The forecast for Sunday, February 11 called for a bluebird day, and a day trip to Blue Mountain in Pennsylvania’s lower Poconos was looking like a good idea. An early start from Baltimore allowed me to make the easily negotiable interstate ride in about two and a half hours. The good news was that Blue had gotten a 17-inch snow blast four days prior. Unfortunately, bouts of rain followed, along with the expected freeze/thaw rotation, but a 40- to 60-inch base was still thick enough to hold all of Blue’s 27 runs.
Making my way through the small town of Palmerton (look out for speed traps!), I finally arrived at Blue’s modest base lodge. Guests have the option of parking here or at the mountain’s summit/main lodge, where the majority of the resort’s skier services reside. A five-minute drive up the mountain and a quick change later, and I made my way outside. Here at the summit lodge, guests must pass through a computer ticket check to access the trails. Today, a Subaru event was kicking in high gear outside the lodge, with races going on black-diamond Midway trail.
Temps at 9 a.m. were around 28 degrees, with a slight but not uncomfortable breeze. The advertised frozen granular base was accurate, and it was a sure thing the good riding was going to be early rather than later.
My warmup run was on Burma Run-a beginner cruiser featuring wide track and some fun S turns. The trail was well groomed, long, and wide, and proved to be more fun than I expected. Next, I made my way over to Paradise-Blue’s other long beginner cruiser. Here I found some more outstanding turning areas on smooth, wide terrain and some decent pitches for a green run.
Knowing the good snow was going to be skied out quickly today, some steeper stuff was what I desired next. I found it on a few of Blue’s intermediate trails, particularly on a trail called Sidewinder. Skiers and snowboarders who like to carve big turns will love Sidewinder-its contours perfectly shaped for a challenging intermediate trail.
After three or four runs, I had a pretty good feeling about Blue: a nice-sized mountain by Mid-atlantic standards; good variety of trails with over 1,000 feet of vertical; and strong snowmaking and grooming. Turning opportunities were abundant, which served me well on my snowboard. A good crowd was on hand this Sunday, but lift lines never set me back more than five minutes. As expected, the longest lines stood at the high-speed quad, which whisked riders to the summit in five minutes. Blue’s double lifts were much slower, but lines here were nonexistent.
By 11 a.m., I was ready to test the black diamond trails, of which Blue features seven. The summit is where I found Main Street-wide, straight, fairly steep, and full of bumps. A few skiers were negotiating the bumps with ease, while others didn’t fare quite as well. Lower Main Street was groomed and a little less steep, but a long, challenging ride nonetheless. Next, I hit Challenge trail-Blue’s advertised double black diamond. Challenge is the steepest continuous run here and is groomed pretty well the entire way from the summit. Challenge eventually shelves out briefly before a steep, 150-foot headwall called The Falls. The entire run was good for speed-seekers and shredders who like pitch and wide track. Blue’s remaining advanced trails are much shorter runs with decent but not overwhelming steeps.
By 2 p.m., the good snow was getting skied out, with ice setting in on the middle of many trails (the scourge of Mid-atlantic skiing). The ice had gotten the best of me as I took an unexpected tumble on my board after catching an edge. Unscathed, I called it a day and headed indoors to see what else the summit lodge had to offer. Blue’s lodge is spacious and well-marked if not plush, and doesn’t miss a beat on any skier service. Upstairs is a long, open cafeteria setting that overlooks the slopes, with spacious seating and a pub on the other end.
Taking a seat at the bar, I settled into some conversations and wasn’t surprised to learn that Blue has a fairly loyal skier base. Additionally, it wasn’t until four years ago that the resort opened its trails to snowboarders, and several skiers at the pub insisted the resort would be better suited to skiers only. Snowboarding here at Blue on this day, I found no evidence of irresponsible snowboarding, and in general I noticed a peaceful co-existence between one- and two-plankers. Otherwise, there was the usual mix of learning and advanced snow riders distributed somewhat evenly throughout the mountain.
All things considered, Blue Mountain should prove to be a worthwhile alternative for Washington, DC and Baltimore snow riders seeking a new taste in the Mid-atlantic. The mountain compares favorably to DC’s closest areas, and although there are no overnight accommodations at Blue, it’s likely not too far for a day trip.
John Phillips is author of Ski & Snowboard America: Mid-atlantic, now in its second edition. He can be found snowboarding the local slopes on most winter weekends.
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