Coal surface mining has had profound effects on the steeply sloping central Appalachian (U.S.A.) landscape since the early 1950s. The "shoot-and-shove" mining practices of past years resulted in a number of environmental problems. A federal law, The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA), was passed to rectify these problems. A major provision of SMCRA is its requirement that mined lands be returned to "approximate original contour" (AOC). SMCRA has brought vast improvements in reclamation practice to central Appalachia. However, the return of surface mined lands to AOC remains highly controversial, as many criticize the environmental, economic, and land-use effects of AOC. An alternative to conventional contour surface mining (AOC) was investigated at an experimental mining site in Wise County, Virginia. The terrain at this site is the steeply sloping "points and hollows" topography commonly found throughout the central Appalachian coalfields, and the equipment utilized was typical of haul-back mining operations throughout the region. This experimental alternative allowed all highwalls to be covered and all SMCRA performance standards (except AOC) to be met. A detailed investigation of the cost of mining and reclamation indicates that the experimental reclamation method was less costly than conventional AOC reclamation at this site. Additional favorable consequences result from implementation of the alternative method, including an improvement of the post-mining land-use potential and less-injurious environmental effects. Although AOC represents a vast improvement over the reclamation methods which preceded SMCRA, additional improvements are possible; opportunities to improve the economic and environmental consequences of coal surface mining in central Appalachia are not being realized under the prevailing AOC reclamation regime.