSoutheast.com, SkiNC.com and ResortCams.com. Since September 1996 he has posted more than 13,000 posts, articles, photos and videos promoting all of the ski areas of North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland.Mike is the father of four daughters, is an avid skier and enjoys golf, tennis, kayaking and hiking in the mountains. Winter snowsports and Summer boating on Watauga Lake are among his favorite pastimes.