More than 1 billion years ago, intrusions of igneous and volcanic rocks flowed over and through the mountainous regions of the state. Near the modern towns of Linville and Beech Mountain in Avery County, the intruding rocks comprise more than 50 percent of an ancient terrain known as the Elk Park Plutonic Suite. Rich in granite, this area was less susceptible to the powers of erosion, leaving towering, snow-covered peaks ideal for skiing. Most years the climate cooperates, with mean temperatures more akin to Canada than the valleys below. Thousands of winter sport fans are served by four ski resorts in Avery and Watauga counties with expert, advanced, and beginner slopes, snowboarding, snow skating, and skating rinks. In addition, some resorts offer access to cross-country skiing trails. To take advantage of the mild summer temperatures, ski areas are also opening up to mountain bike competitions during the summer months.
At 5,505 feet, Beech Mountain is the highest ski area in eastern North America. Nearby Sugar Mountain reaches 5,300 feet, Hawksnest measures 4,819 feet, and Appalachian Ski Mountain peaks out at 4,000 feet. Vertical drops range from a dramatic 1,200 feet to 365 feet. (See Appendix F for detailed listings of all ski areas in the state.)
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