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‘It Felt Like the Old Days’: Holiday Tourists Pack the High Country as Ski Resorts Bring Them In

By Nathan Ham

A lot of tourist industry workers in the High Country are finally able to catch their breath after one of the busiest holiday seasons in recent memory for a lot of local establishments.

Fred Pfohl, owner and operator of Fred’s General Mercantile in Beech Mountain, said his longtime employees felt like it was the 1980s again with the long lines and big crowds at the general store and other businesses around Beech Mountain. 

“It was an unbelievable holiday period. All of our customers seemed to be happy and we took care of them as best we could. Hopefully, they will remember Beech Mountain when they leave and go back home and tell somebody else about us too,” said Pfohl. 

Jim Brooks can attest to just how crowded things were at the mercantile. 

“There was a night when they were out the door on one side and the line from the counter went all the way to the office. Those that have been around for a while were saying that it felt like the old days,” said Brooks. 

Even without the hopes of a White Christmas and the presence of some unseasonably warm weather at times over the last two weeks, visitors had no problem finding their way to the area ski resorts. Beech Mountain, Sugar Mountain and Appalachian Ski Mtn. all had big turnouts to celebrate the holiday season. 

“Despite warmer than normal temperatures and a limited number of open slopes, business during the holiday season was strong. Lots of folks enjoyed the warmer, sunny weather and were happy to ski and snowboard and tube and ice skate,” said Kim Jochl, the Vice-President of Sugar Mountain Resort.

Jochl added that even when it rained, skiers were still on the slopes having a good time and that even Sunda on Winter Trails Day, which offered free snowshoeing, had a good turnout. 

At Appalachian Ski Mtn., a special fundraiser for the mountain ski patrol took place on Christmas Day and “went off without a hitch” according to Drew Stanley, the Marketing Director at Appalachian Ski Mountain. “We had a fantastic holiday season, I think the overall weather was pretty calm and I think that our investment into our snowmaking system allowed us to have the majority of our slopes open and quite a bit of snow for everybody to have fun on. We really enjoy seeing people celebrate the season with us.”

Beech Mountain Ski Resort had a lot of smiling faces on the slopes as well. 

“We stayed busy, it was pretty consistent all of last week. I think for our New Year’s Eve party we had over 1,000 people,” said Talia Freeman, Beech Mountain’s Director of Marketing. “We’ve had a good window for snowmaking so conditions are really nice. I feel like our customer base is happy and we’ve had a lot of positive comments so that’s a good feeling.”

While the weather wasn’t the most ideal for being out on the ski slopes, that did not stop people from coming in and doing some shopping at the local ski shops. Bill Leonard, the owner of Ski Country Sports in Banner Elk, says he had a wide variety of customers coming into his shop. 

“We had a good holiday period, there was an awful lot of people up here. I think overall it was a pretty good holiday period for everybody up here. It’s amazing where people come from. We’ve had a lot of people from Florida, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. One of the reasons we get those people is they have a direct flight to Charlotte and we’re only a couple of hours from there,” Leonard said. 

Of course, people have to eat and drink throughout the day so it was more than just the ski industry and local shops that benefitted from a surge in holiday traffic. Winston Ammann, the owner of Bayou Smokehouse and Grill, said things hardly ever slowed down for them from a little before Christmas through the New Year’s celebration. 

“It was an unprecedented amount of business. I think that it had to do with where the holidays fell and that the resorts were not struggling to be open at that point when people were making their plans,” said Ammann. “We think we had three different waves of visitors that came up. We were actually busy prior to Christmas, which is unheard of in 16 years. It was fantastic”

Winston’s son, Lee, was in charge of the hands-on work at the Bayou along with their dedicated staff of employees that worked tirelessly to keep customers happy. 

“The fact our son survived was amazing. I think he worked 12 hours a day or more for two weeks, every single day. These folks just put their head down and kept going and I’m really proud of each and every one of them,” Winston said. “I’m very thankful for the guests that we had, they didn’t have the best weather all the time, but people were great and so nice and so understanding.”

In Blowing Rock, the streets were filled with visitors looking around, shopping, dining and exploring everything that the village has to offer in the winter months. Even with the rainy conditions at times, people had numerous indoor activities to enjoy around Blowing Rock, including the Blowing Rock Art & History Museum and Mystery Hill. 

“We had a great holiday week and a half. We were busy, most of the hotels were full and folks were here. The good thing about this time of year is that (visitors) are large groups and large families,” said Tracy Brown, Director of the Blowing Rock TDA. “The last few years have been good but this year just seems like the whole year has been strong.”