Finding Snow at Sugar Mountain

After weeks of warm and rainy weather, the Blue Ridge Mountains have seen a March snowfall that reawakened the adventure of gliding down a slope with the beauty of Nature all around. To stand atop a peak in the High Country and have the entire world below you covered in white brings an exhilaration unmatched in all my years of experiencing life in Western North Carolina. The fact that $28 can put you in a chair that moves slowly up and  through a pristine winter landscape is the best bargain going for anyone who loves the thrill of these remote mountains.

Sugar Mountain Snow GunThe Noreaster that was moving over New England generated over half a foot of snow as it moved north through the “High Country”, and very cold temperatures that followed gave the man-made snow guns something to celebrate.

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sugar mountain slopeside 1To me, the thrilling trip back down to the bottom is just the fastest way of getting back on a floating chair, and the new vistas that await.

sugar mountain speed liftA new high speed lift opened two years ago, but I prefer the old, much slower chairs that take their time moving silently through the woods and above streams.

Vann skis at Sugar MountainAfter two years, I was up for the challenge.

Here are a few screen captures from videos I made while skiing…

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This video will let you experience the mountain right along with me…..







Davidson’s Fort is Reborn

The Eastern Continental Divide runs along a ridge of very high mountains fifteen miles east of present day Asheville.  For centuries, it was a formitable barrier to any colonization to the west. Native tribes had long established their villages on both sides of the Divide, and carved footpaths over the mountains to trade with other villages. The first Spanish explorers probably arrived in the area in the 1500’s, followed in the early 1700’s by Scots-Irish pioneers who established a fort for protection from the “Indians”.  By the mid 1700’s, the settlement around the stockade had become the westernmost outpost of Colonial civilization. Samuel Davidson purchased one square mile of land around the “old fort”, for a large plantation.

By 1776, the Revolutionary War was already underway, and the Colonists were convinced that the natives were on the side of the British because of constant raids and related massacres against the pioneer farms. Under the command of General Griffith Rutherford, 2,500 men were dispatched to the area with orders to drive the Cherokee from their villages on both sides of the Divide, and in 1776, they constructed a new fort near the site of the original structure. 

Davidsons Fort drawing

For the next two months, these troops roamed all through the mountains, burning villages and salting fields so the natives could not return.  As the base of operations, Davidson’s Fort, as it was then called, became the center of what would eventually be the town of Old Fort, located where the railroad would begin its climb over the Blue Ridge, to Asheville. That was 100 years after the original “Rutherford’s Fort” was built.

Passengers aboard the daily trains that stopped at “Old Fort” would always ask the location of the “fort”, but were disappointed to learn that the original stockade had been dismantled to make way for the growing town.  In 2008, all of that changed.  Even though the original fort’s location was unknown, it didn’t deter local volunteers from channeling some of that early American frontier spirit. Through their efforts and labor, and with grants and donations from the community, they constructed a replica fort in Old Fort. Open to the public since 2010, Davidson’s Fort Historic Park serves as a living history exhibit, showcasing how forts of that era might have looked, and representing what life was like for the Colonists who made this frontier land their home.

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The two images below are from the non-profit group that maintains the fort… davidson-s-fort-historic (1) 


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Make sure you take the time to visit this amazing re-creation when you are driving to Asheville on Interstate 40, exiting at Old Fort. It will be well worth the effort.  portfolio-small-3


Springtime in February? Ridiculous

After two weeks of unseasonably warm weather with nothing below freezing, Mother Nature has been lulled into a false sense of security, and that’s not a good thing. With the next hard freeze just around the corner, these premature blossoms will be history, and the concern of the apple and peach growers must be weighing heavily on them tonight.

My drive north to the gym in Marion revealed a colorful display of pink, yellow, white, and purple flowers born far too soon.

This Cherry tree is a full month ahead of schedule…cherry tree february pink

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The Forsythia must think it’s mid-March…forsythiaThe hardwoods in the forests are already budding out…

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Japanese Magnolias just couldn’t wait…magnolia 2

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Daffodils are opening all along the roadways…yellow 1

And these Phlox must think it’s Easter already…phlox

Who knows? Perhaps these mountains are just paying tribute to Billy Graham. For decades he has lived just over the Eastern Continental Divide from here near Black Mountain.


Images of Mid-February

As winter begins to wind down and days get longer, these Mountains sense the coming change, and reflect light in a different way. This month has seen nearly a foot of rain in many areas, and temperatures have reached 76 degrees this past week. Patches of Phlox have appeared, and farmers are already plowing their fields in anticipation of warmer weather.

These images are random, but convey this reawakening as it happens.

biltmore house 2Last week, Biltmore House was surrounded by mists and its winter woods, but yesterday, unseasonable warmth and deep blue skies brought overflow crowds and a very different look…biltmore house bright

French Broad River floods Heavy rains brought French Broad River flooding at Biltmore, and at Hendersonville further south…

biltmore gardens greenhouseBiltmore Gardens are still dormant, but palms and orchids fill the Conservatory…

wolf pen mountainA tall White Oak and a healthy Hemlock frame a misty Wolfpen Mountain in northwest Rutherford County.

American beech in winterThe American Beech is one of few trees that retains its fall foliage throughout winter.

Log cabin Blue Ridge valleyThe 1800 resurrected log cabin in Otter Creek Valley…

19th century blue ridge barnThe log cabin’s 19th century barn welcomes the rising sun.



Grandfather and Sugar Mountains in February

With a deep blue sky, and knowing that snow fell on Sunday in the High Country, I escaped the snowless South and headed for Grandfather Mountain, and Sugar Ski Mountain after that, In the valleys, the temperature hovered just above 40 degrees, but when I arrived below the peaks of Grandfather an hour later, it had dropped below freezing. 

I was amazed what five inches of fresh snow could do to that iconic place.grandfather mountain in snow 4

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Along the road to Sugar Mountain, ice encrusted trees along the higher ridges contrasted beautifully with the rugged cliffs and slopes.Sugar Mountain icy cliffs

Sugar Mountain Snow and rocks

Looking to the west, the backside of Beech Mountain, the “other” major ski mountain in North Carolina, was white above 4,000 feet.Beech Mountain snow slopes

Turning toward the South, there was Sugar, in all its splendor…sugartop at Sugar Ski MountainSugartop Condo dominates the mountain, with the snow covered ski runs dropping from the mile high summit. Snowmaking was not part of the plan today, after a fresh 6″ had fallen on Sunday. That’s the new “Gunther’s Run” on the far right, offering advanced skiers and snowboarders a wide open experience on their way down.

Once inside the resort area, homes near the slopes catch the afternoon sun.Sugar Mountain winter homes

Yours truly in my favorite element…Sugar Mountain winter selfie

Snow surrounds this cascading creek between the houses…Sugar Mountain Snow Creek

Sugar Mountain snow lane

Arriving at the base lodge, the scene was colorful…Sugar Mountain base lodge skis 1

Looking toward the top of the mountain, you could see skiers, chair lifts, and lots of natural snow, without the annoying jet engine roar from snowmaking nozzles…Sugar Mountain skiing 1

This two minute video will give you an “Up Close and Personal” view of Sugar Mountain…


When you have a few minutes, check out this video from the heavy snow at Sugar on December 9th. Not mine, but really worth the time…


On the way back home, I stopped at this frozen lake near Linville.  The High Country never disappoints.Linville Land Harbor  lake



A Winter Return to Black Mountain’s Cheshire Village

Last summer I posted about the incredible Craftsman style community in Black Mountain called Cheshire Village, Returning there yesterday in the dead of winter found a very different place. Snow was on the way, and the surrounding mountains seemed much more pronounced. 

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cheshire village black mountain 3The Treehouses section.

cheshire village black mountain 4Southerly mountains…

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The Restoration of the S & W Building in Asheville

When architect Douglas Ellington designed the iconic Art Deco S & W Building in Asheville in 1929, he would have been so pleased to know that his Great Nephew, Andrew Ellington, resurrected the treasure in 2017, and, along with an ambitious group of visionary developers, returned the three story building to its 1929 splendor.  Originally the home of the S & W Cafeteria, the building was closed in 1974 when S & W moved its operation to the Asheville Mall. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, but sat empty until briefly reopened in 2007 as a steakhouse and coffee shop. It closed again in 2011, and sat empty for six more years. Ellington was well known around Asheville, helping to design the Asheville High School, the City Hall, and the First Baptist Church.

The facade of the brick building is covered in grey ashlar, a fine masonry similar to Inca walls in Machu Picchu. It features polychrome tile ornamentation and exotic stylistic motifs.

S & W Cafeteria Asheville Facade

S & W Cafeteria Asheville Detail

S & W Cafeteria Doorway Asheville

The Art Deco interior now features an eatery and market called The S & W Artisanal, with an upscale restaurant on the mezzanine…. S & W Artisanal Asheville

S & W Asheville Artisanal dining room

…that features a full cocktail bar… S & W asheville cocktail bar

S & W Artisanal Cocktail Bar window

… and a casual eatery on the first floor below. S & W Artisonal asheville first floor

Behind S&W Artisanal is restaurant designer Theodore Kondylis, restaurateur Sakis Elefantis and local businessmen Douglas and Kenneth Ellington, the great-nephews of the architect Douglas Ellington.  The new restaurant includes a bakery, two cocktail bars, a coffee bar, private dining and a retail market offering local food items and specialty imported products from Greece.  

In the basement under the restaurant is a performance club called Ellington Underground… S & W asheville Ellington Underground

The art deco venue is already proving itself on Asheville’s music scene.  It is the brainchild of Andrew Ellington, a touring musician himself.  Only in his mid-20s, Andrew has assembled an impressive setup, transforming a concrete box once used for parking into a cutting-edge listening room. Preserving the original art deco style, Ellington Underground balances old and new with lattice wallpaper, black-and-white tile floors, Edison bulbs and exposed beams. There are also old elevator shafts in the building that, during the tail end of Prohibition, allowed liquor to be transported directly from Commerce Street.  Guests can sip their drink in the lounge area — outfitted with modish sectional sofas — or hit the floor. 

In the the front of the building, just to the left of the main entrance, is a posh liquor bar called The Times Bar. An artist was just putting the finishing touches on the new lettering in the window… The Times Bar at S & W Asheville

Here’s “your truly” reflected in a mirror in the main entrance, where exotic woods echo the Art Deco motif of the entire building. The attention to detail in this restoration is incredible.  S & W Building Asheville wood detail

S & W Building Asheville wood

“This beautiful building for years was underutilized and dark most of the time,” said Doug Ellington. 

“We want to turn the lights on and see people enjoying it,” added Kenneth Ellington. “That’s what it was built for. This building used to be a gathering place for many in the community,” he said. “The stories longtime residents tell of downtown is that it was vibrant in the ’20s and ’30s. Now it’s vibrant again, and we hope to add to that vibrancy — and be a part of it — once again.”