Question: What do Hollywood films, Tweetsie Railroad and Appalachian Ski Mountain all have in common?
Answer: M.E. Thalheimer, founder of the Blowing Rock Ski Lodge
Before he brought skiing to the sunny, southern slopes of the High Country, Thalheimer operated a chain of movie houses in Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia. Even though the entertainment business was his first love, when the film industry changed, so did he. He moved to Charlotte and opened a wholesale supply house, but wasn’t having the same interactions with people that he enjoyed while in the entertainment business. But after visiting a nearby mountain resort – with its thousands of happy summer visitors – Thalheimer set out to build a resort of his own.
He purchased 43 acres from Grover Robbins Jr. (who, with his brothers Harry and Spencer, built the Tweetsie Railroad). Located a stone’s throw from the Blue Ridge Parkway, construction of the lodge was no small feat. Although the 12,000-square foot building was simple in design, building the structure was met with hardship. It was so cold on the day that the building’s foundation was poured that construction crews had to build fires to help the cement cure. During a delivery from Hickory Steel, flurries from a blinding blizzard were so thick that the truck driver needed assistance finding the job site – which was located a mere ten feet in front of him.
Opening day in 1962 was a festive–albeit frantic–affair. Just minutes before Miss Watauga County cut the ceremonial ribbon, the last T-bar seat was being hung in place. Two rope tows pulled novice southern skiers to the top of the slopes, where they navigated their way down on wooden skies and bamboo poles. With no other winter accommodations nearby, the resort absorbed the growing crowds of people who wanted to ski the slopes, dine in three resort restaurants and scope out the ski lodge. Despite a strong first few years, the resort fell on hard times. Money problems forced the resort into foreclosure, and in 1968, it was purchased at public auction by Grady Moretz and four other partners.
Under new ownership, the resort reopened during the 1968-69 season under a new name – Appalachian Ski Mountain. Within the year, a chairlift replaced the rope tow on Strudel, and three years later, another chairlift replaced the T-bar on Big Appal. In the coming years, more improvements were made, including additions to the lodge that increased the rental department, ski shop and restaurant; first aid and ski patrol rooms; a gift shop; airless snowmaking machines; several new slopes; a larger snowmaking pond and a new LMC groomer and tiller.
During the 1969-70 winter season, Jack Lester and Jim Cottrell formed the French-Swiss Ski College, which was also one of the first college accredited programs for skiing. By 1984, the first quad chairlift in North Carolina was installed and 6,000 square feet was added to the lodge. By the early nineties, double chairlifts, a computerized snowmaking pump system, an outdoor skating rink and an intermediate slope were added to the resort.
Today, Appalachian Ski Mountain boasts twelve slopes, three terrain parks, two conveyor lifts, and a base lodge that now covers 46,000 square feet. Over the summer, five slopes received updates to their snowmaking machines, increasing coverage and ensuring consistent fresh powder. And as one of the only resorts in the area to offer late-night skiing, night owls can slide down the slopes until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.
Although the resort has been updated multiple times in the nearly fifty years since it’s reopening, the rough-hewn beams and pine flooring installed under Thalheimer’s watch are still present in the lodge today. But that’s not the resort’s only nod to its humble beginnings. During the first full weekend in December, Appalachian Ski Mountain is offering ski tickets for the same price they were sold at in 1962, the year that Blowing Rock Ski Lodge first opened. During the Anniversary Weekend on Dec 2 & 3, guests will pay just $5 for ski tickets, which are good from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days. (Purchase a Flex Ticket online and you can take advantage of the $5 rate, but can ski for whichever 8-hour block of time works for your schedule).
Sometimes, it pays to appreciate the past.