The North side chairlift carried me and my wife Karen up over the very bumpy Tunkhannok slope at Elk Mountain. We had spent most of the morning cruising down the perfectly groomed, long and wide tree-lined slopes on the back side of Elk. It was un-crowded on a Martin Luther King holiday weekend, unbelievably fun and every bit like skiing in Vermont. And each ride up the lift was equally fun, with a great show of skiers and boarders flailing on the steep mogul field below, punctuated by the occasional beautiful and graceful skier gliding atop the bumps as though they weren’t even there.
“I need to work on my moguls,” I said.
Karen looked at me and said “you go right ahead.” We both have never gotten the handle of skiing the bumps. And she has a torn meniscus and skis with a gigantic, plastic knee brace that looks like part of a Star Wars Stormtrooper’s armor -; except that it’s hot pink -; a little too girly for most Stormtroopers I imagine.
We parted ways and I skied over to the top of Tuckhannock. The bottom of the mountain looked FAR, FAR AWAY! From the occasional mogul lesson over years, I concentrated on three things -; ski the top thirds of the bumps, stab the tops of the mounds with the ski poles to start the turns… and bring my knees up to absorb the shocks. Theory is easier than practice as I scraped down the steeper part of the slope, traversing and scraping back to the other side. As the terrain became a little less severe, I followed a better fall line and hit about every third mogul with a nice carving turn. I made it to the bottom of the moguled-up section without falling -; but it wasn’t pretty.
I met up with Karen and she asked if I was ready to try again. I laughed. “that would be a no” I replied. My legs were tired and I wanted to maximize my ski runs. My wife thinks I’m crazy. But I need to get in at least 20 runs to make it a valid ski day. So we returned to the black diamond Wyalusing and the blues Kickapoo and Lenape for fast, effortless gliding before round two on Tunkhannock.
This time I attempted to keep my shoulders more square towards the fall line and I remembered to point my skies down the moguls to keep from bouncing and losing control. The top part was still rather ungraceful. However, I only did half traverses. On the remainder of the slope I was able link two to three bumps together before losing it. Afterwards, we returned to the front side of the mountain for lunch at the Winter Garden Restaurant in the lodge. There’s nothing like a crock of onion soup covered in melted cheese to chase the chills away.
Back on the slopes, we made a couple passes down the front side, Susquehanna and Slalom. Both are steep and exciting and give the full expression of Elk’s 1000 foot vertical drop. There are 27 slopes at Elk and nearly all of them go from the top of the mountain to the bottom. Try number three on Tunkhannok probably didn’t look any better the numero duo. Still, it felt a little easier. Enough so that I immediately went onto upper Lackawanna, which is also left ungroomed. Here the bumps were much sharper and the moguls are over almost as soon as you start them -; the remaining groomed section is fabulous -; no one was on it.
I rejoined Karen for a few more runs. She suggested that I try one of the other mogul runs. I was set, however, on Tunkhannock - the glory slope! On this fourth sojourn I over-steered one of the first bumps and came to a leaning stop on my side, not really falling. My control seemed better on the rest of the trail. Yet for some reason it took a lot more time to make it down even though my form seemed better - to me anyway.
At 3:30 Karen was starting to get tired and her fingers were freezing. So we made two more runs together. She returned to the lodge and I agreed to meet her there at 4:40 -; the lift ticket lasted till 4:30. I blasted down the blacks Wysaling and Tecumseh, making my 20 runs for the day. Then for kicks, I tried the un-groomed Chipewah. What a delight! It’s not nearly as steep as Tunkhannock or Upper Lackawanna. And the moguls are spaced further apart. An added bonus is that one side of it is groomed if you want to take a break from the bumps. I, however, took no such break and actually carved my way though the field. I should have listened to my wife. (This is one of the common themes of my life!) I ran it one more time before taking the Tioga Spur connector trail back to the front -; arriving at exactly 4:29 -; just enough time for one last run down Susquehanna that shoots straight down the front face of Elk.
What a fantastic day! Now that I can survive the bumps, it’s time to actually learn how to do it right with a few more mogul lessons…
… maybe a lot more mogul lessons.
Elk (www.elkskier.com, 800-233-4131) is located North of Scranton PA -; about a four hour’s drive from DC -; nearly the same as Canaan Valley!
One of the so-called disadvantages to Elk Mountain is that there is no on-site lodging. However, there are affordable condos for rent only a couple of miles from Elk at Endless Mountain Resort (www.endless-mtn-resort.com, 570-679-2400). It’s our favorite place to stay when skiing Elk. The condos feature two bedrooms with 2.5 baths, Jacuzzi, sauna, full kitchen, gas fireplace and a sleeper sofa in the living room - it easily sleeps six. The resort also has a recreation center with an indoor pool, hot tub and fitness room. A midweek winter package for staying three nights is only $300!
Matthew Graham is a skier as well as a hang glider and paraglider pilot, SCUBA diver, cavern diver, equestrian, polo player, sailor, hiker, biker, rock climber, paddler, and skater. He's also yoga teacher and certified personal trainer and has dabbled in just about every other sport, even stunt car driving and bull riding! He has written for the Washington Post, Washingtonian Magazine, USA Weekend Magazine, Hooked on the Outdoors, Richmond Magazine, Chesapeake Life Magazine, Metro Sports, American Fitness, Blue Ridge Outdoors, Recreation News and numerous other outdoor and travel publications.