If you haven’t been keeping up with the talk, the rumors, and the facts on this subject you can come up to speed after reading today’s story…by reading the messageboard entries starting last season and the article that we wrote and archived on August 30, 2005.
So why this followup? Because the more we know, the more we like what we’re hearing and seeing…kind of.
If TALK can make a mountain become a ski resort, then start waxing up the skis and snowboards because "Phoenix Mountain" should be ready to make first tracks on by tomorrow! Don’t get ahead of me – obviously it takes a lot more than talk. However there is more of a chance at this particular project getting off the ground than any in recent memory.
I have had a lot of information on hand and figured sooner a later I’d write this article, however those of you who have followed this website for nine-plus years know that I don’t write about rumors. A few months ago we began getting more information regarding the fact that Sheldon Good & Company of Chicago was handling the closed bid potential sale of 477 acres of land known as Phoenix Mountain in Ashe County. The auction company is promoting the land as a potential ski resort. However that STILL doesn’t make a ski resort rise out of REAL ESTATE known as Pheonix Mountain. So why all the fuss?
Consider the following facts:
Ask ANY Ashe County resident about Phoenix Mountain and they will know what you’re talking about.
Ask ANY Realtor about the property and THEY will know what you’re talking about.
Linda Burchette of the Jefferson Post featured a front story feature about Phoenix Mountain in this past Friday’s edition of the paper.
Call Sheldon Good & Company and they will do a sales job on you that will have you ready to write a bad check!
Not enough you say? We agree, because, after all, SkiNC.com and SkiSoutheast.com has received emails and calls for several seasons about a new ski resort planned in just about every area of the region.
Why is THIS ONE DIFFERENT?
In ONE quick response to the question posed above – I will answer – "Eric Hunter".
Many people have come along and claimed that they were working on the idea of a new or improved ski area. Why does the name "Eric Hunter" make this particular claim more noteworthy or believable? Simply put, Eric Hunter has the background, resources and land to make this happen. More importantly he has the PASSION to see it become a reality. At least he has HAD the passion. There are some signs that he may have tempered his dreams a bit.
We have been keeping an eye and ear on the slivers of "reports" and talk coming from over that way for a couple of years now. Word has it that "someone" was cutting trails, digging a pond, and one emailer told us about some snowmaking tests that were going on over there. Word has it that a man over that way has a dream of seeing that mountain become the best of the ski areas in the region. All of this was exciting.
Last season messageboard members and guests were sending in satellite images showing "trails" being cut.
We have to admit, our excitement became slightly tempered when we found out that the man behind it all has decided to sell his dream to someone else. Could it still happen? Yes. Is it likely that Hunter will find a developer that shares his resourses AND PASSION to see that area become a popular ski destination? We’re not so certain.
However, let’s first talk about the EXCITING part of the news…
For those unaware, the mountain has been known as Phoenix Mountain for as long as anyone can remember, so this is not some marketing name given to the project. It is just a remarkable coincidence that a ski resort could rise up from Ashe County like the fabled, legendary bird which according to one account lived 500 years, burned itself to ashes on a pyre, and rose alive from the ashes to live another period. (Note the Phoenix and Ashe references??? Could it happen that THIS PHOENIX will rise from the ASHES – Jefferson, West Jefferson, etc.?)
The land that is being promoted for sale offers 477 acres, all at elevations ranging from 3000 to 4600 feet. For the record, this large tract is only part of nearly 1200 acres that Hunter owns at the location. So land and elevations are not an issue.
Location, Location, Location
It’s an old real estate tale that the three most important ingredients in real estate, and the success of any business located on it – is location, location and location. Ashe County is the northwestern most county in North Carolina and borders Tennessee and Virginia. Only one mile from the town of Jefferson, the County seat, Phoenix Mountain is positioned to be the FIRST resort destination for skiers coming from the major metropolitan areas of the Southeast. That could mean immediate success for those wanting easy access and convenience.
The Longest Ski Run AND the most vertical goes to…Phoenix?
Sugar Mountain often boasts the most vertical drop and the longest ski run in the Southeast. Actually that honor goes to Snowshoe in West Virginia which IS part of the Southeast. Snowshoe boasts a vertical drop of 1500 feet and their Cupp Run is 1.5 miles of fun. Sugar’s vertical is closer to 1400 feet and you have to combine a few trails to get the 1.5 mile run from top to bottom. If Eric Hunter has his dream become a reality, Phoenix Mountain will boast a 1600 foot vertical with its longest run measuring a whopping THREE MILES LONG!
For those who have argued that Ashe County doesn’t get as much snow as Sugar, Beech or Hawksnest…wrong again. Eric Hunter has had numerous studies conducted and the mountain receives an annual snowfall of 65" which would put it on equal ground with all but Beech Mountain in terms of natural snowfall in North Carolina. Add to that the marvels of modern snowmaking technology…and snow is not an issue.
If skiable acres is your stat of choice, consider that Phoenix COULD allot more than the 234 acres that Snowshoe skis on and quite a lot more than the 115 acres that make up Sugar Mountain (the largest skiable terrain in NC).
AprÃ¨s Ski Your Thing?
The current plan would support an on-site ski village that would be located at the second plateau elevation of around 3600 feet. The lodge would be a Tyrolean style lodge and associated shops. As you might expect with a vision of this caliber, there would also be various stores to support skiing and snowboarding.
Four Seasons of Fun…
There are several golf courses within a few minutes of the mountain and tons of hiking trails, the New River, canoeing, horseback riding and more…all within minutes. Mountain biking is also a hugely popular pastime with the Railroad Grade Road biking resource one of the states’ best for bikers.
There are tons of vacation cabin rentals in the area and vacation companies ready and able to package with any potential ski area that might open there!
Resources? What are resources?
We’re not sure why the subject of Phoenix Mountain has taken as long as it has to really take flight. Significant resources have been invested by Hunter in planning the mountain as a ski resort destination. They have performed ON-SITE snowmaking tests and a fair amount of on-site pre-construction has already been completed. Plans have been developed by Hunter that indicate the viability for four or five chair lifts.
Get the picture yet? Eric Hunter dreams of seeing skiers and snowboarders swishing down what could be the biggest and best in the Southeast. Sound far fetched? Pshaw you say? Read on.
Hunter owns 1200 acres on the mountain and is offering 477 acres of it for sale. The closed bid auction takes place October 17th and we’ll certainly know more then as to the "who, what and where" pertaining to the people placing bids. Insiders say that Hunter holds the right to turn down any offer. He is passionate about seeing the mountain become a ski destination. He’s passionate about the huge economic benefit that it would have on Ashe County too. Every single Ashe County resident and business person will quickly second that idea. We have spoken with numerous Ashe County citizens and as Jeannie Fox of Carolina Mountain Properties stated in a conversation recently, "Mike, you just can’t imagine how much affect that would have on our community. We need it. It would put Ashe County on the map."
Locals fear that all of this promotion and talk will go for nothing and that a developer will come in and purchase the land…and build a private resort community akin to Hound Ears, Elk River, etc. As local resident Jim Warren states, "While it would be good to see another successful business or community open in the county, something like Hound Ears would only have a limited positive influence for the citizens of the county." He adds, "A ski resort or Four Season Destination would mean many more jobs, and have a much better trickle down effect for the vacation and real estate values of Ashe County."
Speaking of the county, Ashe County and the town has been very supportive in the project. "I feel very confident that we will have a resort", says Hunter recently to Linda Burchette of the Jefferson Post newspaper."
So why are we reserved about our excitement? Why have we taken a ‘wait and see’ approach to this whole project?
Read between the lines. Notice Eric Hunter’s own words… "I feel very confident that we will have a RESORT." That is a whole lot different than "we will have a ski resort."
In conversations that we have had with a number of residents of Ashe County, that is their "fear" as well. Fear is probably too strong a word. DISAPPOINTMENT is probably a more accurate one. Right or wrong…many residents have had their hopes soar as the idea of a popular ski destination floats around the county. Now that things have changed somewhat with the news of an auction to sale the land, residents are a bit more reserved. As one local put it, "Aw, it won’t happen. Nothing that great would ever happen to Ashe County."
Eric Hunter could make this happen on his own. He has been hugely successful in business, becoming a Nasdaq STAR, making millions in several ventures over the last several years. Hunter was excited about doing the project himself, but decided that based on other business committments and activities, he did not have the time to proceed with the project. He hopes that someone else will take advantage of all of the preliminary work and investment that he has already devoted to the project.
So What Happens if No Bid Comes in to Make this a Ski Area?
That is a great question. We’d be excited if a major player got involved, however supposedly every major industry player has been aware of this opportunity and not acted on it. According to a number of people that we have spoken with, all of the major ski industry companies have considered it and passed on it for any number of reasons…none of which have anything to do with the viability of the resort’s success. "Too many other irons in the fire" seems to be the leading excuse or reason for passing on the seemingly perfect opportunity.
Where’s Dr. Tom Brigham when you need him?
Doctor Brigham is widely acknowleged as the "father of Southern Skiing". Born in Atlanta and raised in Vermont, he became an expert skier at an early age and because of his love of the sport, his passion and vision brought skiing to North Carolina in the form of Ski Beech. He later started Sugar Mountain and then Snowshoe in West Virginia.
We’ll be surprised if Eric Hunter finds a developer with the same passion and wherewithall that he has for seeing that Phoenix Mountain becomes a ski resort destination. Sure, someone will probably come along that can or will put the dollar signs together and create yet another successful, luxury resort in the region. But ski resort??? We have our doubts. We’ve seen the real estate developers looking to come in and buy up every available parcel in the High Country. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if Mr. Hunter wants to see his dream become a reality, then we think that he needs to partner with people that share his passion. It is doubtful that someone will come along who will match Hunter’s PASSION, desire AND resources to see his dream through.
If no ski resort-style bid comes through…Hunter may give in and sell the land for some other style of development.
What Mr. Hunter should know is that his dream would be matched by thousands of ski and snow enthusiasts who would love to see someone new, with fresh ideas enter into the mix. Thousands of area residents would love to see the influx of new jobs, new opportunities and new real estate and vacation rental investment opportunities…not to mention new restaurants, shops, outlet malls, etc.
A ski resort there makes sense. We’re hopeful that Mr. Hunter will not allow his dream to die on the vine of yet another real estate, resort development…and make Phoenix Rise Out of the Ashes…Ashe County that is!
Until Next Time —
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