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.
Pennsylvania played a vital role in holding together the states of the newly formed Union. That’s somewhat why it’s called the “Keystone State.” It still plays a vital role in the snowsports scene in the United States.
Here’s why. The ski areas here are close to the large population areas of the Mid-Atlantic and northeastern states. They breed generations of skiers that keep the sport alive and well and serve as “home base” for the huge numbers of skiers and riders in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York and Washington, D.C. environs. Many ski areas are within two hours of the big cities. Some of the resorts – particularly in the Pocono Mountains – are almost neighbors so you can ski or ride several in a getaway. A big beneficiary of those who learn here will be Vail Resorts who has been on a shopping spree in the state.
You’ll find a mix of sizes, styles and reasons to ski or ride at Pennsylvania’s ski areas and that makes it fun. Variety, they say, is the spice of skiing. Or something like that. It’s all good.
Seven Springs (Seven Springs): The biggest (and considered the best by many) is 100 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. There are 33 slopes and trails, seven – count ‘em – terrain parks and 10 lifts. The terrain parks are usually heralded as the best in the East. The resort is now part of Vail Resorts.
Camelback (Tannersville): This the queen of the Pocono ski areas and is also among the very best in the state. It is an ideal family ski area with 60 skiable acres and a very manageable 800-foot vertical drop. Its learning programs are award-winners. The tubing park, when the kids need a break from the slopes, is the largest in the county. More diversions? There’s an LED light show and a wow of a water park, also among the largest anywhere. Pack the swim suit.
Blue Mountain (Palmerton): Many skiers believe Blue Mt. in the Poconos to be the best because of its 1,100 vertical, 171 acres, and 40 runs. You’ll get in more skiing here because 16 lifts divert the long lift lines. Besides, you can ski or snowboard until you drop as most of the mountain is lit for night skiing. Come early and stay late. There are five terrain parks and a ton of tubing lanes.
Elk Mountain (Union Dale): You’ll drive a bit longer to get here (maybe 40 minutes), but Elk’s reputation for getting more of the stuff that falls from the skies might be the decision-maker. It’s beyond the Poconos in the Endless Mountains (sounds like Middle Earth, right?). The high 1,000-foot vertical drop, seven lifts, 180 acres of ski terrain, 27 trails and two terrain parks make the resort popular despite the extra miles. Stick to the Poconos for tubing, however.
Blue Knob (Altoona): Not to be confused with Blue Mountain, this resort is in the Allegheny Mountains plunked in the center of the state. The higher elevation makes for generally good snow conditions all season long and the vertical of 1,100 feet means nice long runs, without as much yo-yoing. You can compete in NASTAR racing here. The most difficult runs are right below Stemhogan Bowl. Tubing is only available on weekends.
Montage (Scranton): Those who live in the Scranton area consider themselves lucky to have Montage right in their backyard, just eight miles from the center of the city. There’s an 1,000-foot vertical, 27 named trails, and a terrain park. Everything is bright at night. Green and blue are the key colors, but there are black runs in the Northface area. With the city right there, you won’t want for lodging, restaurants and nightlife.
Whitetail (Mercersburg): The popular resort opened in 1991 and quickly became a fave. There’s an 1,800-foot elevation and a 935-foot vertical drop. There’s a high-speed quad chair that really speeds things up. Terrain parks and restaurants have been recently added and the ski area is part of the Vail Resorts family these days. Close-by lodging is at the bed and breakfast Mercersburg Inn or in Hagerstown, Md., about a half hour away.
Jack Frost/Big Boulder (White Haven): Here’s skiing an hour away from Philly at sister ski areas five miles apart. Jack Frost is the bigger of the two hills. It tops out at 2,000 feet with a vertical drop of 600 feet. It’s more of a traditional ski area with trails for all skill levels. Big Boulder is geared more to snowboarders with more than 50 percent of the mountain dedicated to terrain parks.
Some more to enjoy: The mountains honed over the years by industry pioneer Irv Naylor – Liberty (Carroll Valley) and Roundtop (Lewisberry) - are only an hour from either D.C. or Baltimore. Liberty sports nine lifts including five quad chairs, 16 trails and 100 skiable acres. Roundtop has 20 trails and nine lifts. One is a covered magic carpet lift for the young’uns. Shawnee Mountain (Stroudsburg) is a family-owned ski resort in the eastern Poconos. It boasts one of the largest rental facilities in the country.
And more: Ski Big Bear (Lackawaxen) offers 18 trails, seven lifts including three Magic Carpet lifts, and 650 vertical feet. Bear Creek (Macungie) in Lehigh Valley has 23 trails, 21 runs, seven lifts, and 86 acres. Eagle Rock (Hazelton) has 12 lit slopes ranging from beginner to most difficult, offering up views of the Blue Mountain terrain. Hidden Valley (Laurel Highlands) has 25 slopes, seven lifts, and half green skiing and riding. Longest run is 1.5 miles.
Tussey Mt. (Boalsburg) has 50 acres and three lifts and is a good spot to learn. Spring Mt. (Spring Mount) is a little hill a half hour from Philly. Ski Sawmill (Morris) is a family ski area with 12 trails and four lifts with 515-foot drop. Mt. Pleasant of Edinboro (Cambridge Springs) is another small area in a good snowbelt.
Pick ‘em: Seven Springs is the biggest. It is in Western Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh. Close on its heels are Camelback and Blue Mountain in the Poconos.
If you like ski areas relatively close together so you can hit several of them on a long weekend or perhaps during the holidays or school breaks, this is your place. Pocono resorts are Camelback and Blue Mt. (biggest and best), Jack Frost/Big Boulder, Montage and Big Bear.
Apples and oranges. Camelback is family time, a really good ski area and a huge waterpark, while Blue Mt. is more of a ski 'til you drop affair with long runs and a great lift system that spreads out lift lines. Both are terrific, so choose away or ski and ride ‘em both.
If you live in the region, the word Nor’easter can just roll off your tongue. These are powerful coastal storms and they usually don’t spare the Keystone State. Consider them baby hurricanes and they can ruin your ski day and drive to and from the mountains. On the other hand, they can leave behind significant natural snow if the wind doesn’t get to it first. The biggest beneficiary of snow is usually Seven Springs. The average mid-winter temps are just above freezing, but they can seriously drop from there.
Pennsylvania has a plethora of ski areas from which to choose and skiing and riding here has been going on for a long, long time. Look for loads of improvements since Vail Resorts has taken ownership of a number of resorts here. Don’t forget to treat your honey to a soak in those famous Pocono heart-shaped tubs.