Of adjectives and altitudes.
Crystal Lake Ski Center / Mt. St. Onge
Near Williamsport, Pennsylvania

Kevin Whipple has uncovered another lost ski area in Pennsylvania. Kevin submitted the following description of the Crystal Lake Ski Center:

    This area is near Williamsport, PA on the Lycoming and Sullivan county border in north-central PA, just north of Mapleton Church.

    I spoke with Dottie Alford, the administrator of the current Crystal Lake Ski Center which remains a popular cross-country ski area and mountain retreat. She was enthusiastic and very helpful and gave me the following information about the former downhill skiing operation at Crystal Lake.

    The ski area operated from 1971-1996. It had one poma lift that came from the defunct Highland Ski Area nearby, and one rope tow serving a beginner slope. The area had night skiing, snowmaking, and a Thikhold groomer. A summit elevation of 2100’ and a base of 2000’, giving the area 100’ of vertical (although I think this was inaccurate and was more like 200’-250’ of vertical). Originally, the downhill area was going to be the heart of the winter operations at Crystal Lake, but expenses and staffing would end it. The area was forced to rent equipment to keep up with new technologies.

    Today, Crystal Lake Ski Center is a beautiful nordic skiing area on 960 acres of mountain woodlands, lakes, ponds, and creeks. It boasts winterized dining facilities, lodging for 180 guests in winter, conference rooms, and recreation facilities. The nordic area features grooming on 30 km of trails and rental skis and snowshoes.

    Visiting the area, the trails have not grown in much at all. The poma lift is still in place, as well as the rope tow (minus the rope and drive). The small base lodge and rental building are still standing at the base. I’m unsure, but the area seemed to offer two broad slopes on skier’s left of the poma, and one wide trail and one narrow wrap-around trail on skier’s right of the poma. The learning slope was at the base and descended to a point below the base lodge. The terrain had a nice headwall midway down the mountain which made for some interesting skiing. Although the area is located in a gorgeous mountain area with some worthwhile terrain, it is located in a desolate location (not easy to get to at all) and lacked size and facilities to compete.

In March, 2009, Ezra Burgess wrote to DCSki with the following information:

    “I was particularly interested in your report on the lost ski areas in Lycoming and Sullivan Counties. I am the founder of the ski patrol at Crystal Lake Ski Area in 1986 and, at the time, we had the distinction of being the only Nordic Patrol in the Eastern Division NSP that also patrolled an alpine slope. One thing that was not mentioned about the downhill area was that the slope to the far left was one of the first tubing slopes in Pennsylvania. I don’t remember the exact year they opened it, but if you contact the center I am sure they could tell you.

    It might also interest you to know that one of the primary reasons the alpine ski operation had to close was the oppressive liability insurance premium that was needed to operate. I am sure this is the reason many of the other smaller areas were forced to close. Our increasing litigious society seems to have no idea how much is being lost as a result of more and more expensive lawsuits which have driven up liability premiums to the point where small businesses can no longer continue to operate.”

Topographic map of the area, with an estimated location of the ski lifts. The base facilities were right at the base of the poma lift (the longer red line reaching the summit). Image provided by Kevin Whipple.

Base buildings are located to the right with the base terminal of the poma just left of this.  To the far right of this photo is the top terminal of the beginner tow, but it is hard to distinguish here.
Looking up from the general area of the parking lot. Base buildings are located to the right with the base terminal of the poma just left of this. To the far right of this photo is the top terminal of the beginner tow, but it is hard to distinguish here. Photo provided by Kevin Whipple.

Kevin says the whole lift is still in pretty good shape.
Looking up the poma line. Kevin says the whole lift is still in pretty good shape. “The headwall to the right of the lift line was the steepest part of the hill. There was an intermediate round-about slope to the right of this. Both of these routes emerged from a vast upper mountain meadow.” Photo provided by Kevin Whipple.

Looking down the poma line from near the unloading point. “To the left was a large meadow that filtered into a blue slope and an advanced slopes, as seen in previous photos,” writes Kevin. Photo provided by Kevin Whipple.

The summit bullwheel of the poma lift. “The ‘floating’ bullwheel design (not anchored, but suspended from cables) is something I have not seen in my travels before, although I know they are out there,” writes Kevin. Photo provided by Kevin Whipple.

Base of the trails on skier’s right of the poma lift. “The slope seen here ran top to bottom and had a real nice pitch (possibly advanced),” Kevin writes. “On this trail, like the others, there is very little regrowth. There is an opening in the treeline across the slope which is the point where the narrower round-about trail came out. That trail would not have been more than two groomer widths wide, I would guess.” Photo provided by Kevin Whipple.

The remains of the base terminal for the beginner rope tow, at the lowest elevation for the ski area. Photo provided by Kevin Whipple.

The top terminal of the beginner rope tow. Photo provided by Kevin Whipple.

Kevin writes that the rental building appeared more like a shack.
The rental building. Kevin writes that the rental building appeared more like a shack. “It would have had some character, if the base lodge (not shown) wasn’t a bland, modular building.” Photo provided by Kevin Whipple.

Kevin Whipple provided the following images in September, 2008:

A 3-d view from Google Earth showing the lift layout and facilities. Image provided by Kevin Whipple.

An aerial image from Google Earth with lifts and lodge labeled. Image provided by Kevin Whipple.

An updated topographic map for the area with lifts and facilities labeled. Image provided by Kevin Whipple.

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Josh P.
13 years ago
Great pictures, nice to see the remenants of the lifts and the trails.
13 years ago
This was the first place I ever skied… my guess is I was 6 years old… I remember everything about that day… by the end of the day I had gone down every slope but the main headwall… and yes the rental shack looked about like that 25 years ago… I remember there was a bunch of skis propped up against the wall and a single bench in the middle of the room… I think it was even heated with an old kerosene heater… Those pictures are just like I remember it (only it was white!)… I cant wait to take my son on his first ski trip this year!
Anna Alford
12 years ago
Dottie Alford mentioned above is my mother and I am the current manager of Crystal Lake Ski Center. We no longer operate the lifts but the slopes are still skiable and many of our cross country skiers enjoy skiing them. I have so many fond memories of skiing here when I was a kid growing up here. The poma lift gave you a bit of a flying start which was hard for beginners but which I loved! The actual name of the down hill ski area was Mt. St. Onge which was named after my grandfather who introduced my mother to skiing when she was a girl growing up in Maine. This area was a labor of love for my mother who lived to ski. She is still skiing. She now lives in Maine with her new husband, Richard Martin, an old boyfriend from over 50 years ago.
12 years ago
Anna: Thanks for posting your comments. I just updated the profile to include the name Mt. St. Onge.
Robin Andrew
11 years ago
Bruce Mackliet
11 years ago
It has been some years since I last skied at Crystal Lake. All of my skiing was XC. They included access to the downhill lifts with your XC ski pass. So toward the end of the day, we would take the lifts up to the top and then turn to the right and catch some black diamond XC trails down to the bottom. Then repeat 4 or 5 times. A great way to work up an appetite for Hoss’ Steak House.

As I recall, the beginner rope tow was actually run off of the axle of a dilapidated vehicle (pickup truck I think).
Tom Flynn, York, PA
10 years ago
I googled this ski area and found this information. I wanted to take my family friends here this winter but found out it closed. My family down hill skied and tubed here in 1996 (at least we tried to ski..our kids were young and out for the first time). We had alot of fun. I remember the rental shack to be just like this too. Also, my greatest memory was of the large log cabin lodge. We didn’t get to stay in it. However, some of the others in our group stayed there and we would have our meals there. I’ll never forget it. Also, we got “lost” trying to find this resort at night. No one in the area was familiar with it. We knocked on several doors and finally got someone to direct us. We went up the mountain area on an old logging road that didn’t have any guide rails or street lights. When we were going up the road our van lights shorted out! We could only see since it was a full moon reflecting on the snow.
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