In Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevier County, Tennessee in general, if you don’t gain ground, you lose ground. Stagnation is not an option.
For years, Ober Gatlinburg has undoubtedly 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 to allow people safe access to the ski resort.
In 1975 Anders also bought the ski resort. As a result, Ober Gatlinburg has been the region’s best mountain resort for decades.
But in my opinion, Ober has been in decline for years. However, this decline was accelerated by the arrival of competitors like Anakeesta which siphoned off guests and – presumably – profits.
Our last visit to Ober Gatlinburg was entirely depressing. Indoor facilities were a bit lacking. The restaurant was understaffed to the point that the waiter almost told us to leave. Admittedly, I left feeling that Ober — once a Gatlinburg icon — was in trouble.
A recent announcement, however, brings hope.
Ober Gatlinburg was purchased by a group of Sevier County natives with thriving businesses, strong community ties and a commitment to help bring Ober back to a year-round amusement park right on the doorstep entrance to 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 area as the founder of Ole Smoky Moonshine and Yee-Haw Brewery – a promising sign early on for Ober’s struggling culinary scene.
“Gatlinburg is our home,” Baker told reporters.
Baker also added Mark Adams, the former president of the Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, as the new CEO.
Also Read: Anakeesta vs. Ober Gatlinburg: Which Attraction Is Better?
What’s changing in Ober Gatlinburg?
First of all. The 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 heritage but clearly delineates the new beginning.
Emphasis will again be placed on making Ober a year-round attraction. Of course, there will always be seasonal activities and adventures. But there will be an effort to make Ober more attractive during the summer season with mountain biking, mountain biking and ziplining.
In fact, if initial plans come to fruition, Mount Harrison and the surrounding area will be teeming with visitors year-round.
There are rumors that the mall will be undergoing major and much needed renovations. It is unclear what will become of the mall’s current stores and snack bars.
Adams told WATE the hope is to add hosting options in the future. Mountain chalets overlooking the only real ski resort in the area? It’s a plan that could work.
What does not change?
We can’t say anything definitively at this point. However, in the short term, all of the attractions that make Ober fun for the whole family will likely remain.
Expect to see skiers hitting the ski slopes, whether on snow fallen from skiing or on real snow that Ober makes to keep the ski area white and powdery all winter long.
Skiing in Ober does not compare to bigger and better resorts. Still, it’s fun and will do when you can’t get out west or to bigger facilities in other places in Appalachia. It’s also a great place to take a beginner’s lesson and decide if skiing is something you’d like to take up.
The indoor rink will also likely remain, offering year-round ice skating and bumper cars.
The alpine slide and the panoramic chairlift will continue to operate as well as the tube slide for those who are not ready to tackle skiing. The Ski Mountain Coaster offers probably the best roller coaster views in the area. You won’t be won over by mini golf, but it’s one more activity for the family.
You can grab a bite to eat in the snack bars and, at least in theory, dine at the Seasons of Ober restaurant.
Also read: Does Ober Gatlinburg have snow? A glimpse of the Ober Gatlinburg snow camera
What about the wildlife encounter and 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 back will continue to be one of the best rides with the best views in the area.
As the popular Oktoberfest season draws to a close, November is usually a slow month in Ober, with things gearing up for the Christmas and ski seasons after the Thanksgiving holiday.
Is this good news?
We think so. Although Ober’s operations have been affected by competition in the region, no other facility does exactly what Ober Mountain does and plans to do.
There is enough room for Ober and Anakeesta to succeed. And the region needs the ski resort possibilities only Ober offers. The owning team has a proven track record of success and a local passion to see Ober succeed.
Heck, the connection between Ober and Yee-Haw should be especially fruitful around Oktoberfest time.
Like life in the mountains, tourist activity in the Smokies is constantly changing. By its nature, things will fade over time to be replaced by new businesses and attractions.
But we don’t think Ober’s season is over. It’s a beautiful place with the infrastructure to entertain guests and families for years.
The passion and support of the new ownership group – plus an influx of investment – could lead to great things at Ober Mountain.
Are you looking forward to the changes coming to Ober? Let us know in the comments.
Disclaimer: Although we do our best to provide you with the most up-to-date information, the attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary depending on the season and are subject to change. The opinions expressed here are those of the author alone, not those of the companies mentioned, and have not been reviewed or endorsed by these entities. Contact us at [email protected] for questions or comments.