Reporting Jay Lloyd
New England ski resorts are already going full blast, and Pennsylvania isn’t far behind. Cold weather has fired up snow guns in the Pocono and Endless Mountains, and the first crystals of ice are rimming the northern lakes and ponds. It’s time to start planning ski and snowboarding getaways. Let’s begin on Pennsylvania’s northern tier, in the heart of the Endless Mountains. – Jay Lloyd
344 Elk Mountain Rd.
Union Dale, PA 18470
WHAT YOU’LL FIND:
Elk Mountain boasts the highest ski-able summit in eastern Pennsylvania, with a vertical drop of over 1,000 feet. That’s the elevation distance between the base and peak. With commanding views of distant valleys and the Susquehanna River, Elk is an imposing mountain that holds 27 trails and slopes to challenge advanced skiers and riders while also handing fledgling sliders a chance to hone some new skills on the beginner slopes.
For cruising skiers, a pair of trails, the Lehigh and Delaware, wind around the mountain for a mile-and-a-half of uninterrupted skiing punctuated by breathtaking panoramic vistas over the surrounding forest and countryside. The mix includes 13 black diamond-rated trails, cradling some of the steepest and longest headwalls in Pennsylvania. Snowboarders have two terrain parks studded with some of the latest tables, rails, jibs and jumps. Six lifts keep the uphill traffic moving, and over 50% of the mountain is lighted for night skiing and riding.
The base lodge supports the mountain with a fully staffed professional ski school, a well-stocked equipment rental shop, a cafeteria, the Winter Garden Restaurant and Bar and a spacious locker room for day or overnight storage.
WHAT IT COSTS:
All day adult lift tickets: $61 weekends and holidays, $50 weekdays
Beginners, children, seniors: $33 weekends, $30 weekdays
Ski Equipment Rental adults: $33 weekends, $30 weekdays
Children & Seniors: $28 weekends, $24 weekdays
Snowboard & Boot Rental: $37 day time/all days
For more ticket and equipment rental costs and ski school rates, visit: www.elkskier.com and click on “Rates.”
WHERE I’VE STAYED:
The Crystal Lake Inn is eight miles from the mountain and offers comfortable motel rooms in a rural setting beside a picturesque lake. Run by the Oliveri family for nearly five decades, the motel features a must-try Italian kitchen and ski-talk bar and lounge (more on that to follow). Room rates for two average $150 a night and include discounted lift tickets and breakfast.
The Fern Hall Inn shares Crystal Lake and offers uniquely furnished rooms in an early 20th century home that dates its real estate dealings back to Benjamin Franklin. Fern Hall is a meticulously maintained bed and breakfast with a gourmet restaurant and a small guest bar, plus a large common room. Rates vary and include discount lift tickets at Elk plus breakfast.
For a resort hotel with a popular restaurant and bar, try Nichols Village Hotel & Spa in Clark Summit, located 22 miles from the mountain. The hotel features an indoor pool and health club. Rates are as low as $99 a night with ski packages available on request.
WHERE TO EAT:
You must have a lunch at the Winter Garden Restaurant in the Elk Mountain base lodge. Cathedral ceilings, skylights and tall picture windows give this two-tiered restaurant a bright open feeling that allows you to sip and dine while watching skiers and riders gliding down the mountainside. The menu is varied and well suited to skiers. There’s a bracing chili bowl, spice tinged seafood Fra Diavolo, a roast turkey dinner or a citrus-rubbed salmon filet. If you’re in the mood for burgers, they make them to order.
When at Elk, Frank Oliveri’s Crystal Lake Hotel dining room is a culinary magnet. Wife Pat is at the desk, son Pat is behind the bar and Aunt Jean is in the kitchen turning out some of the tastiest pasta dishes, scampi and steaks that you’ll find in the mountains. A couple of tips: Everything Frank has isn’t always on the menu. When I call ahead for a reservation, I usually order up his thick and juicy lamb chops or a sizzling strip streak. (570-222-4511). When calling, ask for a fireside table in the lounge. There are only four, and you have a better chance to score one on weekday night.
HOW TO GET THERE:
From the Philadelphia area, take the Northeast Extension of the PA Turnpike to Exit 131. Then follow I-81 North to Exit 206 to the Route 374 exit and follow 374 to the mountain. Depending on your home location, it should take between two hours and fifteen minutes and three hours.