My family and I spent the weekend of January 25-27, 2008 at Blue Knob All Seasons Resort. It was our first visit of the year at this western Pennsylvania bastion of advanced snow riding and our timing was good. There was a nice variety of trails open with good, fresh manmade snow coverage on some of Blue Knob’s best challenges including High Hopes, Stembogen, Deer Run and the legendary double black diamond slope Extrovert. We stayed in a condo at the convenient Alpine Village on the mountain about one mile from the summit ski lodge.
Early on Saturday morning while preparing to hit the hill I bumped into Mountain Manager Andy Himes in the ski lodge. Andy animatedly reported, “we just finished-up on Extrovert, it’s smooth as silk.” He was speaking of the tireless efforts of the snowmaking crew at Blue Knob and the barrage of snow they had blown over the past few days/nights. I believe Saturday was the “season opener” for Extrovert. Like most mid-Atlantic ski areas Blue Knob usually opens sometime shortly after Thanksgiving, but for the advanced skiers that flock to this inspiring area “Game On” really begins with the opening of Extrovert. I knew my steeps-loving teenage son would be stoked to get the news. As an over-the-hill type, my curiosity was piqued as well. You usually don’t hear words like smooth and silk in the same sentence with Extrovert.
First order of business for me though, and tempering the talk of expert terrain, was to head over to Blue Knob’s fine beginner hill. I had volunteered to help some newbie friends joining us for the day, among them a never-ever and a novice. Because it is an upside-down ski area with the lodge, dining and rental facilities on top of the mountain, Blue Knob offers an exceptionally scenic beginner area. It can also be blustery, but this weekend even the 3,100 plus-foot summit was blessedly calm with high temps around 20 on Saturday and near 30 on Sunday. Much improved over the early days of this ~45-year old ski hill, the beginner area is now serviced by a dedicated triple chair that moves at a reassuring pace over a moderately long, but manageably mellow slope.
My charges were a pair of athletic young coeds from nearby St. Vincent College in Latrobe, PA. They mastered the power pizza maneuver almost instantly. By the time I bid them farewell to catch a very reasonably priced $15 group lesson at 11 a.m., they were making non-stop, unassisted runs down the beginner hill.
Then I met my teenage son Vince and we headed off to check out Extrovert. It was still soft and forgiving, although by this time the manmade surface had been tracked up a bit by the presence of a number of eager experts skiing it for the first time this season. Because of all the fresh, quality manmade coverage this was Extrovert for introverts. There wasn’t any part of it that you couldn’t set an edge into over its entire, considerable length descending continuously with only a couple narrow breaks for close to 750 vertical feet. I have a compliment for Andy Himes and his crew; they don’t make machine-made snow like they used to, they make it better!
After some home cooked chili lunch in our condo unit in the Alpine Village, my son and I went back to Extrovert. This time we met three young guys from Tyrone, PA, located about half way between Blue Knob and Penn State University. These rippers were taking good advantage of the soft moguls forming on the lower third of Extrovert and agreed with my assessment that Saturday’s conditions were about as user friendly as they get on Extrovert.
Video of Extrovert taken by Jim Kenney Skiers in video: Jeff Knab of Tyrone, PA (brown jacket, helmet with visor); Ian Reese of Tyrone, PA (dark green jacket, long skis), and Philip Graham of Bellwood, PA (orange jacket, helmet with visor).
After sneaking in a bunch of lower mountain runs on Stembogen and High Hopes using Blue Knob’s handy midstation downloading I returned to the summit to check on my wife, daughter, and newbie friends. All of us enjoyed several runs together on the easy and long (two miles) Mambo Alley. “Mambo” is Blue Knob’s great common denominator, bringing all levels together for a classic, meandering summit to base ski trail, just be careful for speeding, young Bode Miller wannabes bailing out from black diamonds.
At the conclusion of a great day we said goodbye to friends while my family retired to our digs at the Alpine Village. Blue Knob All Seasons Resort manages approximately 100 condo units of varying sizes/layouts in the Village. Our studio slept four comfortably and included a kitchen and fireplace; the basics perhaps befitting the Spartans who come to this mountain to battle some of the most challenging ski terrain in the region. Condo affordability is good and I’m told that even late bookers have a decent chance of availability during midweek and all but the biggest weekends.
The Black Bear Inn (featuring steaks and seafood) and the indoor pool and hot tub building were just steps from our unit. After a day featuring quite a few runs on Extrovert and other black diamonds a little hot water therapy sure feels good, even to would-be Spartans. The old real estate adage applies to the Alpine Village… location, location, location. The nearest chain motel is 30-40 minutes and roughly 2,000 vertical feet below via an access road that can be, ahem, interesting in snowy weather. The new credit card slogan applies too… making first tracks because you woke up one mile from the slopes - priceless.
Sunday morning featured first tracks (well, maybe second) on Stembogen with my son. Picture if you will, a ribbon of corduroy one groomer wide with a dusting of fresh down a long and winding black diamond road. It got me whooping and hollering and when we boarded the double chair at the base of the mountain I exclaimed to the liftie, “early bird gets the worm!”
We experienced the same ego boosting pre-coffee-break conditions on High Hopes and the impressively long and fairly steep pitch of Deer Run. It’s designated an “intermediate” slope in the best tradition of serious New England or Western mountains. I think my son Vince is ready to nominate Deer Run as “best carving trail” in the mid-Atlantic. The Blue Knob Ski School instructors sure seems to use it to practice a lot of that.
Extrovert was still skiing good too, but growing its customary bumps. Edgeset had great soft snow, but the cover was thin in spots. I had an eye out over the weekend for Blue Knob’s many gladed areas. They didn’t really look quite skiable yet to me, nor were a couple of all-natural trails open. But those wild things are close, I figure one more good natural dumpage and all the joys of this mountain will open up.
The crowds were generally low both days, especially Sunday when ski-on lift lines were the norm. To be honest, the surface of many groomers turned hard later in each day with some tell tale gravel-like pebbles showing through in thin spots on runs like Expressway and busy parts of Mambo Alley. Extrovert probably had the best snow on the mountain this weekend. Blue Knob has now opened everything their snowmaking system can reach. With continued seasonable temperatures they should be able to further beef up their base for great midseason conditions.
Following my jumpy, energetic teenage son around the mountain for two days had a way of making me feel slightly decrepit, inside and out. But Vince has become my best ski buddy and there’s nobody else’s powder spray I’d rather inhale. Besides, battling the tough stuff at Blue Knob is exhilarating for all, even aging snow warriors with an Achilles knee or two.
Blue Knob is approximately 150 miles and three hours from the Washington/Baltimore metro areas.
Husband, father and retired civilian employee of the Department of Navy, Jim Kenney is a D.C. area native and has been skiing recreationally since 1967. Jim's ski reporting garnered the 2009 West Virginia Division of Tourism's Stars of the Industry Award for Best Web/Internet/E-Magazine Article.