TONY CASEY • UPDATED JAN 28, 2016 AT 10:55 AM
Between the formative years of my life, from ages 12-17 years, two things were extremely consistent over the winter months: snowboarding and lots of pizza-eating, which went hand in hand.
Fortunate enough to have grown up as the pizza cook in my family’s restaurant, every Friday night, the last thing I did would be to crank out a pizza, which would serve as fuel for myself, and my gang of snowboarding friends at Whiteface Mountain the next day. More often than not, this would be replicated on Saturday night leading into another day of snowboarding on Sunday. I can’t say it was extremely healthy, but, how many other 14-year-olds do you know who had easy access to a real pizza oven?
I took full advantage and experienced some of the best times of my life while hitting the slopes with my friends. As a season pass holder for something like five straight years, I think I averaged more than 35 full day trips to the mountain each season for that duration. It was magical, though, admittedly, the snow season in upstate New York, especially on the Lake Placid-area mountain where the Winter Olympic Games were held twice — 1932 and 1980 — there is a lot more natural snow available than here in the Southeast.
But that doesn’t mean mountains like Beech Mountain in Banner Elk, North Carolina aren’t using the recent Winter Storm Jonas snow dump to their full advantage. Recently, paired with my wife, we went with another Johnson City couple for a night of snowboarding. My wife, Ashley, grew up skiing and thought she would tackle snowboarding for the first time.
This was the perfect night for it, the first weekend following several days of heavy snow here in the Southeast. At an affordable rate for night skiing, we all tackled the mountain with gusto after several feet of real snow gave Beech a great base layer. With a belly full of Main Street Pizza Company’s Spicy Thai Pie — continuing with my pizza tradition — and the excitement of our first shred of the year, we arrived at about 5 p.m. and hit the slopes for about four hours.
My first thought upon returning the Beech after a year’s hiatus was how great their rentals are. I know for a fact many mountains across the country have downright crappy gear to rent out, but Beech is the polar opposite and has the nicest stuff I’ve ever seen. After receiving our seemingly brand new Burton boots and boards, we made our first trip up the lifts, witnessing a pink-hued sunset and view that trumps nearly every one I’ve ever seen.
Though it was her first time, Ashley took to snowboarding like she had cheat codes, rarely falling and gaining confidence with every trip down the mountain. Perhaps, I should celebrate having stole another skier and transitioned them to snowboarding. Soon after, that pink sunset gave way to the glow of lights, near and far, at the accompanying Western North Carolina mountains and towns below as the night took hold. If you haven’t night-skied or night-snowboarded before, it’s a little different, but in a good way. Spotlights reflect off the snow so well that safety is a non-issue and you’re left with simply focusing on the corridors you decide to ride with lots of glowing bulbs alive in the distance.
Several trail options, including a trip down the terrain park, are always available. If aerial stunts are your cup of tea — at one point this was the tea I enjoyed — there’s something for you, or, if you simply like to open it up and carve your way down the mountain, there are steeper routes and those which don’t require so much in the way of guts.
As amazing as Whiteface Mountain, my home mountain, was, it did have an ongoing issue with becoming icy. This is always a concern for any skier or snowboarder, but Beech’s snow seemed to be neverending. The day riders did clear away some of the powder, but there really was enough to go around. Fluffy and rideable snow is quite the treat.
The only time we stopped riding was about three-quarters of the way through the night, when we popped into the lodge for some of their on-site Beech Mountain Brewing Company beers, which hit the spot. It might have slowed us down a little bit in our post-beer runs, byt the later the night went on, the more well-lighted the slopes seemed to become.
The combination of great snow, great company, great craft beer and one of the most scenic views in the world had us thinking about skipping the rentals next time and investing in a load of our own gear, so we can become regulars at Beech Mountain. As nice as the rentals were, there’s nothing like simply grabbing a lift ticket and hitting the slopes.
And there’s reason to go back, as Beech has a wild time coming up on the weekend of Feb. 18-21, with their annual Retro ’80s Ski Weekend. During this time machine weekend, old school-era ski gear is in full display and there are tons of different retro events planned throughout the three-day bash. Madonna look-alike, Totally Tubular Snowtubing and apparel contests are just a few of the many popular things going on.
East Tennessee’s SPANK will be playing the event for the first time, and will be joined by many throwback groups.
If you haven’t been to Beech, this might be the weekend to go, as it’s their most popular weekend of the year.
Email Tony Casey at [email protected]. Follow Tony Casey on Twitter @TonyCaseyJCP. Like him on Facebook atwww.facebook.com/tonycaseyjournalist.