Ski slopes open in NC mountains after 3 straight days of snow

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AVERY COUNTY, N.C. —

For a third day in a row, residents in the North Carolina mountains woke to snow showers.

A lot of the initial shock is wearing off as more people ventured out Wednesday, with some of those heading to Sugar Mountain Ski Resort.

It is the earliest opening ever at Sugar Mountain, where the owner, Gunther Jochl, told Channel 9 it looks more like Christmas than Halloween.

Jochl said they have gotten between 9 to 12 inches of snow since Monday, and with the cold weather they have been able to add to those numbers with their snow-making machines.

The opening also helps the local economy.  When the resort is up and running, they employ as many as 500 people.

“It doesn’t look like Halloween. Of course a lot of people out here are just enjoying it … really making history skiing in October, which has never ever happened at Sugar Mountain,” said Jochl.

Ashe and Avery County schools are closed Wednesday.  Watauga County Schools are closed for students with an optional teacher workday with a two-hour delay for all personnel.

Lees-McRae College and Caldwell Community College-Watauga campus morning classes have also been canceled Wednesday.

At times on Tuesday, it was difficult to even see the roadway as strong winds caused near-whiteout conditions at the higher elevations in Avery County.

Those winds knocked out power to much of Beech Mountain.  Power crews scrambled to get the lights back on, battling 40 mph gusts.

“It is pretty tough,” said David Smith with Mountain Electric. “The bucket don't even want to move because the wind is blowing so hard against it.”

One of the damaged lines provides power to the town's Public Works Department, allowing them to refuel the plows to clear the roads.

“This is one of our bigger outages,” said Van Johnson with Mountain Electric. “It is just one customer, but so much stems on getting this back on.”

That was evident in drifts that were building from the blowing snow.   A couple from Florida ended up stuck in one of them.

“We didn't realize it was going to be this bad,” they said. “It wasn't when we left.  It was just a dusting.”

But the snow and the strong winds didn't keep others from venturing out into the cold. Much of the economy there relies on weather like this over the next few months.

“Help people think about skiing, snowboarding, coming up and having fun,” said Town Manager Randy Feierabend.

Shortly after sunset the snow began falling again in Boone on Tuesday.

Within an hour, firefighters were responding to wrecks. A driver hit ice on the road and ended up flipping his Jeep on Highway 105. Just after he and a woman got out, a car slammed into the SUV.

"It was just a miracle they weren't killed. It was horrible," said witness Sandy Prestwood.

Power crews fanned out across the mountains on Tuesday working to restore power while dealing with tropical force winds.