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Kim Jochl, Sugar’s marketing director, carves fresh tracks last season. Sugar opened Oct. 31
— the earliest opening ever for an area resort.

Originally published: 2012-11-02 11:18:46
Last modified: 2012-11-02 11:18:46

Sugar Mountain breaks record

Justin Grimes / (

In more than a half century of skiing in the High Country, Sugar Mountain breaks the ultimate record: opening on Halloween, Oct. 31, the earliest opening ever for an area ski resort.

Locals shared their enthusiasm about the unprecedented opening with The AJT.

“People are coming through the door and making purchases today,” Bill Leonard, owner of Ski Country Sports, said on Monday, Oct. 29. “Sugar opening this early is great news. It gets people taking about skiing and boarding and we hope this early blizzard and cold weather is a prelude to what the winter is promising.”

Echoing Leonard’s sentiments, Jim Cottrell, founder and president of French-Swiss Ski College and French-Swiss Rentals in Foscoe, said, “Sugar’s opening is a very positive thing.”

“Gunther is breaking his own record,” Contrell said, referring to Gunther Jochl, president of Sugar Mountain Resort. Jochl, during his first year in the High Country in 1976, opened Sugar on Nov. 5 — more than a month earlier than usual, doubling the mountain’s previous record of skier visits.

“Coming after last year’s mild winter, this opening in October sets the tone, gets us all off to a very good start,” Cottrell said.

If last season was Mother Nature’s trick, this winter season could be her treat. “All the long-term winter forecasts are calling for a cold and snowy season,” Cottrell said. “Our group rental sales are up over this time last year and we are excited.” 

Most ski areas in the United States suffered last winter. Nationally, the number of visitors dropped nearly 17 percent, according to National Public Radio. Each year, the industry contributes about $6 billion to the U.S. economy.

Just how many millions of dollars the area’s three ski resorts directly contribute to the High Country economy is difficult to estimate, but the numbers are significant. In winter, the local ski industry is the economic engine of the area, employing about 1,100 workers and helping fill the area’s restaurants, motels, retailers and other attractions. 

In Avery County alone, visitors spent $98.38 million in 2011, according to the North Carolina Department of Commerce, Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development.

“We wouldn’t have this restaurant if it were not for the ski industry,” said Tom Jankovich, owner and chef of The Painted Fish, located in the Sugarfoot Shops off Tynecastle Road. “That’s how important the ski industry is to our local economy.”

Peaking at 5,300 feet above sea level, 36 degrees latitude and 81 degrees longitude, Sugar Mountain Resort’s chances of receiving natural snow are good. Season snowfall can reach as high as 130 inches.

“Our team is dedicated and works hard to prepare and execute the best season possible no matter what the forecast predicts,” said Kim Jochl, Sugar’s marketing director. 

Sugar Mountain is known for its snowmaking and grooming and this season, skiers and boarders can expect an even better product because of a $250,000 investment. Eight fully automated, hi-tech, SMI and Techno Alpine snow machines are new to the current snowmaking system. 

“Snow matters!” Gunther Jochl said. “As weather varies throughout the season, upgrades every year, including the addition of snowmaking machines, allow for higher energy efficiency and provide better and more consistent slope conditions. The quality of our product is critical.” 

Appalachian Ski Mountain plans to open Nov. 16 and Beech Mountain’s marketing director, Talia Freeman, said that it plans to open around Thanksgiving.

For more information about Sugar’s opening, call (800) SUGAR-MT or click to for the latest slope and weather conditions.