By Nathan Ham
Gunther Jochl isn’t the type of person who seeks the spotlight. On Saturday night, December 14th at Sugar Mountain Resort’s 50th Anniversary Celebration, the spotlight was all on him when he was humbled to hear that he was being awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine by North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper.
Tracy Minton, the Park Superintendent at Elk Knob State Park, presented the award on behalf of Governor Roy Cooper to Gunther, owner and operator of Sugar Mountain Resort.
“We all know that Gunther is the current owner and president of Sugar Mountain Resort, but he has served in a leadership capacity within the ski industry all over the U.S. and yes even Germany,” Minton said during the award presentation. “In the words of noted author and pastor, John C. Maxwell, ‘A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.’ One thing is for sure. Gunther knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.”
The Order of the Long Leaf Pine is the highest civilian honor in the state of North Carolina, and it dates back to 1963. The award is reserved for persons who “have made a significant contribution to their state and community through exemplary service and exceptional accomplishments.”
Leadership is one of the biggest factors to being awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, and looking at the numerous accomplishments in Jochl’s career, both at the resort and in the community, it’s easy to see why so many letters of support were sent to Gov. Cooper for Gunther to receive this award.
During his tenure managing and later owning Sugar Mountain, the resort added mountain biking and hiking trails in the summer, a tubing park, terrain park and ice skating rink, Gunther’s Way slope and two brand new chairlifts. In the community, Gunther served as Sugar Mountain’s Mayor Pro-Tem, Sugar Mountain Town Councilman, chairman of the Sugar Mountain Planning Board and was most recently elected as the Mayor of Sugar Mountain in November.
“Gunther’s dedication to innovation fueled the growth of Sugar Mountain Resort, creating jobs and funneling money into small businesses throughout the High Country. This lead to Sugar Mountain Resort being named Employer of the Year by the Boone Chamber of Commerce and the Employment Security Commission,” Minter said. “For decades, Gunther has remained on the cutting edge when on the slopes, but he has also demonstrated passion and dedication in service to his own community. For what good is a leader that is not willing to serve others?”
Without taking a whole lot of credit for himself, Jochl spoke briefly after he was presented the award and made it all about the fine folks that have been by his side throughout his many years at Sugar Mountain.
“All of this would not be possible without the great people that I have working for me,” Gunther said humbly. “Thanks for all you do and I am so honored that all of you came and joined us here.”
Former governor Pat McCrory was also on hand as both a friend of the Jochl’s and a firm supporter of recreation and tourism in Western North Carolina to share a few words of his own about Kim and Gunther and the impact Sugar Mountain Resort has made on the community and the State of North Carolina.
50th Anniversary Celebration
Before anyone knew about the special award waiting for Gunther later in the evening, friends and family, leaders from the local community and from the ski industry, and skiing enthusiasts gathered in a beautifully and magically, snow-themed decorated room on the third floor of the Sugar Mountain base lodge to celebrate a remarkable achievement for the resort.
Sugar Mountain first opened in 1969 and has been able to withstand tough times and capitalize on good times to celebrate a half-century of skiing in the High Country. Gunther took over as general manager of Sugar Mountain in 1976. Later on, Gunther met his future wife, Kim, in 1990. They ended up getting married in 1997. Kim, who began working at the resort in 1993, currently serves as Sugar Mountain’s Vice-President and Director of Marketing & Merchandising. The couple purchased Sugar Mountain Resort in 2010, one year after the resort celebrated its 40th anniversary.
The evening jubilee featured music by the Rockabilly’s and a presentation of an enchanting documentary showcasing the legacy of Sugar Mountain and the southern ski industry. The documentary can be seen here at https://www.skisugar.com/50years/.
Avery County Sheriff Phillip Frye read a resolution proclaiming December 14 as Sugar Mountain Resort’s 50th Anniversary Day.
The night wouldn’t have been complete without the many memories that were shared and appreciation for everything that Sugar Mountain Resort has meant to the community in their 50 years of operation.
“I am here with great respect and admiration for Gunther and Kim and it has been a total honor and pleasure to serve 14 years with Gunther on the town council,” said Mayor Dennis Lacey. He also signed a resolution proclaiming December 14 as Sugar Mountain Resort 50th Anniversary Day.
Jon Rucker, the President of HEAD/Tyrolia USA Winter Sports, remembers back to all of the time he spent on the slopes at Sugar Mountain.
“From the time I was three years old until I graduated from high school unless I was in another ski area for a race, I skied Sugar every weekend it was open. Since 1972 I’ve seen the highs and the lows of skiing in North Carolina, and despite the longitudinal challenge of being so far south, skiing has never been better in North Carolina, thanks in no small part to my mentor and friend, Gunther Jochl,” said Rucker. “He had an unwavering drive for excellence and a severe love for skiing. Through his first days at Sugar, he made sure the slopes were prepared to the highest possible quality and still to this day, personally grooms the slopes. His dedication and drive have positively affected all of us that have been fortunate enough to know him.”
Joe O’Donnell has been involved with the food service at Sugar Mountain and has been a major part of Sugar Mountain for several years, even back before Gunther arrived at the resort. He owns one of the most lucrative food service companies in the country, Boston Concessions, and Sugar Mountain was one of his earliest business accounts. He has had many years of conversations with Gunther and Kim and a lot of great memories.
“That’s why this place is so special, it has always been special. These are wonderful people down here,” said O’Donnell. “The combination of the two of them (Gunther and Kim) really works. This is a really special place and thank you for everything you’ve done.”
During the presentation of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine by Tracy Minton, he selected a few of the most remarkable achievements by Gunther Jochl and Sugar Mountain Resort.
Just a few of Gunther’s achievements include:
President and Owner of Red Lodge International Summer Ski & Snowboard Camp in Red Lodge, Montana
President and Owner of Kneissl/Dachstein Sports
President and Owner of Kaiserblick Ski Lifte in Germany
President and Owner of Volkl USA, Inc.
President and Owner of Jochl Sports Inc.
General Manager of Massanutten Ski Area in Virginia
General Manager of Blue Knob Ski Area in Pennsylvania
1980 – Gunther was active and instrumental in the passing of the NC Skier Safety Act. The act defines safety expectations for the ski operator and skier. Gunther’s dedication to innovation fueled the growth of Sugar Mountain Resort, creating jobs and funneling money into small businesses throughout The High Country. This led to Sugar Mountain Resort being named “Employer of the Year” by the Boone Chamber of Commerce” and The Employment Security Commission.
1993 – Mountain Bike and Hiking Trails were added. This led to the resort hosting The Showdown Bike Competition and the National Mountain Bike Competition, with the later being a first in NC.
1999 – A Tubing Park and Terrain Park were added.
2000 – Snowshoeing was added.
2005 – The resort debuted live streaming webcams, one of the first to do so in the industry.
2007 – Ice Skating was added.
2015 – The New Summit Express Chairlift was added.
2019 – The Easy Street (2019) Chairlift was added.
Gunther has also dedicated much of his life to community and ski industry service. Some of the elected positions and board positions over the years include:
Sugar Mountain Mayor Pro-Tem.
Sugar Mountain Town Councilman, with 30 years of total service in that position.
Chairman of the Sugar Mountain Planning Board.
In November Gunter was elected as Mayor of Sugar Mountain.
Chairman of the Southern Alpine Racing Association.
A US Ski and Snowboard Level 4 Technical Delegate (Official).
Vice President of the Southeastern Ski Areas Association.
President of the North Carolina Ski Areas Association.
Founding board member of the NC High Country Ski Areas Association.
To read more about Sugar Mountain’s 50th Anniversary check our their story in the December issue of High Country Magazine by clicking here.