By Lisa Shrewsberry
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS —
For many of late, the words “boy” and “scout” closely follow the word “Summit” in conversation. But there’s another Summit in southern West Virginia, one perched in the clouds and as private as private gets.
The Summit Lodge, a casual members-only experience for The Greenbrier Sporting Club vacation homeowners, sits 3,300 feet above White Sulphur Springs at the foot of Greenbrier Mountain — a destination where casual coexists with exclusive.
If you were skilled enough to make the cut at The Greenbrier Classic this year, your second most challenging long shot was to be either a Sporting Club member or invited by one to experience The Summit Lodge. July is the busiest time of the year for both Summit staff and The Greenbrier Sporting Club in receiving returning property owners.
Of those who have heard of The Summit Lodge restaurant, most haven’t been there. Even longtime employees of The Greenbrier resort admit they are aware and covet the chance, but have yet to visit the timber framed gathering place and associated community of homes, a getaway from the ultimate getaway.
You won’t find The Summit in books or guides and can’t spot it on trail maps handed out to The Greenbrier guests, says The Sporting Club Director of Food and Beverage, Clay Elkins on a quiet morning tour of The Summit grounds. Elkins was among the planners for the 2007 opening of The Summit Lodge, when he was asked on more than one occasion, “You have the Sporting Club Lodge. Why are you building another restaurant way up there?”
“The reason we developed The Summit neighborhood was for more of a family atmosphere,” explained Elkins. “We’ve seen The Sporting Club membership change from people in their 70s and 80s to more members in their 30s and 40s, and many of them have children.”
On the elevated approach to The Summit, members forsake their sport coats for flip-flops, shorts and a breathtaking vantage of Kate’s Mountain, ever near a view of the double-sided quarried stone fireplace in the Lodge and at no shortage of places to meander beneath Edison bulb strung stone pathways.
The elevated views at The Summit take entertainment to new highs, including many private seasonal parties and concerts at an outdoor amphitheater featuring natural stone slabs for seating — also a popular, picturesque wedding spot.
Pop quizzes posed to the majority of Greenbrier Sporting Club staff, Elkins included, might reveal not just a recognition of member faces and associations, but a knowledge of preferences, of families and friends, of routines and favored cuisine.
Elkins is one of a crew making it his job to know homeowners on a personal level, and he has heard it all — the most inventive and what many would consider outrageous requests.
Consider the time he assisted in organizing a private three-on-three basketball tournament, authenticated by a down-sized marching band and genuine cheerleaders. He’s accustomed to going the extra mile for residents creating traditions that test the limits of their imaginations and, in instances of events like family reunions, to assist future generations in carrying them on.
The members-only Summit Lodge, where many activities Elkins plans play out, enjoys an unexpectedly casual atmosphere famous for its Appalachian-American bistro food style.
After a hectic July 4th week of catering to more than double the usual number of daily guests to The Summit restaurant and surrounding private parties, The Summit Chef Hannah Reid will return to serving about 100 a day with her versions of Appalachian comfort food, appealing to homeowners and their guests from all over the world.
Since the restaurant is open only April through October, Chef Reid travels with other chefs she’s had the opportunity to meet to experience other regional fare and to work in other kitchens.
She takes influences from these experiences, like working in Las Vegas last year, and brings them back each year to The Summit as part of the evolving menu, all the while keeping traditional guest favorites like to-die-for mac and cheese, her version of (closest to skillet fried) fried chicken or the “picnic platter” — featuring homemade pimiento cheese spread, country ham and the chef’s own bread-and-butter pickles.
Her prevailing philosophy of food is: Simple done right, using local ingredients. Reid’s job outside the food preparation is to know her customer’s and their taste preferences.
“Some want comfort food; some want more experimental dishes. There’s definitely something different about working for club members — you get to know what they like,” commented Reid.
More Summit amenities, geared for family fun, include “The Barn,” a charmingly rustic activity space in keeping with the nondescript exteriors of both The Lodge and pre-approved Adirondack-inspired mountain home designs. Inside is a full-sized basketball court that routinely transforms into something entirely unrecognizable as an area for hoops — an indoor area often temporarily carpeted for private guest functions.
“Most people believe Jim (Justice) brought the court here, but it was here before he arrived,” added Elkins.
More downplayed splendor marks the clandestine mountaintop development, including a sparkling infinity pool overlooking Kate’s Mountain and a miniature golf course and playground.
Outside of the seasonal concerts, the sound of silence is the loudest on the grounds, close in proximity but far above the bustle and glamour of The Greenbrier. It’s business as usual for Elkins to consult a jittery guest unfamiliar with the local wildlife on what to do when facing a deer or wild turkey on a trail.
“I came out when no one was here the other day and watched a chipmunk jump in the pool and swim across,” Elkins said, amused. Lucky chipmunk.
Other than the occasional vagabond Chip or Dale, only The Sporting Club members have access to The Summit gathering places, and most of those members, according to Elkins, hail from the D.C., Chicago, Pennsylvania and Ohio areas, although he’s tracking a trend of owners coming from the Southeast.
The homes in The Summit Village are generally second and third homes for owners, those wishing to summer in West Virginia’s mountains and who rely on staff like Elkins to help them plan their annual family activities.
“We’re developing The Greenbrier property into becoming a more permanent neighborhood, “ said Elkins, adding that, by design, much property will remain undeveloped to respect the pristine mountain surroundings and the far-removed atmosphere attracting more potential buyers.
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