What used to be a best-kept secret is now spreading fast. If you’ve never heard of Elk, it’s north of the Pocono Mountains, sandwiched halfway between Scranton, PA and the NY state line. At 2,700 feet, this plateau packs a pretty big punch for Mid-Atlantic standards, with a respectable 1,000 vertical feet and more top-to-bottom blue and black runs than any resort south of NY. This year, Elk is witnessing increased skier visits from the DC and Baltimore market. True, most skiers have a threshold for the amount of driving they’re willing to do in a day without overnighting it. For me, Elk’s 3 1/2-hour drive is worth the trip, though this past weekend we were fortunate to have the whole weekend.
Our group’s home for the weekend was the Ski Habit -; a modern log-style cabin two miles from Elk. It’s the closest lodging to the mountain, with 3 bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, a big hearth fireplace, dining/living room with entertainment center, big country kitchen, and an outdoor hot tub that did the trick after a full day’s snow riding. The house goes for $700 a weekend, and you don’t have to bring a thing besides what you plan to ride, wear, eat, or drink. Deer roamed constantly in the backyard woods, and many had no qualms approaching the house. The Ski Habit rental shop is right nextdoor, and the guys here were good enough to throw in a complimentary set of rental skis with the house. Read more about the house at http://www.skihabit.com/Skihabit/index.asp.
When you come to Elk, don’t expect the pamperings of a Snowshoe or Seven Springs. This becomes apparent as you hop out of your car and onto Elk’s wagon shuttle, which climbs a hill and drops you at the base lodge. (It’s a short ride but trust me, it’s worth it.) No snow tubing or halfpipe here -; this place is all about snow riding. Of Elk’s 27 trails, most are relatively long blues and blacks, particularly on the mountain’s north side. These are unquestionably some of the best groomed cruisers in our region. There’s also a secluded bunny hill and some long, easy, winding beginner trails. A small terrain park sports some gap jumps, but this mountain truly has cruising and bumps in mind. The steepest pitches on the mountain are found on Tunkhannock and neighboring Lackwanna. Otherwise, the blues and blacks are long, fun, and mostly manageable for the intermediate skier.
The mountain normally gets pretty good dumps of lake-effect powder, and snowmaking has also beefed up considerably over the past few years. New this season is snowmaking on black-diamond trails Chippewa and Wyalusing. If you missed the recent issue of SKI Magazine, Elk was featured as one of its “Six Unsung Heroes” for its terrain, conditions, and proximity to the Mid-Atlantic market. The publication also recognized Elk under its Readers Top 10 List for snow quality, grooming and value.
And if you like a little mountain scenery, Elk is adorned with thousands of imported Norwegian Spruce Firs. More than 13,000 trees have been planted along the ski trails’ edges since the mid-80’s. One such Spruce, loosely dubbed the “panty tree,” is decorated with variations of men’s and women’s undergarments. Look for it on the North Side quad lift. Donations are always welcome.
You can also expect a lot of ride for your buck at Elk. Weekend lift tickets run $44 ($38 weekdays), and our lift lines this past Saturday never exceeded 5 minutes. Keep in mind that the quad and double on the north side close at 4:30 p.m., narrowing down the number of open trails considerably. Night runs are limited to a handful of trails.
The far end of Elk’s comfortably equipped base lodge features a nicely appointed and wide-open Wintergarden Restaurant and Bar, with two floors of seating. American cuisine is served up for lunch and dinner, plus live acoustic music on weekends. Other than the Wintergarden and Elk’s cafeteria (good homemade chili and soups), there’s simply not much else around. Two notable exceptions at opposite ends of the dining spectrum are Chet’s and the Stone Bridge Restaurant. Chet’s is a local hangout that welcomes strangers just the same with good pub grub, a pool and foosball table, and acoustic outfits performing classic rock tunes. You won’t find any signs pointing to Chet’s, but it’s only about a mile from Elk, on a dirt road along Rt. 374 by the big arrow-turn sign. For fine dining, the nearby Stone Bridge Restaurant gets high marks. Nearby lodging is also somewhat limited. A handful of local B&Bs are available before other hotel/motel options point you 20-30 minutes away.
Currently Elk is boasting a 36-84 inch base.
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.