When Pennsylvania skiers gather round the bar after the lifts close and talk about great — even memorable — runs, the conversation often drifts from mountain to mountain. It’s simply that certain summits rise above others on different types of slopes and trails. And the boastings are often very subjective, based on the preferences and skills of the individual skier. Having said that, the following list of top trails is just that, subjective, but believe me: you’ll have fun testing them. – Jay Lloyd
My two favorites (and where my kids hit the slopes for their maiden runs) are at Bear Creek Mountain Resort in nearby Berks County (it was Doe Mountain then) and at Big Boulder Park at Lake Harmony in the Poconos. The “Teddy Bear” and “Cub Run” slopes at Bear Creek are well protected from faster skiers who often use beginner slopes as a shortcut to lifts. A tree line protects the teaching area, and both child and adult beginners can concentrate on learning instead of dodging.
At Big Boulder, start a skiing experience on the adjacent “Little Sitzmark” and “Little Boulder” slopes. Both are well groomed and gently graded to take those first wedge turns that lead from summit to base. The runs here are long enough to give a beginner the confidence to cast an eye toward the next step up the skiing ladder.
NOVICE SLOPES AND TRAILS
A novice trail should be more than a learning experience; it should provide the signature thrills and vistas of the sport – the exhilaration that forges a craving for more. You get it near Tannersville in the Poconos at Camelback’s “Nile Mile.” This is (yes) 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 longer run.
On “Paradise” at Blue Mountain, a novice skier gets 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 great preparation for the advancing 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.“Thunderbolt” at Jack 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 the perfect length for maintaining 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 trail width while meandering downward from Pennsylvania’s highest vertical footage. These trails carry “intermediate” designations but require more concentration as skiers here work their way up to Elk’s black diamond challenge.
EXPERT SLOPES AND TRAILS
Advanced and expert skiers in Pennsylvania can demonstrate their stuff on showcase slopes at Camelback and Elk Mountains as fellow sliders watch from summit lodge and lifts. At Camelback, bump busting skiers take off on “Margie’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 coasts to the base over constantly changing terrain. Wipe out and it’s a long slide under the widening eyes of the lodge loungers.
At Elk Mountain, seasoned skiers looking for steep hills head straight to the nose-dive incline at the headwalls of “Susquehanna” and “Tunkhannock.” The most noticeable difference is that Tunkhannock is frequently bumped up, while Susquehanna begins the day groomed. Both slopes are among the longest steep runs in Pennsylvania, and an 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.
Midway between the invigorating aerobics of cross-country skiing and the exhilaration of 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 Elk Mountain’s “Delaware” trail. It’s nearly a mile-and-a-half of ego-boosting relaxation as it meanders through woods and fields against a scenic backdrop of farmland with the 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, it’s green circle for “easiest,” blue square for “more difficult” and black diamond for “most difficult.” Remember, they 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.