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Pennsylvania Skiing — A Great Way To Beat The Cold Weather Blues

29 January 2011 No Comment

Eastern Pennsylvania just got a dumping of somewhere between 9 to 18 inches of snow, depending on where your shovel hit the pavement, and to be honest on days like this I don’t like to travel farther than the wine store down the street. I’m a warm-weather person. If I go out in the snow and cold, it’s usually to some place with a great heating system and some warm spirits.

I know I was in the minority last summer when many people were complaining about the constant heat and string of 90-degree-plus days. I’m happiest when I’m roasting my pale Irish skin on a beach somewhere, daring Mother Nature to penetrate by SPF 45.

But I love skiing. Go figure.

Elk Mountain's Upper Tunkhannock is a great mogul run but I really like the wide-open, steep cruising trails. (Photo courtesy of Elk)

I think it’s the excitement of the sport, the challenge of new terrain, the adrenaline rush when I’ve mastered a new run and can keep up with my skiing friends. I started back years ago when I was talked into going along on a high school ski club trip because they needed to fill the bus, and my first outing was on 200 cm skis that were the only things left in the rental shop. Needless to say, it was a disaster of Biblical proportions because I wasn’t the only first-timer on the trip.

One of my friends decided to take a short-cut down a closed trail. Another one came up to me in the lodge, pointed up hill and said, “See that hay bale by the lift pole there? I didn’t.”

I think the teacher who served as ski club advisor retired after that trip … to Phoenix.

Still, I have stuck with it for years and I am happy to say that I can keep up with my friends on most slopes in eastern Pennsylvania. If you’ve never skied, if you’re afraid of injuries or if you don’t like the cold weather, all I can say is just give it a try. That said, I thought I would introduce you to my favorite three ski areas, all within easy reach.

Bear Creek

Formerly known as Doe Mountain, this little mountain is a great learner hill. It’s been under new ownership for about 10 years now and the owners have put significant money into the property – including a new lodge that can stand with anything in Colorado. They have also upgraded the runs, improved the lifts and trail system and, most of all, made it a Mecca for snowboarders.

Because of its proximity to Philadelphia, Allentown and the suburban counties in between, Bear Creek can get very crowded on weekends and snow days (Kids can’t get to school but they can always find their way to the mountain. Again, go figure.) But if you want to try the sport, this is a great little place to start.

Location, great instructors and a snowboard park make Bear Creek a popular destination for new or younger skiers. (Photo courtesy of Bear Creek)

The runs are fairly short and there is a nice diversity. You can start on some pretty easy trails and work your way up to the steeper, bumpier runs within your first day or two. Runs like Kodiak and Timberline will give you the chance to find your balance while Extreme and Sasquatch offer quick, bumpy rides to challenge you once you’ve gotten your ski feet under you.

Bear Creek has a very good ski school and an excellent Ski Patrol. It also offers equipment rentals, child care and several great restaurants and dining options.


Blue Mountain

Like Bear Creek, Blue is very popular with school kids because of its proximity to metro areas such as the Lehigh Valley and western New Jersey but it offers a much greater variety of terrain aimed at a more advance skier. It does have a ski school and a couple runs that are great for beginners. But the problem with Blue – for newbies, at least – is the runs to the bottom of the mountain take some real skill. They are either fairly steep or they are winding and crowded.

Still, once you get to the bottom and can access the twin double-seat lifts, the rest of the mountain is open to you. You can also park at the bottom lodge and use the high-speed chairs to reach the top. While Blue typically attracts a much more aggressive skier, it has reserved several runs, such as Burma Road and Paradise for slow, easy skiing.

Once you have mastered them you can move on to Main Street, Raceway and then Challenge and Razor’s Edge – both long, steep and usually bumpy runs.


Elk Mountain

This is my favorite. Located off I-80 at the north end of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Northeast Extension, it’s a bit of a hike from the Philadelphia region – but it’s well worth the drive for experienced skiers. Elk is a skier’s mountain, probably the closest thing to Vermont skiing you will find in this state. Most of the runs are rated Intermediate or Expert.

It’s long, often steep and wide runs let you turn ‘em loose and because of its focus on experience, the ski patrollers aren’t as antsy as their counterparts at most other areas – just don’t be stupid.

My favorite time to visit Elk (or any ski area, for that matter), is midweek when the crowds are smallest. But if you can get to Elk during the day, midweek, you can feel like you own the mountain. My friends and I used to go up a couple times a year and we would ride the lift to the top, ski down and grab a chair again with almost no waiting.

We would start on one side of the mountain and work our way across to the other side, skiing every run from Lehigh to Mahican and then going back and doing repeat runs on our favorites (Chippewa, Tecumseh, and Tioga for me). Elk will tire you out if you get there on the right day, but you’ll be talking about it all the way home and probably for days afterward.


For more about skiing in Pennsylvania or to learn more about lesson plans, rates, hours and trail conditions at your favorite mountain, go to www.skipa.com

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