Skiing from North-Central New Jersey
By David Cronheim
Very often its hard for me to sneak out and go skiing from my house in Watchung, in Somerset County New Jersey, because the nearest ski areas are about an hour away. Last year I tried several area resorts. Here is what I found out. I skied Blue Mountain, Mountain Creek, and Elk Mountain.
Blue Mountain is probably the most convenient ski resort for people along the I-78 corridor. It takes about an hour from my house. In addition to being close it also has Pennsylvania's highest vertical, a modest 1,082 ft. Not bad for Pennsylvania though. I skied there in the early season, mid December. They only had 7 trails open, but I was able to learn a lot from my visit. They may have had only seven trails open, but they had the most open terrain in the area. What surprised me most was how good the conditions were.
I was skiing with my Aunt, Uncle, and their two fairly young kids who all are from California and used to skiing lush powder. They kept asking me on the drive there, "When does the snow start?" Referring to the lack of white stuff on the ground. It had dusted the night before, giving the earth that powdered sugar look. When I got there I was a little bit incredulous about the ski conditions, but when I hit the slopes my opinion changed. I started of my day with a run down Easy Out to Vista. I was surprised that the snow was so soft and good. The snow was limited to the trails, and nothing else, but the base was good. There were no bare spots or rocks.
After I repeated the first run, availing myself of the small jump carved out, I decided to see what else was open. From near the Vista Double Chair I took Midway, a black down to the Main Street Double Chair. I was greeted by what I can only call a strange chairlift. It worked like a traffic light. When the light turned green the gates in from of you opened and you skied onto the lift. The chairs themselves were a bit antiquated and slow, but I didn't mind, I was skiing.
I took a run down Main Street a straightforward black and boarded the Burma Double Chair, the sister chair to the Main Street Chair. At around that point, noon, a new trail opened, Lazy Mile. It was about a mile long and wound its way gently down to the Main Street Double/Burma Double base area. It was a nice blue and a badly needed change of pace. I skied a few more runs had lunch and called it a day.
Overall, it was great experience. I saw Blue Mountain's dedication to offering good snow conditions despite bad weather conditions. It was a great day.
Okay, Elk Mountain is a pretty good haul from where I live, but it's worth it. Elk Mountain is not a Pocono ski resort, it is in the Endless Mountains, on the fringe of the lake effect snow belt. Elk boasts a 1,000 vertical, not bad for Pennsylvania. I learned how to ski at Elk, so I suppose I have a slight sentimental attachment to Elk, but it is well deserved. Elk Mountain bears no resemblance to a Pennsylvania ski, but looks more like Vermont. Elk has some great steeps that are as steep as many Vermont blacks. Their signature trail, Susquehanna is incredibly steep. Their mogul trail, Upper Tunkhannock, is just as steep, but has huge bumps. Elk is a great place for beginners, with great beginner terrain and a variety of green trails. This is my favorite Pennsylvania ski area. It has one quad and a bunch of doubles, but I have never, and I mean literally never, waited in a lift line. They have some night skiing, but it is limited to about 8 trails, but the night skiing is very well lit and I had no trouble seeing.
This place is a hidden wonder. There are never ant lift lines and the snow quality is the best in Pennsylvania. Elk has that old fashioned New England ski area feel from years gone by. I wish I was there now. Enjoy my secret place, just don't tell anyone about it, or I'll lose my favorite ski area to the masses.
I went to Mountain Creek last year on my birthday for some night skiing. I went expecting a lot, given all of the money that Intrawest pumped into the place. I started by the burnt down lodge, which had been replaced by a pre-fab building. I started on the Cabriolet, an 8-passenger open-air gondola. I took a few runs, then headed over to Bear Mountain. I went there expecting a bunch of steeps, given that fact that the whole mountain was listed as being black diamonds. Many of the trails were as flat as greens. It was irritating because I was expecting so much. The lighting was sub-par and I fell a lot because of the lack of lighting. I was not very impressed with the mountain itself, which claimed to have 1,040 ft. of vertical drop. I didn't see it. It was certainly not continuous. It had the feel of about 750 ft.
I went there expecting a lot given its size. It has 4 mountain peaks and a lot of trails. It was a good skiing experience, but they seriously over rate their terrain. I had to pole on a lot of the blacks. It was a little strange, but after I while I didn't car what the sign said and skied for pure enjoyment.