The Best of the Blue Ridge

28 Dec 12
best of the blue ridge

Who’s the coolest raft guide? What’s the best zip line? Where’s the best terrain park? Over 55,000 votes poured in for our Best of the Blue Ridge Readers’ Choice Awards. From the black-diamond runs atop snowy mountaintops to the world-class whitewater in the river valleys, here are your favorite outdoor people, places, and parties.

BEST SKI RESORT PARTY

Cuervo Games, Snowshoe Mountain Resort

For over 20 years, Snowshoe Mountain Resort has welcomed their good friend Jose Cuervo to the slopes for a spring skiing weekend. Mr. Cuervo may not know how to pizza or French-fry on the slopes, but he knows how to margarita off them. In one of the season’s biggest parties, Snowshoe cedes control of the mountain for a weekend of games, revelers, and of course, copious amounts of tequila. For 2013, Snowshoe is doubling down on debauchery by combining the Cuervo Games with their Spring Break weekend in probably the savviest marketing decision of the year. Daytime activities may include a cardboard box race, volleyball tournament, and tug of war competition, among others. When the sun sets is when the party really begins to heat up. The outdoor festivities move inside but continue unabated with margarita relays, thumping dance parties, and live music across the resort, giving new meaning to the term après.

2nd place – Freestyle Double Cross Championship Party, Wintergreen, Virginia
3rd place – Winterfest, Beech, North Carolina

BEST OF THE REST

Snowy Luau, Timberline; Sugar Fest, Sugar Mountain; Dew Games, Liberty University Snowflex Centre; Jack Frost, White Grass; Bryce College Race Weekend; The Festival of Gnarnia, Beech Mountain

BEST PLACE TO LEARN TO SKI

Winterplace, West Virginia

Learning how to ski can be difficult. Teaching how to ski has left people depressed, divorced, or even worse, without a ride home. If you want to come out of this winter alive, better leave the teaching to the experts. Our readers voted Winterplace Ski Resort outside Ghent, W.Va. as the Southeast’s best spot to do just that. Winterplace is a Professional Ski Instructors of America and American Association of Snowboard Instructors Member. Pupils can learn to ski in peace in their secluded school area. Winterplace’s best asset is its terrain, 37 percent of which is labeled as beginner slopes. Once you link up some turns and graduate from the Super Carpet, it’s easy to advance gradually onto the lifts to access appropriately named slopes like Country Roads or Buttermilk. Winterplace also caters to the beginner skier by offering lift/rental/lesson packages at deep discounts. Learning to ski all day can wipe you out, but it is easy to stop off at the mid-mountain Mountainhouse to warm toes and sip cocoa. Winterplace also has the largest tubing park in the region, if you need a break from the intricacies of the parallel turn. This ski hill is aimed at fun, from the beginner to the advanced rider.

2nd place – Wintergreen, Virginia
3rd place – Sugar Mountain, North Carolina

BEST OF THE REST

Massanutten, VA; Sapphire, NC; Beech Mountain, NC; Cataloochee Ski Area, NC; Bryce Resort, VA; Snowshoe, WV; Timberline Four Seasons Resort, WV

Cupp Run Challenge

Cupp Runneth Over: Snowshoe Mountain’s Cupp Run is not just for racers.

BEST TERRAIN PARK

Wintergreen, Virginia

When it comes to terrain parks, Wintergreen is the little resort that could. Going up against big boys like Seven Springs and Snowshoe, Wintergreen holds its own as our readers’ favorite terrain park. This park features the standard array of boxes, kinked rails, and kickers, but is constantly in flux. The park patrol changes the setup frequently so you always have something new to hit, whether it be a tabletop or a rainbow rail. The actual park is also separated into beginner and advanced, allowing aspiring X-Gamers to gradually work up to that Misty Flip they have been contemplating. Like most of the slopes at Wintergreen, their terrain park is lighted for night skiing. Best of all, there is a lift serving just the park on weekends, making it easy for shredders to lap the park while heckling their friends, or enemies, from the relative safety of the chairlift.

2nd place – Snowshoe, West Virginia
3rd place – Beech Mountain, North Carolina

BEST OF THE REST

Seven Springs Resort, PA; Wisp Resort, MD; Appalachian Ski Mountain, NC; Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre, VA; Timberline Four Seasons Resort, WV

BEST RACE T-SHIRT

Blue Ridge Marathon, Roanoke, Virginia

Hard to say if it was the actual art and design of the race shirt that appealed to our readers or the fact that this grinder outside Roanoke, Va., is billed as “America’s Toughest Road Marathon.” With over 3,600 feet of climbing, the race earns every bit of its reputation. In the lead up to the 2012 Blue Ridge Marathon, race organizers opened the race’s logo and t-shirt design to aspiring artists in a contest. The winning design was slapped on everything from water bottles to banners and, of course, the race t-shirt. While the finisher’s medal is obviously the top goal of any marathon runner, the race t-shirt is something you’ll want to show off, especially when it comes to this brutal marathon.

2nd place – Shut-In Ridge Trail Run
3rd place – Mountain Junkies Trail Series

BEST OF THE REST

Baltimore Running Festival; Rock/Creek Stump Jump; Peachtree Road Race; Columbia Marathon; Tribal Quest; Shenandoah Mountain 100 Backcountry Mountain Bike Race; Mad Anthony Mud Run

BEST NEW FITNESS TREND

Stand Up Paddleboarding

Over the past couple of years, the sport of Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) has taken over the world of watersports. Several factors like marketing and design have facilitated this meteoric rise, but one aspect of SUP rises above the rest to explain its popularity: versatility. This is a sport that anyone can do; the equipment and experience needed is minimal; and the activities virtually endless. Paddle around a flat-water lake for an intense, full-body workout, then pull out the fly rod and take a shot at some largemouth. Haul your board to the beach and paddle into waves without having to jump up from a prone position, by far the toughest part of surfing. Boards can be stable enough to practice yoga on, perfecting balance both physical and existential. The adventure seeker can run Class II-III rapids or explore coastal wetlands spotting wildlife. As more and more people discover different uses for the paddleboard, manufacturers are producing more and more specialized boards with features designed specifically for any given activity. As far as SUP has come, it will be even more exciting to see where the sport goes in the next few years.

2nd place – Crossfit
3rd place – Cycling

BEST OF THE REST

Bikram Yoga; Barefoot/Minimalist Running; Boot Camp; Paddle Yoga; Natural Workouts; Pilates

BEST STATE PARK CAMPGROUND

Douthat State Park, Virginia

Douthat was one of the six original Virginia State Parks established in the early 1930s, and according to our readers it has stood the test of time. The 4,500-acre park has four established campgrounds with 87 sites, the most coveted of which border the 50-acre Douthat Lake. During the summer months, the lake provides the perfect place to take a dip after a long hike on one of Douthat’s 40 miles of trail, most of which are also open to mountain bikes. Each of the campgrounds offers something different, from hot showers and bathhouses to electric hookups and on-site water spigots. If camping is a little too rough for you, Douthat also has 35 cabins available for rent, ranging from one to six bedrooms. Whether you are camping or “glamping,” Douthat State Park is definitely one of the most beautiful areas in Virginia, and should not be missed.

2nd place – Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia
3rd place – Pipestem State Park, West Virginia

BEST OF THE REST

Crowders Mountain State Park, N.C.; Frozen Head State Park, Tenn.; Gorges State Park, n.c.; First Landing State Park, va; Breaks Interstate Park, ky.; Roan Mountain State Park, tenn.; Vogel State Park, ga

FESTIVAL WITH BEST FOOD

FloydFest

Festival food can take many forms: it can be strictly functional as fuel to keep music lovers operating throughout the weekend, or it can be a showcase of local, creative fare with the power to draw hippies from three stages away. FloydFest falls squarely in this latter category, with a cornucopia of chow from across the nation and world. Their food court is packed with enticing options, ranging from vegan sandwiches to crepes to Cajun gator bites. With ten years of Floyd under their belts, these food stands have their systems dialed, cranking out veggie burritos and French toast at an alarming pace for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The perennial favorite of the Blue Ridge Outdoors staff is the Veggiething from the Sugar Shack. Wash it all down with craft beer flowing at the various beer gardens. FloydFest is one festival where you may here, “Dude, where did you get that sando?” as much as you’ll here, “Dude, who you seeing tonight?”

2nd place – The Festy Experience
3rd place – Blue Ridge BBQ Festival

BEST OF THE REST

Mountain Sports Festival; Bonnaroo; Shenandoah Mountain Bike Festival; LEAF Festival; Lewisburg, West Virginia Chocolate Festival; National Apple Harvest Festival; Roanoke GO Outside Festival

Linc Stallings

FAVORITE RAFT GUIDE

Linc Stallings, Southeastern Expeditions

Like most professional river guides, Linc Stallings chases the seasons. For the past 16 years, Stallings has been living seasonally, moving around the country to guide some of the best whitewater in the U.S. He has had stints in Alaska, Colorado, and Montana but always returns to his home waters in the Southeast.

“I’ve been quite fortunate that I’ve been able to work and guide and play in some of the most beautiful places in the country,” he said. “The Blue Ridge has always been my home, and I always come back to it. Honestly, I don’t think there are any more beautiful mountains or more exciting places than the Southeast and Blue Ridge.”

Stallings has guided for most of the major outfitters in the Southeast, but lately has moved toward smaller, mom and pop type outfitters like Southeastern Expeditions to guide on his favorite river, the Chattooga. He also cites exposing people to the beauty of rivers and sharing the whitewater experience as the best parts of his job.

“It’s usually people from further south or the big city and you get them in the woods and take them out of their comfort zone and just blow their minds on what really exists out there outside their little bubble,” he said. “I think a lot of people haven’t experienced enough of the whitewater industry. They go down the Nantahala or the Ocoee or the New River, but there’s so much more out there and I love to share that with people.”

2nd place – Shanna Crompton, ACE Adventure Resort, New/Gauley Rivers
3rd place – Brian Jennings, Rivermen, New/Gauley Rivers

BEST OF THE REST

Squirrel Hager, Class VI River Runners, New/Gauley Rivers; Jay Ann Jones, Songer, New/Gauley Rivers; Cathy Kennedy, NOC, Chattooga/Ocoee/Nolichucky/Nantahala/Pigeon Rivers; Tom Gage, Wildwater, Pigeon River; Steve Reid, ACE Adventure Resort, New/Gauley Rivers; Larry Nibert, Adventures on the Gorge

BEST PRIVATE FLY FISHING SPOT

Harmans Cottages, West Virginia

If you are going to pay to fish for trout in the Blue Ridge, our readers say there is no better place than Harman’s North Fork Cottages in West Virginia’s Potomac Highlands. On the property, luxury log cabins line a mile stretch of the North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac River, some of which have hot tubs on the porch and satellite TV. A 20-yard walk from your cabin door puts you on Harman’s private stretch of river stocked regularly year-round with trout growing to trophy size. Book a guide or head out on your own to catch these bruisers. If you tire of the stocked section, Harman’s is located at the hub of the best trout fishing the state has to offer. Smoke Hole, Seneca Creek, Gandy Creek, and Blackwater are all within 45 miles. Harman’s also offers plenty of other on-site outdoor activities, including hiking, but the fishing is the main draw. With such easy access and luxury, Harman’s has family vacation written all over it.

2nd place – Rose River Farm, Virginia
3rd place – Mossy Creek, Virginia

BEST OF THE REST

Escatawba Farms, VA; Biltmore Estate, NC; Susie Q Farm, VA; Noontootla Creek Farms, GA; Boone Fork Creek, NC; Smoky Mountains Fly Fishing; Hookers Fly Shop and Guide Service

BEST PUBLIC FLY FISHING SPOT

Jackson River, Virginia

The Jackson River is widely considered the finest trout river in Virginia, and is a very popular spot for anglers. Originating in the Alleghenies of northwest Virginia, the Jackson is split into distinct sections by Lake Moomaw and the Gathright Dam. Above the lake, the Jackson is a relatively small, firestone river fed by cool spring creeks. Caddis and mayfly hatches are abundant, allowing stocked rainbow and brown trout to grow large and sometimes weather the hot summer months. The special regulation area above Hidden Valley in Bath County is flyfishing only and sees limited action due to the mandatory two mile hike in. Below the dam, the Jackson spreads out into the largest and best wild trout fishery in the region. Though the legal aspects of wade fishing this tailwater are still working their way through the courts, floating the section in a drift boat or raft is definitely the way to go. Steady water releases from the bottom of the lake ensure consistently cool water flows year round. Pools, riffles, and pocket water bring your whole arsenal into play on any given day, from drifting size 22 midges on 7x tippet to dragging double bunny streamers through dark water. While most famous for its large, wild browns, the river also supports a healthy population of rainbows, neither of which have been stocked since 1993.

2nd place – Nantahala River, North Carolina
3rd place – Davidson River, North Carolina

BEST OF THE REST

Smith River, VA; Jacks/Conasauga River, GA/TN; Tuckaseegee River, NC; Mossy Creek, VA; South River, VA; New River, WV; Gauley River, WV

BEST BLUE RIDGE BREW

Vienna Lager, Devils Backbone, Virginia

The Vienna Lager was one of the original beers brewed by Devils Backbone Brewery at the base of Virginia’s Wintergreen Resort, and it continues to impress beer aficionados from around the globe. Since 2008, the Vienna Lager has evolved into the beer it is today, a richly colored, well-balanced session lager that goes down smooth with no bitterness. Beer snobs love the subtle flavor of the malt blend, while the casual drinker can appreciate the light body and crisp finish. The brew took Silver at the 2009 Great American Beer Festival and Gold at the 2012 World Beer Cup—the Olympics of beer—in the Vienna Lager category. These only add to Devils Backbone’s accolades that include a World Beer Cup Champion Brewery and Brewmaster title in 2010, the highest honor of the event. Vienna Lager also won Gold at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival so it has several medals and awards.  Devils Backbone also brought home the national title of Small Brewpub and Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year ~ 2012 Great American Beer Festival. As the brewery’s flagship, the Vienna Lager will continue to evolve, but will always be a Blue Ridge favorite.

2nd place – Cold Mountain, Highland Brewing, Asheville, North Carolina
3rd place – Full Nelson, Blue Mountain Brewery, Afton, Virginia

BEST OF THE REST

Boxcar Pumpkin Porter, Starr Hill; Hopsecutioner IPA, Terrapin Beer Company; Bridge Brew Ale, Bridge Brew Works; Iron Rail IPA, Wedge Brewery; Local Species, Blue Mountain Barrel House; Dark Hollow, Blue Mountain Brewery; Apocalyptic Ale, Lost Rhino Brewing Company

BEST CANOPY TOUR

Adventures On The Gorge Canopy Tour, Fayetteville, West Virginia

The New River Gorge is one of the great scenic gorges in the East, and what better way to get a bird’s-eye view than by zipping around the trees? West Virginia’s Adventures on the Gorge offers not one but three options when it comes to aerial exploration. Their TreeTops Canopy Tour consists of 10 zip lines, five cable bridges, one rappel, and views of the canopy and valley floor you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. Those with a bigger thirst for adventure can step up to the Gravity Tour that zips you across valleys above the trees. The final zip ride of the tour is 3,100 feet long and riders can reach speeds of 50 mph. The latest addition is the TimberTrek Aerial Adventure, a system of cables and obstacles designed to challenge participants both mentally and physically in the vein of the traditional team-building ropes course. Adventures on the Gorge has something in the trees for everyone, and our readers recognize that.

2nd place – North Georgia Canopy Tours
3rd place (TIE) – Navitat Canopy Tours and ACE Adventure Center

BEST OF THE REST

Ruby Falls Zipstream; ACE Adventure Center; Hawksnest Ziplines; Pigeon River Canopy Tours; Go Ape Freedom Park; Laurel Highlands Canopy Tour; Carolina Ziplines

BEST CAR

Subaru Outback

Nothing says “outdoor lifestyle” more than the iconic Subaru Outback; in fact, it practically screams it. Since it hit the market in 1994, the Subaru wagon has been the preferred mode of motorized transportation for outdoor adventurers from Vermont to California due to its all-wheel drive, ground clearance, and storage capacity. Longevity and reliability are also key factors, apparent in all the late 90s models puttering around ski and climbing towns across the U.S. Subaru also knows exactly where its bread is buttered, marketing the Outback specifically towards the outdoor crowd. It’s a mobile home, tent, gear closet, tool shed, and storage locker in one package. On snow, backcountry roads, or mountain passes, the Subaru Outback will get you there, and everyone will know what you are all about when you arrive: good times in the outdoors.

2nd place – Jeep Wrangler
3rd place – Toyota Tacoma

BEST OF THE REST

Honda CR-V; Ford Escape Hybrid; Toyota FJ Cruiser; VW Eurovan; Honda Element; Toyota 4Runner; Nissan Xterra

Looking for adventure? Check out our Editor’s Top 25 Adventure Picks!

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Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine

Your guide to hiking in the Southeast, biking in the Blue Ridge and Appalachian adventures from the Highlands to the Piedmont.