I would love to have a nickel for every time that question is asked us via email. Sugar Mountain is unquestionably one of the best managed ski areas in the United States. You will rarely hear anyone complain about the quality of snow or the product found at Sugar Mountain in Banner Elk (Sugar Mountain), North Carolina. Since it is human nature to TRY to find something to complain about (and find it we will!) people have certainly complained in many ways about how slow Sugar’s double chairs are to the top of the mountain. It is a safe bet to say that we have received more than a thousand emails in our twelve years asking about or referencing the slow lifts. It’s funny that I never thought to do so before – but I just Googled "Sugar Mountain slow lifts" and Google returns 176,000 results for the search term!
Coincidentally, SkiSoutheast.com ranks number one for that term, even though we’ve never written about the subject before. (We simply rank at the top for just about any search term having to do with skiing in the region 🙂 ) Many regional and national ski websites have comments about the subject. GoSki.com writes, "There’s nothing wrong with Sugar Mt. that a modern high-speed quad wouldn’t solve. If you’re a decent skier, you can ski up top, come down to the mid-station and pick the lift back up to the top. The line is significantly shorter there and you get in as many runs as you can stand, even on a busy day. If you’re a beginner, be prepared to wait up to an hour to get on the slow double lift."
OnTheSnow.com shares a full review wherein a portion of it states, "Sugar is a great mountain for skiing. …people complain about long lines…slow chair lifts."
I’m not going to belabour the point further; suffice to say that Sugar’s product is second-to-none and a lot of people would just love it if the lift system was as well. I have to admit that I have had that thought a few times myself when I’m in the midst of a fifteen minute ride to the top of the mountain (particularly on frigid or windy nights). Due to the volume of emails and reviews that we receive about Sugar, I think it’s safe to say that many of you have also wondered why in the world wouldn’t Sugar invest in a high-speed quad? Come on, admit it – you’ve probably even made some derogatory statement about how Sugar was just pocketing all their profits and not investing in a high-speed chair.
Count me as one of those. I’ll admit it.
HOWEVER, I’ve grown to be pretty close friends with a number of long-time, Sugar Mountain staffers over the last couple of years and I count Ski and Snowboard School Director, Len Bauer – and Joe White, Sugar’s top groomer – as good friends. Both men have been at Sugar for more than 26 years. Gunther himself is not a talkative sort (particularly with yours truly) and he certainly doesn’t need to explain his business strategies with anyone. The man OBVIOUSLY know what he’s doing. However through those friendships, it has come to my attention that just maybe Gunther is a whole lot better at math than most of us give him credit for.
How is it that I have come to that realization, you ask? Well, I was talking to a man about a horse. No, REALLY, I was. You see, Joe White, like many ski area employees also holds another job. He is what I would call "farrier extraordinaire". Joe’s been shodding horses around Banner Elk since the 80s and happens to work on my four horses. While he was trimming away I happened to mention, "Man is it UNREAL how much snow and cold we’ve had so far this month?!" Like everyone else involved with any ski resort in the region, he smiled from ear to ear and replied, "I skied Saturday and the conditions were simply outstanding."
(Of course he’d say that since he was probably the one that groomed the trails prior to that. However, as I stated earlier, I skied at Sugar Friday night and it was simply incredible conditions.) Anyway, I’m sure that Joe was crediting the incredible good fortune we’re all having weather-wise.
I told him about how busy the resort was Friday night and mentioned that two or three of the lift lines were about ten to fifteen minutes long on this first Friday night of the season. That is when I made the statement, "Yea, Joe, you guys do an awesome job of providing consistently, great conditions." …and then I added, "The truth is the only real ‘complaint’ that we ever get is from people talking about the slow lifts."
…and THEN what he said next was so darn logical that it should forever quell the complaints. He stated, "Gunther has considered putting a high speed quad up but he felt that we didn’t necessarily need all those people on the mountain at the same time, and he feels that we’re currently running two doubles up there which basically pushes all the people up that the mountain can handle. Additionally if they were to replace the dual doubles with a high speed quad – what happens when it’s down?"
He also added, "Gunther’s a pretty doggone smart business man."
After thinking about it for a second, I reflected on my visit Friday night when only one of the doubles was filing people to the top of the mountain. Each time I got off the top exit point I had to weave my way past a lot of traffic on the approach to the "Switchback" and "Upper Flying Mile". If both lifts had been running it would have been tough going. Some might argue that there are other trails off to the left, but a much smaller percentage of people exit and go to Tom Terrific, etc.
So that does it for me. It makes absolutely perfect sense. A faster lift, taking two-to-four times as many people to the top of that trail system would just not make great sense. As it is now it may get crowded at the bottom of the mountain on busy weekends (particularly Holidays) but your experience ON THE SNOW will be much better than if Sugar were to take the advice of a wannabe, resort operator like myself (or thousands of you guys) 🙂
Upon sharing that bit of insight with me, Joe said, "That’s it!" I replied, "What do you mean that’s it (thinking he was making a further point about the lifts.)"
He replied, "Your horse is done."
Oh…. It’s so true what they say – you learn something new every day.
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