The news of a fresh 12 inches of powder from Blue Knob’s toll-free report was just what the doctor ordered. Nothing at work was urgent enough to keep me from taking a well-deserved vacation day riding some of the Mid-Atlantic’s most challenging terrain.
The 2 hour, 40-minute ride from NW Baltimore County was easy, and I’ve now decided that the best route to BK’s summit lodge is to bypass the traditional exits along Rt. 99/220 N and take the King/Claysburg exit. This local road winds up the back of the mountain, is equally as quick if not faster, and would seem much easier in the snow than the steep, often hairy ascent on the old access road I’d been accustomed to taking along Rt. 869.
As expected, I had the mountain practically to myself on Friday, Jan. 10, and the conditions were solid, despite ruthless winds at the summit for which BK is notorious (though many of the trails are actually sheltered from the wind). Flurries came down all day long as the skyline traded between overcast and sunny repeatedly. Thanks to some timely snow and additional snowmaking, BK had been able to open 29 of 34 trails, and as of this writing all but the three expert lower mountain glades were open on a base of 35” to 55” (with more natural snow expected to open up the entire mountain).
BK’s groomed trails were smooth and fast, but I was anxious to get back to Stembogan now that it was open. From the lower mountain’s mid-station, a slow trek along the narrow East Wall Traverse will get you to Stembogan Bowl -; the Mid-Atlantic’s only semblance of a true natural bowl. You can hop in from any spot along Stembogan’s wide summit, and it’s steep and wide enough up top to get your heart racing. Some big GS turns later, and you’re funneled into Stembogan Trail, which assures you three excellent hard-angle turns. Other classic BK black diamonds open during my visit included the narrow powder stashes of Lower High Hopes and Lower Rt. 66. The only disappointment was not being able to ride the Ditch Glades … don’t miss out if it’s open while you’re here.
While the resort hasn’t changed much, there have been efforts to improve snowmaking on the expert lower mountain. Existing water lines have been replaced and now run up Stembogan (also equipped with new guns) to the pump house at mid-station. Water flow has also increased this season, and for the first time ever snow is being blown on the entirety of Lower High Hopes.
About 12 runs into the day, I decided to break for lunch but soon realized my truck’s battery had given up on me. (Mental note: NEVER park frontways before a snow bank…especially when you’re at the rooftop of Pennsylvania with a questionable battery.) Fortunately, a benevolent local fella was able to chain-pull me out of the spot just far enough to extend his jumper cables and juice up my battery. So, with my truck now running comfortably, the question lingered: take off now for home, or take my chances and squeeze in a few more runs? Even with copious snowfall in the forecast and on the way, I opted for 3-4 more runs and luckily returned to a truck that started. The day was complete, and I can’t wait to return to BK after the next big snowfall. Check out www.blueknob.com for daily updated conditions as well as some very reasonable midweek and weekend skier packages at BK’s condos.
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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