Craft Beers now complement NC’s ski culture

Maria Sonnenberg, For FLORIDA TODAY12:05 a.m. EST February 21, 2015

It is hard to beat a good day skiing, except perhaps when that good day also includes generous samplings of craft beers.

North Carolina’s High Country — you know, that place Floridians go to escape the heat — is an area dotted with ski resorts and, now, breweries. With Alpine villages, picturesque tourist destinations and a bounty of family-friendly activities, this is mountain high at its best.

Beech Mountain, which bills itself as the highest town in eastern America, even thoughtfully provides a brewery slopeside. Beech Mountain Brewery is at the base of Beech Mountain Resort, a sports enclave that offers day and night skiing and snowboarding, plus ice skating in the winter and mountain biking in the summer.

The resort has been upgraded on and off the slopes, with additional snow-making equipment and a renovated View Haus, a focal point with its Bavarian turret. This winter, free lessons are being given to everyone 8 and older who rents skis or snowboards non-holidays Mondays through Thursdays.

At the top of the mountain, the 5506 Skybar, named for the elevation, offers organic and fair trade coffees and specialty espressos from Bald Guy Brew, along with a killer view.

The sparkling village around the resort contains a full range of lodging opportunities, from multi-bedroom, self-contained units at Pinnacle Inn Resort to ski-in, ski-out Dorothy’s House at the top of Beech Mountain. The cute cottage, perfect for couples and small families, was once the centerpiece of the now long-gone Land of Oz theme park. Fans of Toto, the Tin Man, et al, will want to book ahead for the annual Autumn at Oz party at Beech.

For nourishment, check out breakfast at Fred’s General Mercantile, a quirky place where besides good eats, one can find everything from hardware to dog treats.

For après ski nourishment, sample some of the 30 Carolina craft beers on tap at the Mile High Tavern, like Fred’s, also at the base of Beech. Can’t make up your mind? Try a flight of five beers. The watering spot is known both as a family-friendly hangout and for late-night entertainment and a plethora of cocktails.

The beauty of the North Carolina High Country is that you need not confine yourself to one ski area. About 15 minutes from Beech is Sugar Mountain, which by the way, holds a SugarBrew beer festival in the summer. Sugar, North Carolina’s largest winter resort, boasts the state’s only double black diamond slope. All 21 slopes and the terrain park don’t have to rely on Mother Nature for snow, thanks to state-of-the-art snowmaking. For amusement beyond skiing, Sugar has a tubing park, an outdoor ice skating rink and guided snowshoe tours.

In the summer, biking and hiking trails intertwine throughout the village. Weekend lift rides take tourists to the top for unparalleled views.

In the university town of Boone, about half an hour away from Sugar, are loads of lodging, restaurants and watering holes. Home to Appalachian State University, beer is an art in Boone.

Appalachian Mountain Brewery, headed by ASU’s Fermentation Sciences alumnus and master brewer Nathan Kelischek, is a pioneer in the state’s craft beer industry. Just a few blocks away is the newest beer kid in town, classy Lost Province Brewery, where owners Andy and Lynn Mason are making legends with their brew and their pizza, and they opened just last August.

About 15 minutes out of Boone sits the little jewel box that is Appalachian Ski Mountain. The Moretz family operates Appalachian, the High Country’s first ski area and what is arguably one of the most well-planned family ski resorts in the country. Appalachian’s eight-hour flex ticket, the only in the region, allows skiers to begin their day on their own terms. Start as early or as late as you wish, since Appalachian is open until 10 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends.

Boarders appreciate Appalachian’s terrain parks, the most progressive in the Southeast and home to North Carolina’s only official Burton Learn to Ride Center. Newbies to the snow sports can learn the right way with the French-Swiss Ski College, which has taught more than a million skiers to get on the slopes without making spectacles of themselves.

Appalachian’s Bavarian-style ski lodge features a slopeside restaurant with cuisine not found in a typical ski cafeteria. Yes, you will find hamburgers here, but you will also discover international cuisine such as curry, prepared by a trained chef.

The ski shop is huge and well-ordered, as is the gift shop. Rent everything from skis to gloves and bib pants, so you can travel light to the slopes. A 6,000-square-foot outdoor ice rink was chosen as one of the 10 best outdoor rinks for families by Trekaroo, joining other spectacular rinks in Squaw Valley, Curry Village at Yosemite and Sun Valley.

Appalachian is only a few minutes away from Blowing Rock, named one of America’s prettiest winter towns by Travel + Leisure magazine.

At Hawksnest, again just a short drive away from Appalachian, guests enjoy both the largest snowtubing park on the East Coast and four miles of ziplines with panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Beyond the slopes, the High Country keeps visitors entertained with shopping and a cornucopia of natural attractions. Grandfather Mountain, site of some of the footage in “Forrest Gump,” shines with spectacular views from the highest mountain on the Blue Ridge chain and helps hearts beat a little faster with its famous Mile-High Swinging Bridge. Some of the South’s best hiking trails, native wildlife habitats and a nature museum enable guests to enjoy nature on a whole different level.

The Register of Historic Places-listed landmark that is the original Mast General Store in Valle Crucis has been outfitting folks since 1883. Warm up by the pot-bellied stove, check out the retro candy or mail a letter at the antique post office.

Want more modern shops? Boone has plenty downtown and at its mall. Blowing Rock, where Tanger Shoppes sited a mall, should tempt you to thin out your wallet with a range of stores from art galleries to a Gap outlet.

With skiing, shopping and sightseeing, North Carolina’s High Country delivers. Raise a glass of North Carolina beer to its charms.

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