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BLUE KNOB MOUNTAIN
by Bill Lindner
My family and I went skiing at Blue Knob All Seasons Resort in Pennsylvania last Saturday. I looked forward to trying out what is advertised as "Pennsylvanias highest skiable mountain" at an altitude of 3,172 feet. The resort was about a 2 3/4 hour drive from our home near Washington, D.C. It was highway driving most of the way except for the actual road up the mountain. Blue Knob is different from most ski areas as the lodge and parking lots are located at the top of the mountain. It had snowed about 6 inches the night before and the road was steep and had some sharp curves. I wouldn't want to try it in a car with bad tires. Snowplows had cleared the heavy snow off the road and spread gravel on the steepest pitches.
The lodge at Blue Knob cannot be described as plush, but it is friendly and has everything skiers need. There is a rental area, ski shop, restaurant/snack bar, pub, ski school and Kinder Ski program for children from 4 to 11 years old.
The rental area was very busy but the crowd seemed to move through the process of trying on boots and being fitted for skis fairly quickly. The people working there were polite and patient, even with beginner skiers. Later that day the rental boot on my left foot became uncomfortable and the staff quickly gave me a new pair and I was back on the slopes in less than 10 minutes.
The Blue Knob trail map divides the mountain into the upper and lower mountain. The upper section has mostly beginner and intermediate runs. A wide green trail called Upper Mambo Alley starts at the summit and twists its way to the bottom of the mountain. It has some steep pitches that would probably be rated blue at other resorts. It was the first day my sons ever skied and Mambo was a perfect challenge for them. It was long and wide and gave them the thrill of skiing an entire mountain from top to bottom. On the extreme western border of the mountain was a blue slope called Jack Rabbit. Like Mambo Alley, it led from the summit. Slightly steeper and wide it was a great cruising run.
While making our way down these trails I noticed some ski tracks leading into the woods. When I looked closer I saw lots of tracks in the wooded areas next to the regular slopes. There were several glades listed on the trail map but people were skiing everywhere through the trees in at least 6 inches of fresh natural snow. I though to myself that people were really skiing this mountain, really getting to know it, not just following each other down sharply defined runs.
During the day, lift lines were very short for the most part, which is impressive for a ski area less than 3 hours from Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. At one point a longer line did develop at the Route 66 double chair at the bottom of the mountain and the resort staff almost immediately opened the High Hopes doble next to it and thereby eliminated the line.
I also appreciated the way the lift operators watched out for the safety of the people on the lifts. My sons, being first time skiers, had a little trouble getting on and off the chairlifts and twice the lift operators stopped their lifts without complaining and made sure my boys made it safely on and off the chairs.
The trail map lists the lower mountain at Blue Knob as an ungroomed area for experts only and it doesn't exaggerate. After trying most of the runs in this section I consider them the toughest in the Mid Atlantic area. One of the most interesting sections on the lower mountain was the intersection of Upper and Lower Extrovert, Lower Route 66 and Lower High Hopes, probably the three toughest runs on the mountain. The trails slammed into each other in a train wreck of huge mounds, larger than any moguls, each dropping away so steeply that you couldn't see their bottom halves.
At about noon we headed inside for the restaurant. Really more of a snack bar than a sit-down restaurant, it offered typical choices such as pizza, hot dogs, nachos and burgers. Like the rental shop, the snack bar was crowded but we quickly moved through the line and the people behind the counter were very friendly. The main seating area has a fireplace and was mostly filled with families and teenagers.
After lunch, my wife decided to stay inside while we skied. She sat by the fireplace in Muellers Pub and listened to a live band playing southern rock. The bar is a comfortable place, not fancy, but a good place to relax away from the families with small children, after taking on the tough slopes of Blue Knob.
I had checked out the trail map before going to Blue Knob and was most anxious to try a run called Upper Stembogan Bowl. I had never heard of a bowl in Pennsylvania or anywhere on the East Coast. When I saw it for the first time I was amazed to see so much snow. When I got to it there were only two other people on the slope. Easily 100 yards wide and more than that in vertical drop, Stembogen Bowl was different that any run I have seen in the East Coast including some of the top resorts in Vermont. The bowl was very steep and had some ice and moguls in the center. Even late in the day there was still some fresh snow on the left side of the bowl facing down which was the steepest section.
Under the bowl the Stembogen trail went to the bottom of the mountain. To the right of it was a sign leading to the Ditch Glades. I dropped into the glade found myself totally alone in the quiet, white woods. Probably a dry creek bed with steep banks, the glade curved down through the trees to the bottom of the mountain. A few people had already skied it but I found at least 18 inches of fresh snow on the sides before I came out at the chair lift.
When you go skiing in the Mid-Atlantic, the most you can usually expect is man-made snow covering most of the slopes and a few short steep pitches. At Blue Knob, with its 1,072 foot vertical, glades, bowl, long cruisers and steeps, you definitely get more than you expect.