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Friday, November 21, 2008

Do I Need 4-Wheel Drive or Snow Chains on the Mountain in Winter?

A question I often get from our guests about Beech Mountain is whether or not it is truly necessary to have 4-Wheel Drive while vacationing up there in the winter. My answer is "If you don't have 4WD, you should be fine with some snow chains."

Although you will have the benefit of well-maintained paved, two-lane roads to get to anyplace (restaurants, stores, Ski Beech) on Beech Mountain you'd care to go (including up to our Condo's front steps) . . . And although we have been impressed by the speed with which the Town of Beech gets those snow plows out there to clear the roads whenever it's necessary, it is still never wise to underestimate Mother Nature.

So, hazardous driving conditions are a possibility during Beech Mountain winters. And because of this fact, we, like most anyone else up there you care to ask up there, do recommend either a 4WD vehicle or that you carry a set of chains for your drive wheels. If you do not already have some snow chains, you can order them fairly inexpensively online at stores like Sears and put them on yourself. There are also a number of places in Banner Elk (at the foot of Beech), and of course Fred’s Mercantile on Beech Mountain, that will sell you chains - or install the ones you have with you.

If you wait till you get up there to buy them, a set of chains installed can cost you as little as $100, depending on the size of your tires. (I did call to ask some local garages about renting snow chains, but this apparently struck both the gentlemen I spoke to as amusing. So I think it's safe to say there doesn't appear to be any such thing as snow chain rentals - at least in the Beech Mountain area.) Either way, it is best to consider them relatively inexpensive insurance for your trip.

Below are just two of the many businesses near Beech Mountain who offer snow chains and also towing services up on the mountain. It's nice to keep their phone numbers handy . . . just for the extra luxury of peace of mind.

  • Banner Elk Exxon & Wrecker Service, 115 Main St. West, Banner Elk 28604 (828 898-5210) - Their "z-chains" installed range from $90 to $120. At their busiest, the wait may be around an hour. Fortunately, there are several nice cafes and restaurants within a minute's walk where you can pass the time enjoyably.
  • High South Wrecker Service, Banner Elk (828 898-4473) - They will also install your own chains for under $45 (again, depending on tire size), or sell you a set.
Now, after all that, let me say again that you shouldn't worry unduly about getting around on the mountain. Lest you feel that you should go rent a tank, keep in mind that most of the time, you can get around on the mountain in winter without having to use chains. Still, it's nice to be prepared, so you can devote all your time to enjoying the glorious snow, dramatic views, and endless fun that draws so many vacationers up to Beech Mountain year after year.
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