In Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevier County, Tennessee in general, if you’re not gaining ground, you’re losing it. Stagnation is not an option.
For years now, Ober Gatlinburg has arguably been losing ground.
The Gatlinburg ski resort was, in 1962, a private club. In the 1970s, Claude Anders purchased the aerial tramway with its lower landing point right in the heart of the downtown Gatlinburg strip as a way for folks to access the ski resort area safely.
In 1975, Anders purchased the ski resort as well. As a result, Ober Gatlinburg has been the area’s best mountaintop resort for decades.
But in my opinion, Ober has been in decline for years. However, that decline has been hastened by the arrival of competitors like Anakeesta which has siphoned off guests and – presumably – profits.
Our last visit to Ober Gatlinburg was entirely depressing. The indoor facilities were a bit lacking. The restaurant was understaffed to the point that the waiter all but told us to leave. Certainly, I left with the feeling that Ober – once a Gatlinburg icon – was in trouble.
A recent announcement, however, brings hope.
Ober Gatlinburg has been purchased by a group of Sevier County natives with thriving businesses, strong ties to the community and a commitment to help make return Ober into a year-round amusement park right on the front door of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Who bought Ober Gatlinburg?
The ownership group includes the families of Joe Baker, Cory Cottongim and Chuck Edwards. Baker is well-known in the region as the founder of Ole Smoky Moonshine and Yee-Haw Brewery – a promising sign from the get-go for Ober’s struggling culinary scene.
“Gatlinburg is our home,” Baker told the press.
Baker also added Mark Adams, the former president of the Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, to be the new CEO.
What’s changing at Ober Gatlinburg?
First things first. Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort is no more – at least in name. The new ownership group has rebranded the entire facility to Ober Mountain. The new name honors the Ober legacy but clearly demarcates the fresh start.
There will be a renewed emphasis on making Ober a year-round attraction. Of course, there will continue to be seasonal activities and adventures. But there will be a push to make Ober more attractive in the summer season with mountain biking, ATV rides and ziplining.
In fact, if initial plans come to fruition, Mount Harrison and the surrounding area will be flush with visitors all year round.
It is rumored the mall will be undergoing significant – and much-needed – renovation. It is unclear what will happen to the current stores and snack stations in the mall.
Adams told WATE the hope is to add lodging options in the future. Mountain chalets overlooking the area’s only real ski resort? That’s a plan that could work.
What’s not changing?
We can’t say anything at this point definitively. However, in the near term, all the attractions that make Ober fun for the whole family will probably remain.
Expect to see skiers hitting the ski slopes – whether it’s on snow that’s fallen from the ski or the real snow Ober makes to keep the ski area white and powdery all winter.
The skiing at Ober doesn’t compare with larger, better resorts. Yet it’s fun and will do when you can’t make the run out west or to bigger facilities in other places in the Appalachians. It’s also a great place to take a beginner lesson and decide whether skiing is something you’d like to get into.
The indoor ice rink will also likely remain, offering year-round ice skating and ice bumper cars.
The Alpine slide and scenic chairlift will still be running as well as snow tubing for those not ready to tackle the skiing. The Ski Mountain Coaster offers probably the best coaster views in the region. You won’t be wowed by the mini golf, but that does provide one more activity for the family.
You can get a bite at the snack bars and – at least theoretically – some scenic dining at the Seasons of Ober Restaurant.
What about the Wildlife Encounter and the tram ride?
The Wildlife Encounter – essentially a mini-zoo – allows visitors to see the Ober family of black bears, bobcats, foxes and the birds of prey aviary exhibit. The Nocturnal House includes various species of native Smokies wildlife such as raccoons, skunks, flying squirrels, turtles and snakes.
The hope is that the Wildlife Encounter – which is a privately funded, municipally sponsored zoo, licensed by the USDA as an exhibitor – will continue to expand its offerings.
The tram ride from Ober to the strip and vice versa will continue to be one of the best rides with the best views in the region.
With the popular Oktoberfest season coming to a close, November is typically a slow month at Ober with things gearing up for the Christmas and ski seasons after the Thanksgiving holiday.
Is this good news?
We think so. Though Ober’s business has been affected by competition in the region, there is no other facility that does exactly what Ober Mountain does and plans to do.
There is room enough for both Ober and Anakeesta to be successful. And the region needs the ski resort options that Ober alone offers. The ownership team has a proven track record of success and a locally-based passion to see Ober succeed.
Heck, the connection between Ober and Yee-Haw should be especially fruitful at Oktoberfest time by itself.
Like life in the mountains, the tourism business in the Smokies is ever-evolving. By its nature, things will fade over time to be replaced by newer businesses and attractions.
But we do not believe that Ober’s season has come to a close. It’s a beautiful spot with the necessary infrastructure to entertain guests and families for years to come.
The passion and support of the new ownership group – along with an influx of investment – could lead to great things happening up at Ober Mountain.
Are you looking forward to the changes coming to Ober? Let us know in the comments.