Skiing on Elk Mountain

Jay Lloyd/KYW Newsradio

Jay Lloyd's Getaway: Pennsylvania ski trails

January 04, 2019 - 7:00 am
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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — What's in a name? On the ski slopes, the name alone can be reassuring or intimidating. 

How about, "Ciao," "Jaws," Rip Cord," or "Plunge"? That's just one Vermont mountain where the names of super steep trails mean what they say. 

Then again, numerous hills sport names like "Dipsy Doodle" and "Heavenly." And so, when skiers gather round the bar after the lifts close and talk about memorable runs, the conversation often drifts from mountain to mountain, trail to trail. 

The challenges are often based on the preferences and skills of the individual skier. Having said that, the following list of top trails in the hills of Pennsylvania is subjective. But believe me, you'll have fun testing them.

Beginner slopes 

My two favorite learning mountains where my kids hit the slopes for their maiden runs are at Bear Creek Mountain Resort in nearby Berks County and Jack Frost Mountain at White Haven in the Poconos. 

The Teddy Bear and Cub Run slopes at Bear Creek are well protected from faster skiers. A tree line guards the teaching area. Beginners can concentrate on learning instead of dodging. 

At Jack Frost, the entire mountain is designed to keep skiers and snowboarders from getting in over their heads. The difficulty of the trails begins with the easiest on the west and becomes progressively tougher as you move east. The most westerly slope names tell the story — Frosty, Powder Puff and Snowflake. They form the complex of learning trails with dedicated lifts. 

As skiers and riders decide to move on to more challenging terrain, the beginner and ski school section holds a trio of moderately gentle trails to the base. Try Jane's Lane — it's the longest and puts you on the road to novice status.

Novice slopes and trails 

A novice trail offers more than a learning experience. It should provide the signature thrills of the sport — the exhilaration that forges a craving for more. 

You get it on Nile Mile at Camelback Mountain in the Poconos. This is a mile of changing steepness and breathtaking vistas around the eastern edge of the mountain. The turns and terrain give a novice skier a chance to develop rhythm and style over a long run.

On the Paradise slope at Blue Mountain, a novice skier absorbs a summit to base easy-cruising passage on a wide trail that invites a combination of short and long turns through a wooded scene of varied but forgiving degrees of steepness. It's a giant step toward becoming an advanced skier.

Advanced slopes and trails

Skiers who are not ready for the most challenging slopes but more than ready to step up to a cross between intermediate and easier black diamond trails have fun options at Jack Frost in the Poconos and Elk Mountain in Susquehanna County.

The Thunderbolt slope at Frost offers a straight, moderately steep run composed of changing grades that keeps an advancing skier alert while moving between a series of headwalls and constant pitch terrain. The trail is a perfect length to maintain concentration while still having fun on the run. 

At Elk Mountain, both the Lenape and Wissahickon trails are long, snow-covered scenic pathways that give an advancing skier changes in pitch and width while meandering downward from the highest Pennsylvania vertical footage. They are ideal for the intermediate skier and rider but require the concentration needed for advancement to Elk's black diamond challenge.

Expert slopes and trails

Advanced and expert skiers in Pennsylvania can show off on highly visible slopes at Camelback and Elk as fellow sliders watch from the summit lodge and lifts.

At Camelback, bump-busting skiers take off on Marjie's Delight, a slope that launches just below the deck of the Cameltop Lodge. A steep headwall, studded with moguls, drives into a straight slope that plummets to the base over constantly changing terrain. If you wipe out here, it's a long slide under the eyes of the lodge loungers.

At Elk Mountain, seasoned skiers looking for steep terrain head straight to the nose-dive incline at the headwalls of Susquehanna and Tunkhannock slopes. The most noticeable difference is that Tunkhannock is frequently bumped up, while Susquehanna begins the day groomed. Both slopes are among the longest and steepest runs in Pennsylvania and the audience of fellow sliders can be seen riding the chairlifts that parallel Susquehanna and soar directly over Tunkhannock. 

In the days when aerial skiing was allowed, you could come eyeball to eyeball with an inverted skier while riding the lift.

Cruising trail

Midway between the invigorating aerobics of cross-country skiing and the exhilaration of going downhill lies cruising, an easy-riding, gravity-powered, gradual descent accompanied by often spectacular scenery. 

A top trail designation for cruising has to go to the Delaware trail on Elk Mountain. It's nearly a mile-and-a-half of ego-boosting relaxation as it meanders through woods and fields against the scenic backdrop of a snow-covered valley and distant mountains below.

As the years and vertical feet of skiing pile up, cruising often becomes the discipline of choice. In Pennsylvania, Elk's Delaware has to be the most satisfying last run.

Reminder: When looking at trail designations, remember that a green circle represents the easiest trail; blue square for more difficult; and black diamond for most difficult. The signs, however, are only used to compare degrees of difficulty on that particular mountain. They are not universal designations to compare one mountain against another. 

A black diamond in Pennsylvania bears no relation to a black diamond in the Canadian Laurentians.

Always consult a trail map before heading out or choosing an unfamiliar trail. Use a paper pocket map. I found that cellphone service for online maps is often unreliable on remote ski trails.