Mountain Madness: Atlantic to Pacific, All Year Long
28 Feb, 2009By: Juli Anne Patty
North America has hundreds of mountain ranges, stretching from north to south, dotting the landscape from sea to shining sea. Formed by unique geological events and located in widely varying climates, each of those ranges offers its own distinctive experience for the people who explore, adventure and play there. With more peaks in the U.S. than one person could explore in a lifetime, no matter what kind of sport you're looking for, it's sure to be found in America's mountains
America's ranges and peaks, such as the Rockies, the Appalachians and the Poconos, are home to hundreds of vibrant cities and communities that have grown up on their slopes. Skiing, snowboarding and mountaineering are just a few of the pastimes that draw people from all over to these mountain metropolises and hideaways. But traditional winterand mountain sports are just the beginning of what America's mountains have to offer.
The northeastern corner of the United States may notbe known for the continent's tallest mountains, but its mountains are nevertheless beautiful, and they also happen to be within quick driving or flying distance from some the country's most populous areas.
The Adirondacks, Berkshires, Catskills and Poconos serve as the chosen place of play for many Americans. Their convenient location, diverse topography and true four-season climate make these locations suitable for a wide range of events from skiing to golf.
The Poconos, in northeastern Pennsylvania, offer the perfect example of the Northeastern mountains' ability to deliver a surfeit of sports. Pennsylvania's 2,400 miles of snowcapped peaks, rivers and lakes are located within 200 milesof 60 million people and several major media markets. That means chances are excellent that for any event in the Poconos, the people will come.
"A lot of people see the Poconos as a skiing winter destination," said Brent Postal, sports marketing manager at the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau. "There are a lot of options for that, including Camelback, Shawnee and the Inn at Pocono Manor, one of our largest as far as square footage, which gets 80 percent of its business from repeat customers."
Perhaps that popularity comes from the Inn at Pocono Manor's wide range of recreational opportunities, including dog sledding, snowshoeing, ATV trail rides and sleigh riding. And that's just in winter. The 3,000-acre century old inn, listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, also offers a spa and 36-hole golf course, which has hosted numerous All-Star Golf, LPGA, PGA and PGA Senior events since opening in 1912.
But the Poconos prove to be just as dazzling in every other season. In 2007, the area played host to the BG US Challenge presented by Fortune, a multi-event competition that pits teams from America's top companies against one another to determine the "Best American Team." The BG US Challenge's huge range of events, including mountain biking, nighttime navigation, rafting, code breaking, engineering, puzzle solving and high-level strategy, demands a location with serious diversity, and the Poconos truly delivered. In addition to crowning an American corporate champion, the two-and-a- half day event raised nearly half a million dollars for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
The Poconos aren't Pennsylvania's only mountainous place to play. Just an hour south lies Laurel Highlands, home to Seven Springs Mountain Resort, rated by Ski Magazine as the Mid-Atlantic's number-one ski resort for nine years running.
"Laurel Highlands receives the largest amount of accumulated natural snowfall in Pennsylvania and is home to Pennsylvania's tallest mountain," explained Julie Donovan, public relations manager for the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau.
But it's not all about winter sports in Laurel Highlands. The Great Allegheny Passage, the eastern U.S.'s longest multi-purpose rail-trail, takes bikers through 100 miles of Laurel Highlands' most beautiful landscape. When complete, the 150-mile system of biking and hikingtrails will reach from Cumberland, Maryland.,to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and connect to the C&O Canal Towpath, creating a nonstop, non-motorized path from Washington D.C. to Pittsburgh. Currently, 132 miles (from Cumberland, Maryland., to McKeesport, Pennsylvania.), are complete.
The Appalachian Mountains stretch 1,500 miles from the island of Newfoundland down into the Deep South, with the highest point, Mount Mitchell, in North Carolina's Black Mountains.
"The Ski Capital of the South," North Carolina's High Country is home to six skiresorts and two snow-tubing parks. While the area's climate doesn't lend itself to slopes that quite rank with those in the West, Black Mountain and other Appalachian ski locales draw big crowds from Southerners hungry for a quick snow sport fix.
Road and mountain biking also bring serious competitors and events to the Appalachians. Perhaps the toughest Appalachian trial is the annual Assault onMount Mitchell, a 102-mile ride from Spartanburg, South Carolina, to the summit of Mount Mitchell that climbs 6,500 feet in the last 27 miles. First held in 1974, the Assault is so arduous that only participants who completed the race the previous year may enter, a stipulation introduced in 1992 to increase the race's ratio of participants to finishers.
"Go West, Young Man!"
The frontier days are past, but the Western U.S. offers such a dizzying array of peaks and rolling mountains, surrounded by roaring rivers, lakes and wildlife, not to mention some of the country's best recreation and hospitality facilities, that mountain lovers the world round still go west every chance they get.
Thousands of those people come together every year at the annual Teva Mountain Games in Vail, . Founded in 2002, the Teva Mountain Gamesis an environmentally friendly adventure sporting event that brings together 2,500 international professional and amateur athletes. Athletes compete for over $100,000 in prize money in seven sports and 21 disciplines, including kayaking, rafting, mountain biking, road cycling and the International Federation of Sport Climbing World Cup, just to name a few.
Famous for having America's biggest single ski mountain, as well as a mecca for year-round outdoor sports, Vail makes an ideal host for the Games. Inthe heart of the Rockies, Vail is a mountainlocation that can meet the needs of pretty much any sporting event.
"When we were looking for a venue for the World Cup we sought a host community where the outdoor lifestyle was very important and where an existing outdoor event was already in place," said Keith Ferguson, executive director of USA Climbing. "We also looked for a community that was a destination in itself and would draw people from around the country. Vail is all of those and more."
While America's mountains offer almost unlimited challenges for expert climbers, you don't have to be a climbing expert to experience and enjoy mountain climbing-and you can do some good at the same time. Backpacker Magazine's Summit for Someone program offers the chance for mountainclimbers from neophyte to professional to conquer North America's17 most challenging peaks and raise money to fund a week of life-changing wilderness experience for urban teens.
Summit for Someone benefits Big City Mountaineers' programs, which aim to enhance the lives of underserved teenagers by providing them with transformative outdoor experiences. Serving primarily youth in Denver and the San Francisco Bay Area, Big City Mountaineers offers single-gender, 5-adult-to-5-youth backpacking and canoeing trips in California, Colorado, the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest.
Ouray, Colorado is home to one of America's lesser-known mountain treasures, the Ouray Ice Park. Each winter, a more than two-mile stretch of plumbing releases a wash of water across the Ice Park's cliffs, transforming the Ouray Ice Park into what many consider the world's greatest ice climbing facility.
"The Park has everything," explained Ryan Cook, who, along with her husband, owns Ouray's San Juan Mountain Guides. "It is super accessible to beginners, but also offers challenges to even the most experienced climbers, and there's virtually no risk of avalanche. There is just nowhere else in the world you can get in as many pitches in one place."
Flathead Valley, Montana, with Glacier National Park, Whitefish Mountain Resort and the Blacktail Mountain Ski Area, is home to some of the America's most picturesque mountain locales.
A surefire snow sport destination, Flathead's attraction extends beyond winter, and visitors are just as likely to come with backpacking gear, fishingpoles and golf clubs. In fact, Flathead Valley was named to Golf Digest's top "50 Golf Destinations" in the world based on courses, service, transportation, setting, quality accommodations, travel to and around the destination and value.
Flathead Valley offers such a wide range of activities, its appeal is universal for every age and interest.
"Walking the tree tops is one of our unique features; it's asuspended wooden bridge between trees, and you can go on a guided hike," said Dori Muehlhof, executive director of the Flathead Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We also have two refrigerated hockey rinks, and, being 60 miles from the Canadian border, we host a lot of tournaments."
Wyoming, one of America's most sparsely populated states, may be short on people, but it has more than its share of mountains. Jackson Hole, a major mountain hotspot, is abundant with natural beauty, resources and facilities, including the Grand Teton National Park and the National Elk Refuge.
In winter, America's longest and steepest vertical slope in the United States attracts hordes of serious skiers and snowboarders to Jackson Hole. In spring, summer and fall, hundreds of thousands of visitors enjoy the area's hiking, world-class fly fishing and the unparalleled wildlife viewing. But no matter what the time of year, hospitality is a Jackson Hole mainstay.
"We're a small town, but when it comes to really large groups, don't count Jackson out. We've hosted events where guests stayed at four different hotels and used the conference center at one hotel," said Heather Falk, marketing and special events manager at the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce. "Because we're such a small, close-knit community, we share pretty well."
One of Jackson's most unique events is the International Pedigree Stage Stop Sled Dog Race (IPSSSDR), held each winter in late January. Founded in 1996 by Frank Teasley, a Jackson Hole resident and former Iditarod racer, to make sled dog racing more accessible to the public, theIPSSSDR brings together 20 teams from the U.S., Canada and Switzerland.
Playing at the Pacific
Big Bear, California is arguably the Pacific Coast's most famous mountain getaway, judging by the more than 8 million visitors who flock to its slopes, rivers and lakes every year.
"We're within two and a half hours of half of the population of the U.S.," said Rick Bates, director of the Big Bear Valley Event Resource Office. "We have a really vibrant four seasons of sports here. People who know us for skiing get here and say, wow, I didn't know all these other things existed."
Big Bear enjoys over 300 days a year of sunshine, but also boasts a temperature that is 10 to 15 degrees cooler than some of its parched neighbors, like Las Vegas. Bear Bear hosts a number of highly popular events, inspiring area leaders to create a new coalition of event producers: Open Air Big Bear. With the area's signature events, including Snowshoe the Bear, Paddlefest and the Big Bear Marathon, working under the same umbrella, the Big Bear Valley Event Resource Office hopes to enhance events and event marketing in the area throughout the year.
The final word on mountain sports in America is this: endless. No matter what your sport, no matter what side of the country, and no matter what kind of facility you're looking for, America's mountain cities, communities and still-hidden gems certainly have exactly what you need.