This weekend my wife Jenni and I headed northwest from our home in Stewartstown, Pennsylvania, to attend the cross-country skiing lessons offered by the Pennsylvania Cross Country Ski Association (PACCSA) at Laurel Ridge State Park.
Having tried xc-skiing a couple of times, we weren’t complete novices, but we’re still pretty shaky - especially me. As a rule, I’m a pretty uncoordinated kind of guy, and my skiing ability is no exception. So I felt I could use some professional instruction to keep from looking like a complete loser on the trail. Besides, we actually bought ourselves skis this year; spending real money on gear is a great motivator to get out and learn to use it.
Laurel Ridge State Park is just a tad south of Hidden Valley, between Somerset and Donegal. We headed out Saturday morning, and after stopping at Sheetz in York for some breakfast, it took us about three hours to reach the park, including negotiating some heavy traffic in Somerset. Turns out this weekend the Fire & Ice Festival was in town. There were a bunch of ice sculptures placed around the town square, along with a couple of bonfires. And a kettle corn stand. Don’t ask me.
Once we arrived at the park, we were pleasantly surprised to see that the snow conditions were quite good. It was still warm up in the mountains though; the thermometer at the warming hut showed the temperature in the lower 40’s, so I wouldn’t be needing that cool ski jacket I got for Chanukkah. I wouldn’t be needing the warming hut, for that matter.
But there appeared to be 8-10 inches of snow on the ground, judging by what was piled atop the picnic tables. This was a very pleasant surprise, given that throughout the drive west, we had seen precious little snow all along.
After paying the trail fee ($6/day, or $4/day for PACCSA members) we strapped on our snowpants (necessary for those of us whose legs frequently get submerged in the snow) and headed for the lessons. There was a good crowd for the lessons on Saturday, about 15 people; the lessons were free with the trail pass.
The lessons consisted of about an hour and a half of beginning instruction, demonstrating how to balance, how to turn, and how to get back up after falling (most important). We were led around a small novice trail, which, at the bottom of the first hill, ended up littered with fallen bodies. But no one was hurt, and we all got a little more confident by the end of the lesson.
After our instructor turned us loose to wreak havoc in the park, Jenni and I headed for one of the intermediate-level trails. The park encompasses something like 13,000 acres, with about 20 km of trails. We skied a 5K trail Saturday afternoon; the snow was deep enough, but it was pretty icy, given the above-freezing temperatures and the number of skiers on the trail.
Icy trails meant, you guessed it, one uncoordinated beginner often butt-down in the snow blocking the more experienced folks. I did my best to stay out of their way, but long downhills were my downfall, literally.
We stayed over in Somerset at a nice bed & breakfast called the Inn at Georgian Place (http://www.theinnatgeorgianplace.com/). It’s not the cheapest place in town, but it’s definitely the best; great food and beautiful rooms. The Inn is surrounded by an outlet mall, fast food joints, and a Sheetz - certainly not the view when the inn was built in 1915. But the inn is on a high ridgetop, affording a view not only of the highway shops, but also Lake Somerset out the back. From our window, we could even see Hidden Valley’s lit slopes in the distance.
On Sunday we headed back to Laurel Ridge. The warm temperatures were taking their toll. It never got below freezing Saturday night, and it showed. The trails were slick, and bare earth was breaking through. We skied another 5K, then headed back to Somerset town square to experience the magic of the Fire & Ice Festival. The ice sculptures weren’t holding up well.
We ended our trip back at the inn. There wasn’t much culture left to experience in town. We decided on the Taco Bell at the bottom of the Georgian Place hill for dinner. And hey, we had brought a 12-pack of beer; perfect with Taco Bell! It had been sitting in the truck getting warm, though. Luckily there was still some snow in the parking lot of the inn; we buried the beer in the snowbank, and it was perfect once dinnertime arrived. How could anyone not like snow??
More ski lessons are scheduled at Laurel Ridge on February 3rd and February 17th. To keep tabs on these things, or for directions to the park, visit the Pennsylvania Cross-Country Ski Association home page (http://www.nauticom.net/www/mazurb/paccsa2.htm). I wouldn’t recommend visiting until the area gets more snow for now, though. Luckily, there are a couple of storms this week that might hit the area. Ski conditions are available from the PACCSA webpage.
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