The hottest place in West Virginia was Snowshoe Mountain Resort on Saturday as 58 contestants competed for $10,000 in cash and prizes in the 19th annual Fire on the Mountain Chili Cook-off. Nearly 1,500 guests packed the mountaintop to sample some of the world's best chilis, while immersed in live music and family entertainment.
Fire on the Mountain continues to draw some of the most proficient chefs of any chili cook-off, with many contestants traveling great distances to test their recipes and skills. In addition to the red chili champion, Snowshoe crowned winners in the salsa and verde (green) chili categories on Friday.
The red chili competition was fierce on Saturday as a field of experienced chefs, which included 13 contestants who have competed at the world championships, competed for top honors. When the votes were tallied, Larry Lentz of Kentucky walked away the big winner, taking home a check for $10,000 and bragging rights. Lentz will now compete for $25,000 at the National Chili Cook-off later this fall.
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ONE SPICY SAMPLE AT A TIME — Clockwise from above, Ziggy Ritenour of Radford, Virginia, puts a sample of his “Liquid Plumber” chili into an official contest entry container. Larry Lentz, left, accepts the Regional Red Chili Championship trophy from Fire on the Mountain emcee Roy Riley Saturday afternoon. Lentz will now compete for $25,000 at the National Chili Cook-off later this fall in Manchester, New Hampshire. Joshua Simmons, Pete Monico and David Houser brewed up a batch of “Death Rattle Chili” for the competition. Their chili was so hot, the requested guests sign a waiver before sampling.Members of the “Chili Haus” took home an award for the Best Decorated Booth at the Fire on the Mountain Chili Cook-off Saturday afternoon at Snowshoe Mountain. The “Chili Haus” was created by Jesse Forbes, left, of Charleston and Chris Schumacher of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, as well as some other friends.
Each year, the competition draws chili enthusiasts from across the nation to spend a weekend filled with good times and good friends. David Houser, Pete Monico and Joshua Simmons brewed up a batch of "Death Rattle Chili" for First Tracts Real Estate to enter into the competition. Houser explained their chili is extremely hot because of all the jalapenos, bhut jolokias and habaneros used in the recipe. In fact the chili is so hot, the trio requested guests sign a waiver before sampling.
"We've have a great time," Houser said. "I have enjoyed all of the camaraderie and watching the people's expressions when they taste our chili. The bhut jolokia, or ghost chili, is the hottest chili in the world. That's what makes our chili so hot. A lot of people who have tried it start crying. Some threw up. Other people liked it. They love the pain. It actually releases an endorphine and makes some people want it more."
Ziggy Ritenour of Radford, Virginia, enjoys entering chili cook-offs around the country. He's been competing at Snowshoe for more than a decade. His concoction, "liquid plumber," hasn't won at Snowshoe but it hasn't dampened his spirit for competition.
"I love coming up here," Ritenour said. "The atmosphere is just great. It's also a nice break from the hot weather we've been having where I'm from. When it's too hot, people just don't have a taste for chili."
Veteran chili cook Beverly King of Virginia has been entering the Fire on the Mountain Chili Cook-off since the 1990s. She took home the championship twice with her "Great Bowls of Fire" recipe.
"I'd love to win the competition again, but it involves a great deal of luck," King said. "It's basically just meat and spices. I get the spices from Texas and I have a butcher in Silver Springs, Maryland, who gives me wonderful meat."
Jesse Forbes of Charleston and Chris Schumacher of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, were among a group of friends who took home best booth for their "Chili Haus" stand.
"This is the third year we have done it," Forbes said. "We tried it the first year to just to see how it went. We started getting into it and my wife got all into decorating the booth. It's just wonderful to be out here. The weather is great. We're surrounded by good people and it's a lot of fun."
Larry Summey of Dunbar has been competing since the event first began. His favorite part is raising money for the Challenged Athletes of West Virginia.
"The best part of any cook-off is the camaraderie amongst all the cooks," Summey said. "You meet a lot of people from a lot of different venues and walks of life, but we all come together to cook chili to raise money for charities. If we were to win, then it's bragging rights amongst friends. It's an extended family. When we come to Snowshoe, we look forward seeing the people we haven't seen in a few months. We all come up here and have a good time and raise a little money for the challenged athletes of West Virginia. That's what it's all about."
Throughout the weekend several fun activities were scheduled for the entire family including arts and crafts, kids movies and a variety of chili games. Live music was also provided on the Village Stage by Jason Masi, Blame the Dog and Dragonfly.
Fire on the Mountain is the largest chili cook-off outside the International Chili Society's national championship event. Many of the guest sampling chili donated an optional $5 entrance fee to the Challenged Athletes of West Virginia, which among other initiatives, helps fund Snowshoe's adaptive ski program. Additional funds were collects for Challenged Athletes as guests used monetary votes to determine the weekend's People's Choice Winner. Approximately $5,000 was donated to the nonprofit organization.
Snowshoe Mountain is a four-season resort in Pocahontas County. Snowshoe offers a unique variety of lodging, dining and shopping options. Several special events and activities are scheduled throughout the year and make the resort a popular destination for the entire family.
For more information visit www.snowshoemtn.com.