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Firsthand Report: Peak Time at Blue Knob
By Jim Kenney, DCSki Columnist
February 20, 2007

There are a dozen ski areas within a three-hour radius of the Baltimore-Washington area. They provide nice variety, each with a unique personality and pleasing attributes for all snowriders. But to be honest, you haven’t skied the mid-Atlantic until you’ve skied Blue Knob Resort in southwestern Pennsylvania. And you haven’t really skied the true Blue Knob until you’ve skied it after a major natural snowfall. I brought friends and family for a two-day visit to Blue Knob over President’s Day Weekend 2007. The area received 19 inches of new snow in the preceding few days before our arrival. We got several more inches during our stay. The skiing was flat out amazing.

We arrived at Blue Knob on Saturday morning, February 17, 2007. It was a peak day in every way. The crowds were substantial, but not overwhelming. Lift lines never really exceeded about five minutes, but trail traffic was heavy. One of the many cool things about Blue Knob, however, is that a gnarly, remote-feeling black diamond run is always handy for crowd avoidance. The visibility was good. High temperatures cracked 20 degrees with uncharacteristically light winds. Following weeks of good snowmaking temperatures, the addition of recent natural snow had opened up the WHOLE mountain. The trail conditions were about as good as they get at Blue Knob with packed powder on the groomers and piles of loose powder in the copious glades that distinguish the Blue Knob landscape.

After a warm-up run with my family on Mambo Alley (an easy two mile run), we splintered off into subgroups. My teenage son and his friend went in the intermediate direction, my young daughter and wife went for more warm-ups on green circle runs, and I excused myself to make a few runs of the black diamond variety with DCSki friend John Lewandoski of Annandale, Virginia. John is a very strong skier and had visited Blue Knob just the week before. He had fresh knowledge of some of the most challenging terrain and we made Lower Shortway our first run together. It’s a steep and very narrow trail only open when natural conditions allow. Coverage was good there and everywhere on Saturday.

Next we skied Edgeset (another lower mountain example of narrow-gnar at Blue Knob), to connect with Stembogen, and finally dropped into the Ditch Glades leading into the base area. This varied combination in one run is the kind of rough and ready skiing you normally only get three or four hundred miles to the north. John, a New England native schooled at ski-crazy Middlebury College in Vermont, was loving it.

Tim Romano above Stembogen Bowl. Photo provided by Jim Kenney.

Shortly thereafter we hooked up with more DCSki friends, Tim Romano and Madeline Greenlick, an avid skiing couple from Washington, DC. The four of us went back to Stembogen, surely one of the funkiest, fall-line-be-danged black diamonds anywhere. Stembogen has a little bit of everything, including a mini Colorado-like bowl at the trailhead. While Madeline went stylin’ down the lovely powder field at the bottom of this run, John and I diverted Tim into the adjacent Ditch Glades for some photo ops. It was one of those days when conditions, terrain, and camaraderie converged to define what good skiing is all about.

In the afternoon I rejoined my family to ski Blue Knob’s terrific assortment of long, intermediate groomers such as Jack Rabbit, Expressway, Deer Run, High Hopes and Mambo Alley. Even in this slightly tamer upper section of the mountain one can find a variety of glades cut between the trails. Some of them like Triple Glades, Forever Glades, and Laurel Run Glades are marked on Blue Knob’s trail map with a telling black diamond within a blue square symbol. With the soft, fresh snow they were perfect over the weekend for tree dodging neophytes, but tapping the freshies they contain requires a level of attention not demanded by the typical mid-Atlantic groomer.

High Hopes Trail on the Lower Mountain. Photo provided by Jim Kenney.

Sunday, February 18 dawned with three or four inches of new overnight snow. Several additional snow squals passed through during the day. Blue Knob’s customary winds had freshened quite a bit, but in return the quid pro quo was nice coverage and significantly smaller crowds than the day before. Lift lines went from 5 minutes to ski-on/no wait. Under “all terrain open conditions” Blue Knob offers a world of advanced skiing that my children are not accustomed to in our region. My youngest daughter conquered Stembogen with me in the morning when we had it all to ourselves. I coached her on the foresight necessary to pick navigable lines around the sharp curves and steeper, bumpy drops.

Entering Lower Extrovert. Photo provided by Jim Kenney.

It had been about four years since our last family trip to Blue Knob. My 16 year old son had progressed much since then. Sometime on Sunday he took his first ever run down Extrovert. Although it was in relatively great shape over the weekend, it always has windblown aspects and serious bumps that you might say - separate the men/women from the boys/girls. His solo run must have gone well because when I asked if he’d do it again with me, he immediately nodded yes. It was a first of another kind for me to follow him down Extrovert, sort of a passing of the generational black diamond baton. Later tackling Edgeset together, we agreed that both of us need more practice time on the steep, narrow, bump runs that only Blue Knob can offer in this part of the ski world.

As the day wore on we were joined by several additional family friends. Some took full advantage of the scenic mountaintop beginner area at Blue Knob. It is served by a dedicated triple chair with mature, attentive lift operators. We also had an alternate posse of four teenagers and a geezer that broke off to hit the many excellent upper mountain groomers at Blue Knob, including Jack Rabbit, Expressway, Deer Run, and Mambo Alley. Some of us couldn’t resist jumping into the great, soft snow on Laurel Run Glades off Mambo Alley and Triple and Forever Glades off Jack Rabbit. Man, what a fun mountain when everything’s open!

Laurel Run Glades. Photo provided by Jim Kenney.

At one point on Sunday I got a chance to talk briefly with Blue Knob’s owner Jim Gauthier, and Mountain Manager Andy Himes. Jim has been associated with Blue Knob since the early 1980’s. President’s Weekend can be the Super Bowl for a ski area. Jim was up for the challenge, mixing right in there with his staff at the ticket windows. He was very excited to tell me about Blue Knob’s tubing park, lodging, and dining facilities, all located at the mountaintop Alpine Village. The man appeared to have his heart and soul in the operation and I personally had never seen Blue Knob looking better.

Andy’s family has an even longer history at the resort. He first started working there as a teenager in 1978. After the uncooperative early winter, Andy was excited about the 10+ kilometers of Nordic skiing currently open at the area. When our talk turned to the subject of the high maintenance required to keep the extraordinary plethora of glades clear at Blue Knob, something in his tone implied more than a little personal elbow grease invested in that particular process. As an accomplished and passionate skier himself, I think I detected a gleam of satisfaction in his eyes knowing the DCSki faithful so greatly appreciated The Goods provided by his labor of love.

I should note that I have a little history with Blue Knob. It was the first place I ever skied as a boy in 1967. I held a season pass there from about 1972 to 1985. These days I only get back once every few years, but I still feel like I’m playing on my home court every time I do. To catch The Knob this President’s Weekend when virtually every nook and cranny was up for grabs brought back great memories and was surely one of the highlights of my local skiing in the last few years.

There was a lot of great stuff going on at Blue Knob over the big weekend, including NASTAR races in front of the crowd at the on-slope Mountain Oasis snack and beverage bar, tunes blasting and big air at a rocking terrain park, and a packed Mueller’s Pub in the main lodge featuring live music. But in the end it is all about terrain.

From the legitimately black diamond runs on the lower mountain, to the strong intermediate groomers on the upper mountain, to the wide variety of gladed terrain all over the hill, there is no Eastern ski area this side of New York State with as much challenge. Whether you get there next week or next year, one visit will breathe life into the various taglines associated with Blue Knob Ski Resort: catch “Altitude with Attitude” on “The Skier’s Mountain” where you better “Ski Good or Eat Wood.”

Blue Knob Bona Fides:

  • 1072’ vertical drop
  • 2 triple chairs, 2 double chairs
  • 35 trails and at least 7 distinctive gladed areas
  • ~160 miles from Baltimore-Washington
  • Adult 8 hour flex lift ticket: $35 weekday, $45 weekend/holiday

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SkiBumMSP
11 years ago
That is one place I definitly still need to check out. Don’t know if I will be able to this year, but hopefully, we’ll get good conditions like that again next year. That skiing and conditions down through that “Ditch Glade” looked sweet in that little video! After seeing that, I wanted to ski it!
steve-o
11 years ago
I still miss Bob (?) the voice of the Blue Knob snow phone. I used to call the number a lot back in the 90’s when I was bored in the office. Now of course I just surf the web when bored in the office! Ha!
John Sherwood
11 years ago
Jim,

Congratulations on your 40th year on boards! What could be better than celebrating at BK under near perfect conditions on a President’s Day weekend. Bravo zulu all the way and then some.

John
JohnL
11 years ago
Jim,

It was great to ski with you, Tim and Madeline that day.

Very nice article and pictures; you really captured the feel of Blue Knob. Congrats to your son on tackling Extrovert!
Tim
11 years ago
Hey Jim,

It was great to ski with you and JohnL last weekend. Skiing is always better with good company. The ditch glades and d-trail were truly amazing Saturday.

I think you captured the reality at blue knob which is that it skis a lot better after a good natural snow storm. And it often takes until later in the season for enough snow pack to develop for some of their best lines to be ski-able.

Congrats to your daughter and son on tackling Stembogen and extrovert. I remember my first runs on those trials. For a fellow used to blues and the ordinary black runs around here, it doesn’t get any more scary than a first run down extrovert.
Josh P.
11 years ago
Great article Jim, i was there friday of that weekend, and all of the powder was untouched. My brother and I had a great time. The terrain is like nothing else in PA. I look forward every year going out there, especially with trails that don’t just go straight down the mountain. Stembogan, extrovert , and lower high hopes were immaculate. In fact there wasn’t a trail you couldn’t find something interesting with.I might just make another run this year yet!
Ned Scharpf
11 years ago
Dear Jim,

I loved your article. I was also at BK for President’s Day weekend. My daughter who is six skiied for the first time and loved it. The snow was tremendous. When I was able to get away, I skiied Stembogan about 9 times and loved it each time more than the last. I also ski “the ditch” which was quite nice. The last time I was at Blue Knob was about 30 years ago when I was 10!

Question, does anybody know where I could go to buy a place at or near Blue Knob?

Ned Scharpf
703-979-2830
ned@corporateapartments.com
Jan Smith
11 years ago
Hi Jim,
Your article perfectly described the essence of Blue Knob during ski season! My husband and son are black diamond skiier(s) and snowboarder(s), respectively and both enjoy the challenge of the mountain. I am a beginner or easy intermediate skiier at best and love the forgiving trails that make me look more expert than I am. We also enjoy the wonderful Nordic Center at BK for cross-country skiing (freshly groomed each day with wonderful scenery!). We ski Vail and Beaver Creek every year but our family agrees that Blue Knob is the best ski area this side of the Rocky Mountains!
Andy
11 years ago
Blue Knob was my fav destination for years. All thru my 20’s me & friends would go up there & downhill Mambo alley in a tuck nonstop. We used to clock ourselves but I can’t remmember any times…might have been under 2 minutes. That was a lot of fun although we probably wouldn’t get away with that during these times.
chris your sis
11 years ago
love your video,pictures and story. yes bk was great. however it was the coldest. remember the time we skied when it was about 20 below with wind chill factor and mom’s makeup froze on her face when the chairlift stalled. i’ll never forget it i thought she had frostbite. scared the beegeebees out of me.
Robert Wassam
8 years ago
You should come to Blue Knob when it’s not ski season. They want to call this an all season resort. Well, when we’re here it’s what I describe as a “train wreck”. One quick example, on Memorial Day neither the indoor pool and hot tub, the other hot tub, or outdoor pool were open, the Clubhouse and Black Bear restaurant were closed so there was no place to eat; and there was no TV on the satellite system—not a single channel. There is one usable tennis court; the other has been in a state of disrepair for a couple years now. People here for a family reunion were livid, and you can’t blame them. We sold our condo and decided to build a house, because we couldn’t put up with nonsense like this any longer. Like I’ve indicated, Blue Knob condo association management is a train wreck, and the powers to be don’t seem to care. It is shameful to say the least.
Snowcat got your tongue?
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