A ski resort with terrain for all levels and closeby lodging, lots of apres ski activities and a good ski school make for great vacations on snow.
Perhaps the best thing about being a ski resort in New Jersey is that residents of that state and the New York Boroughs can be on your slopes within a fairly short drive. For example, Mountain Creek is just 47 miles from the George Washington Bridge; 1.5 hours drive from Jersey City and for those in Western Pennsylvania towns (think Wilkes-Barre), it's under two hours.
Mountain Creek is the big kid on the block for winter fun in the Garden State. The four-season resort transforms itself into a winter playground every December. Mountain Creek divides its focus in half – South Peak for freestylers, Vernon Peak for skiing families.
But, Mountain Creek isn't the only game in town for skiing in New Jersey, though it is certainly the biggest and most sophisticated option. Little Campgaw Mountain Reservation in Mahway (the northernmost municipality in Bergen County) is a perfect place for getting the kids comfortable on skis.
We would be remiss, however, if we didn't acknowledge the year-round fun you can have for a few hours at a time at Big SnowAmerican Dream, the first indoor ski area in the United States in the Meadowlands. The ski "mountain" is located within a massive six-story, 180,000-square-foot complex. While there are learn-to-ski options, it’s also a spot for skiers and snowboarders to maintain their "ski legs" in the summer months.
Mountain Creek is located on Route 94 in Vernon, N.J. This mountain resort has it all, including slopeside lodging at the Appalachian and Black Creek Sanctuary, a luxury hotel and vacation condo rental at the base of Vernon Peak. The complex offers spacious studio, one- and two-bedroom units complete with kitchens, working fireplaces and mountainside views.
The resort went from about 15 percent of terrain dedicated to terrain parks to 45 percent, all at South Peak and South Lodge. South is venue for Mountain Creek's learn-to-freestyle programs with a progression across the mountain from never-ever to never-better. It plays host to the hordes of snowboarders from Manhattan who crowd the resort every winter weekend.
Vernon Peak, on the flip side, offers a more laid-back experience for families who want to ski in a relaxed atmosphere without teenage snowboarders whizzing past them on beginner trails.
Mountain Creek offers 45 trails and parks, an eight-lane snow tubing park, 100 percent snowmaking and night skiing, a 1,040-foot vertical drop, and 11 lifts including the eight-passenger Cabriolet Chair, the Vernon Triple, and the Sojourn Double.
If you are wondering if your memory still serves you, Hugh Hefner's Playboy Club at Great Gorge opened in Vernon Township in 1974. Today, it has been transformed into the Legends Resort and Country Club. If you are old enough, you just might have your own legendary memories of the place with its own bunny trails.
Campgaw Mountain Reservation in Mahway is an easy day trip. In fact, it will take just an hour from Manhattan. So, why is it cool? It's very small and intimate making it an ideal place for families to start their kids in the sport.
How small is it? Skiable terrain here is just 18 acres and 70 percent is rated easy. It is covered by 100 percent snowmaking. There are just five trails serviced by three "Magic Carpets." It just beckons young families. Get started here and then move on to Mountain Creek or the larger resorts in New York or Vermont. Should you want to stay overnight, there's plenty of lodging options in Mahweh.
There are basically two ski areas in the state: Mountain Creek and Campgaw Mountain Reservation. That said, the indoor Big Snow/American Dream is an option for short-time fun. The Hidden Valley private resort (don't confuse it with Hidden Valley, Pennsylvania. or Hidden Valley, Missouri) is no longer operating in that format.
But, there is good news. The National Winter Sport Education Foundation has created a program called Winter4Kids, led by a visionary named Schone Malliet. Its goal is to introduce 100,000 kids by the end of the decade who might normally spend winter indoors, to alpine and XC skiing and snowboarding. It is operating at Hidden Valley.
Mountain Creek with four mountain peaks and 187 acres of skiable terrain is by far the largest ski area in the state.
Mountain Creek is an ideal resort for snowboarders with its excellent parks. It's the place to be for Manhattan riders every weekend. Sneak out during the week if you can to beat the crowds.
Probably the most common way to get to the two N.J. ski resorts is by car. Another option for Manhattanites is a direct bus departing from Midtown (45th St/11th Ave.) and arriving at Mountain Creek. Services depart hourly and operate Monday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It takes approximately 2.5 hours.
New Jersey winters can be incredibly cold and (mostly) grey in the winter. But there’s still a chance of sunshine and blue skies. But, don't bank on it. However, winter is usually marked with long stretches of misty, cloudy days. Throughout the state, all year long, temperatures are consistent with the seasons. The winter months are usually very cold with January through March hovering between 25 to 35 degrees F (with regular snow and ice storms). The coldest month is January (average high temperature is 40 degrees Fahrenheit). But, hey, skiing is an outdoor sport done in the winter, as well as other winter sports.
Vernon is home to Mountain Creek Ski Area. Vernon Township is a nice place to live if you love the rural lifestyle. The Appalachian Trail even runs right through it. Vernon has a great amount of hiking trails to explore, stables, lodging, and Heaven Hill Farm, a picturesque place that offers a garden center, farmers market, food court, bakery, gift shop, wine tastings and ice cream. Visitors recommend the Mixing Bowl Restaurant that offers a varied menu in a historic setting with good prices – take out or eat in. You then can ski Mountain Creek whenever you wish.
New Jersey simply offers an attractive ski resort not far from the big markets of Northern New Jersey and the boroughs of New York City. It's a getaway opportunity, probably not a week's ski vacation. If your family is just getting the ski bug, don't overlook Campgaw. It's an easy, uncrowded opportunity for the kids to get a head start.