By David Rogers. October 30, 2016. BLOWING ROCK, NC — On so many levels, Sunday afternoon’s ribbon cutting ceremony for the Appalachian Ski Mountain Welcome center at the intersection of U.S. 321 was really a multi-faceted celebration of the High Country.
All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
Ski Mountain president Brad Moretz disclosed to Blowing Rock News after the formal ceremonies that the Moretz family-owned business purchased in 1968 by his mother and father had invested more than $1 million in the Welcome Center project. Ultimately, he pointed out, the Welcome Center is a ski marketing resource. That figure includes the land on which the building, landscaping and parking lots now lie, as well as the construction of the finished facilities.
“I doubt that any other ski business in this region has spent that kind of money on ski marketing,” Moretz smiled, quickly adding, “Now this is the last nice weather day we can have. Let it start snowing tomorrow!”
App Ski Mountain has provided jobs in the winter when there were no other wintertime jobs.
A Project Born of Need — And A Preparatory Vision
The project came about because of the newly constructed bridge — aptly named the Reba and Grady Moretz Bridge — that helps extend Edmisten Rd. across the U.S. 321 intersection and permits street access to soon-to-open The Foley Center at Chestnut Ridge Post Acute Care and Rehabilitation Center. The Foley Center is an expansion of services offered by Appalachian Regional Healthcare System. Simply put, building the bridge meant that a 50-year old landmark billboard that pointed the way up Edmisten Rd. to Appalachian Ski Mountain had to be torn down.
“That billboard wasn’t just a landmark,” Moretz told Blowing Rock News in an interview last year. “It was one of our most important marketing resources because it told skiiers where to turn on sometimes foggy winter nights and it also let other passersby know that we are here. Like all forms of marketing, seeing that billboard maybe planted a seed, an idea for what travelers happening past might like to do for recreation in the future and where to satisfy that craving for wintertime fun.”
On Sunday afternoon, Moretz shared with Blowing Rock News, “The idea for this Welcome Center didn’t just spring up after we lost the billboard. We first thought about the potential need for this more than a decade ago by asking ourselves, ‘What if?’ We knew that, in all likelihood, someday development might occur across the river and this intersection was a natural fit (for a bridge). And if that happened we would lose our billboard. So we have been thinking about this for awhile, even if we were hoping the day never came. But when it did, we were ready and fortunate that we could secure this property.”
Recognizing The Impact
By looking across the crowd of nearly 200 friends of App Ski Mountain and well-wishers from the High Country, it is easy to understand the significant impact that the wintertime ski attraction has had on the region.
No one could have been any more generous to Appalachian State than the Moretz family. No one.
Introduced by Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority Tracy Brown (serving as emcee for the ceremony), Blowing Rock Mayor J.B. Lawrence offered the invocation to open the program, but the importance of Ski Mountain to the region was not lost on him when he first reminded the audience, “Appalachian Ski Mountain has provided jobs in the winter up here when there were no other wintertime jobs.”
Underlining the point that Ski Mountain is important to the High Country, not just Blowing Rock, Sunday afternoon’s celebratory crowd included:
- Three of the five sitting members of the Watauga County Board of Commissioners in David Blust, John Welch and Perry Yates.
- Four of Blowing Rock’s five sitting Commissioners: Albert Yount, Ray Pickett, Doug Matheson, and Jim Steele
- Members of the Boone Town Council, including Mayor Rennie Brantz, Mayor Pro Tem Lynne Mason, Loretta Clawson, Jeannine Underdown Collins
- Democratic candidate for the North Carolina House of Representatives, Sue Counts
And if that weren’t impressive enough, the App Ski Mountain ribbon cutting accomplished something very special: In the audience were four of the most recent five Chancellors of Appalachian State University: Dr. John Thomas (1979-1993), Dr. Frank Borkowski (1993-2004), Dr. Kenneth Peacock (2004-2014), and current Chancellor, Dr. Sheri N. Everts (2014-Present).
“App Ski Mountain has been a great resource through the years for Appalachian State, its faculty and staff, and its students,” noted Dr. Peacock in an interview after the ceremony with Blowing Rock News. “Reba and Grady (Moretz) have provided jobs, as well as internships to current students and graduates. So many students need those jobs. They need part-time work to help pay their bills. Reba and Grady have also offered free skiing to our students. There have been ski classes at Appalachian and (the instructors) take them out here to Ski Mountain. No one could have been any more generous to Appalachian State than the Moretz family. Nobody.”
He had a vision that somehow this was going to make it.
Grady and Reba Moretz were very much on the mind and memories of son Brad as he worked through his long list of acknowledgements. “We really wouldn’t be here at all if it weren’t for my parents,” said Brad, “with all of the trials and tribulations that they went through that led to this point in history. I know that as I was growing up they just about lived at the ski area. They didn’t have a bed there, but they would have used it if there had been one!
“They really had a lot of stick-to-itiveness to get it to this point,” Moretz continued. “As a matter of fact, I think it was about the first seven years that they operated Appalachian Ski Mountain we didn’t make any money and Dad didn’t take any salary. He had the vision that somehow this was going to make it. That’s a lot of faith.”
In his acknowledgements of those that played critical roles in the Welcome Center project, Brad Moretz took special care to thank architect Larry Greene, landscape designer Ron Cutlip, flooring and stonework specialist Roy Kannup, and artist/craftsman Gaines Kiker, who designed and created the 24-foot counter and display inside the Welcome Center.
“It means an awful lot when an organization like App Ski Mountain commissions you to do a project like this,” Kiker recounted to Blowing Rock News. “That’s a feeling that I can’t really put into words, but they asked me to build the countertop for the new building from a tree that I reclaimed from the Blowing Rock School playground renovation project. I got the poplar tree from there and had it milled and dried and Brad had seen it — and really like the idea of using something from town (and putting it) back into town so it could live on forever. For me to be a part of that is just a blessing, to be the craftsman for this.
“I ended up with five pieces of two and a half inch pieces of wood from the tree,” Kiker described, “but none of them were wide enough or long enough to make the countertop, as they were. So I had to re-mill everything and then put them back together…I ended up with three pieces that totaled 24-feet long and 26 to 28 inches wide. I brought them here, assembled them and then did the finish work on-site. This project was especially gratifying for me because most people know me as a silversmith and a goldsmith. They don’t know that I do woodworking, too.”
I call it edible art!
There was an interesting culinary surprise for the App Ski Mountain guests: a cake that was a one-fourth scale replica of the new sign that stands in front of the Welcome Center, announcing its presence to travelers on the highway. “Our chef at App Ski Mountain, Carla Fitzwater,” said Moretz, “made this cake. It was a two-day affair making it because it is a one-quarter scale replica of our entrance sign, because we thought that would be appropriate in relation to what this effort has been all about. I call it edible art! It is a wonderful creation.”
In a follow-up conversation with Fitzwater, she disclosed to Blowing Rock News that her original plan called for 63 cakes to construct the “monster” delicacy, but ended up needing “only” 55. “There was some planning, but we really only had yesterday to actually bake the cakes, get them put together, and frost it because of other events for which we were contracted.”
Cutlip, whose primary work as a landscape architect is in New York and New Jersey even while living full-time in Blowing Rock now, told Blowing Rock News, “I hope people understand the significance of this Welcome Center, and especially for Blowing Rock. The App Ski Mountain Welcome Center will also house the welcome and information center for High Country Host, which is a five-county organization.
Before the ribbon cutting, Reba Moretz was introduced by her son as “the family poet laureate,” and she offered a poem (“A Little History — A Little Mystery”) she penned that offered a sometimes poignant, sometimes amusing glimpse at the history of the Welcome Center project and what it means for App Ski Mountain. CLICK HERE to read the entire poem.
After Mrs. Moretz poem, there was even a little fanfare with beautiful dancing girls to bring everyone’s attention to the ribbon across the front of the Welcome Center. The Carolina Snow Belles performed a routine replete with chorus line “high kicks” that would make the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes proud.
And then the big moment: Brad called upon his father to cut the ribbon, which he did to loud hurrahs and applause that echoed among the mountainsides, valleys and ridges surrounding the Welcome Center site — a fitting end to an important day in the lives of App Ski Mountain, Blowing Rock, and the High Country.