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Firsthand Report: Snö Mountain
By Lou Botta, DCSki Columnist
February 14, 2009

I’ve been going to Montage, now Snö Mountain, for the last six years. It was a sleepy hill with tremendous potential, reminiscent of a past before tort liability concerns forbade local towns and counties to have their local ski hills - a time when it was believed that Government was in charge of providing recreation for the people. Oh well… that’s a discussion for another forum. The fact is that Lackawanna County used to own Montage and three years ago they decided to sell the entire area in pieces.

The ski area was sold to a new resort operator, but they could not buy the land adjacent to it. The county sold much of the buildable land to a developer who built housing areas totally unrelated to supporting a ski area. As a result, the resort is landlocked, deprived of the real estate needed to fund and build lodging, housing, and entertainment areas to make it into a major, national class operation. The fact that this land could have turned the sleepy mountain into a tax windfall for the county treasury apparently escaped the County Father’s minds. A sad fact, as the expert terrain on this mountain is first class. And with the decline of industry in the Scranton area, a large quality resort could have filled much of the economic void.

Entrace to Snö Mountain Resort. Photo provided by Lou Botta.

The silver lining underneath the clouds is that the lack of major development translates into the newly purchased resort maintaining a small town charisma and an extremely friendly atmosphere. Still, the new owners have done an amazing job of upgrading the old Montage into a very efficient resort within their limitations. One of these limitations is the lack of funds generated by real estate to upgrade lifts and other infrastructure, as in most of the large resort operations. Nevertheless, it is amazing what they have done in the past three years. Besides improved snowmaking, and outstanding grooming, they also have the best ski lodge food in the Mid Atlantic, and that’s not an idle statement.

Longest line of the day at Iron Horse. Photo provided by Lou Botta.

Old Montage is now Snö Mountain. It features top-to-bottom snowmaking with new blowers that are the envy of any major resort. The lack of lodging immediately adjacent to the resort means that it is primarily a local mountain, frequented by skiers and boarders within a 100-mile radius. That also translates into experienced skiers and boarders who are cognizant of ski culture and snow etiquette. There are very few if any “yahoos” on the Snö slopes. There is none of the line-cutting, rudeness and lack of gentility prevalent in many other Mid Atlantic resorts.

We came over to Snö from DC on two buses with approximately 90 people in the group. We lodged at the Best Western in Wilkes-Barre, about 10 miles to the South. There are literally no upscale accommodations anywhere in the area, so budget hotels like Best Western are the best one can wish for. However, the Best Western is a clean and friendly place with a large pool, equally large hot tubs, and generally quality accommodations, despite a décor that evokes memories of music by Depeche Mode, early U2, and Ronald Reagan’s speech telling Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall…

The most salient feature arriving at Snö Mountain is the lack of crowds. There are quite a few cars in the parking lot, but it seems that there is space for everyone. The parking lot is about 75 feet above the main lodge, so one has to hoof it down a set of double stairs, or in the case of our group, buses are allowed to proceed down a narrow alley loop right next to the main lodge, drop the skiers, and depart at the end of the alley. In the same way, there is a conspicuous lack of crowds in the lifts, and sometimes a skier finds himself alone in what would be an overcrowded trail in other mountains.

Like most Pennsylvania resorts, Snö has a complicated mix of tickets: day, day only, half day, day and night, night only etc. They offer all, junior, senior and military discounts.

As in most of the Pennsylvania mountains, the ridges go from Southwest to Northeast, with the main face of Snö facing the Northwest. The expert runs, however, are in a protected bowl facing North, below the lodge level.

Lockers at the main level of the lodge. Photo provided by Lou Botta.

The main lodge has been modernized since the sale of the resort. New lockers, changing rooms, and cafeteria await the guests. The lockers are located both in the main lodge level and the lower level of the lodge. Another wonderful feature at Snö is a sit-down restaurant with excellent food, but more on that later. I will say now, however, they had outstanding coffee, obviously brewed fresh, not the night before.

After buckling up, we went to check the conditions on the green slopes. The Shuttle Lift chair is a triple, slow as molasses, but affords a good view of the terrain and the features. The green slopes are very forgiving, gentle and straight as an arrow. We checked the conditions by going down Highball and Easy Street, which parallel each other. Each was exquisitely groomed, obviously an optimum place for a beginner.

“Light blue” terrain at Snö Mountain. Photo provided by Lou Botta.

An interesting feature as we were crossing the green and blue runs was the Snö Zip Line. For those tired of skiing, also for the non-skiers and those visiting Snö during the summer periods, the Zip Line is a blast. A bit pricey, $15.00 for the first ride and $5.00 thereafter, the Zip Line takes the rider on a harness, down a line to the bottom of the resort at vertiginous speed. A series of bellows slow down the harness to safety before offloading.

Heading North, we then headed down the blue runs Spike/Spur to the vintage Iron Horse triple, and proceeded to take three other blue runs: Switch, Whistler and Upper Runway down to the Iron Horse chair. This descent took us through what I would call “very light blues”. Then we headed down the last two runs to the North, Upper Fast Track and Snake, down almost the full length of the resort to the Long Haul Lift, yet another slower triple chair. The terrain down from the base of Iron Horse is significantly more challenging than the upper terrain. As a matter of fact, I would say there was a lack of real intermediate runs in the resort, as the marked blues were quite easy, and the lower terrain was markedly more challenging. However, both blues and black diamonds were groomed to perfection.

Right from the base of Long Haul Lift, a diagonal trail descended about another 200 feet to the Phoebe Snow Lift, which serves almost exclusively challenging terrain. The resort has a map that labels two of these runs as “double-Blues”, but on the resort itself they are marked as black diamonds. The top of the Long Haul lift is also the parking lot level, allowing for a day’s end without having to walk up the steep stairs from the lodge.

When it comes to black diamonds, Snö has some very good terrain. Lower Fast Track, Lower Runaway, Rattler, and Cannonball are indeed challenging. And the double-black diamonds were also quite steep. The steepest of these was the legendary White Lightning, easily over 400 feet of an amazing 50 degree incline. Although in recent years the steepness of the run has meant icy moguls, this time it was absolutely powder filled and very forgiving. We probably did this run about 20 times in the two days we were there skiing.

Entrance warning at White Lightning. Photo provided by Lou Botta.

Not as steep, but also worth mentioning, is the black diamond Smoke, which twists under the Phoebe Snow lift, and Boomer, dubbed as a double black, which although not as steep as White Lightning, it nevertheless provides a welcome challenge.

The pasta bar. Photo provided by Lou Botta.

We took a late lunch at 2 p.m. at the Snö Grill, a sit-down restaurant, next to the cafeteria. Not many ski resorts have sit down restaurants in the lodges, fewer yet have good quality food in either cafeteria or sit down restaurants. Besides an excellent menu that includes blue cheese burgers, large salads, huge French fries orders, and excellent grilled chicken, The Snö Grill has a full bar with both premium, microbrew and normal commercial beer, and a separate pasta bar that is the rage. At the pasta bar, a chef cooks the food individually for the customer, in the way that the customer wants it. There is also roast beef and ham in the bar. A variety of sauces compliment the pasta bar. We came out of there quite satisfied.

The cafeteria. Photo provided by Lou Botta.

The two days we skied at Snö had different weather conditions, Saturday being cold and sunny, and Sunday being warm and cloudy with some rain in the early morning. Despite the warm spell, the conditions remained excellent throughout the weekend.

Overall, Snö is an excellent resort if one is aware of the slow lifts and the lack of seriously intermediate terrain. That can turn off some people. On the slow lifts, that is easy to overlook given the lack of crowds. I would say that in some of its sister Pocono locations, the wait for a high-speed quad and the transit time to the top is probably longer than a no-wait and a relatively slow transit to the top at Snö.

The resort operators have taken pains to ensure guest comfort at Snö. Besides excellent food, short lines, free ski check during rest periods, and an abundance of lockers, the expert terrain is as good or better than anywhere in the East. That is the salient point of this resort. I can’t wait to go back.

White Lightning pitch from below. Photo provided by Lou Botta.

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Woody
9 years ago
Great writeup, Lou! I’ve skied Sno only once — at night back in the last year of their operation by the county under the name Montage. I have to agree with your analysis about the predominance of good novice/low intermediate skiing above the lodge and surprisingly challenging expert drops on the lower 60% of the mountain. Glad to learn that the new owners have made some needed changes. Also nice to see what the place looks like in the daytime!
Bill O
9 years ago
Nice report! Sno has the best snowmaking in the midatlantic. The new owners lined the slopes with fan guns when they took over and they are not afraid to use them.
While the sit down restaurant is nice and uncrowded, the main lodge is small and VERY crowded with bags all over and under the tables with parents of tubers guarding tables. They took out a wall of lockers and put in video and arcade games this year. Now instead of feeling like I am booting up in a high school cafeteria, I feel like I am booting up in a bowling alley.
That said, the slopes are VERY uncrowded; even on weekends. Conditions stay good into the night. While they’ve made some improvements this year, the lighting is still not good with a lot of dark spots. They need to redo the complete lighting system as the original was parking lot lights.
For people driving from the DC/Maryland area, I would recommend a 1/2 day or night visit on the way to/from Elk which is only 1/2 hour farther north and offers much better terrain. While the new owners are making improvements, I wouldn’t spend 2 days at Sno and miss a day at Elk.
Greg
9 years ago
Got a weekday morning ticket a couple weeks ago. There were maybe 10 people on the mountain? The snow was perfect. The expert runs at the bottom are fun, but waaaay too short. In fact with such slow lifts, it feels like it takes 20 minutes up, 2 minutes down.
wojo
9 years ago
Last two years we have hit Sno and Elk and stayed at a Days Inn. Great trip, both hills are empty!
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