Snow News is Bad News: Lost Opportunities during a Poconos Trip 8
Author thumbnail By Matthew Graham, DCSki Columnist

Here’s an idea for a new realty televisions series: Zap the Weatherman! My wife and I and our friends Jan and Ben came home early from an intended four day skiing trip in the Poconos because of a predicted blizzard on Monday with 8-12 inches of snow in the Washington, DC area and even more snow predicted for the Poconos. Usually snow is a good thing for skiers. But there were dire warnings of hazardous road conditions, death and doom, fire and brimstone, etc. for Monday and Tuesday. We would have had to drive about an hour from the spectacular Elk Mountain to our inn in Hawley on Monday evening after skiing. And then drive through the treacherous blizzard on Tuesday to go to Camelback Resort for a half day of skiing before completing the journey back to Tacky Park, Maryland.

So instead of going skiing at Elk, we came home so we wouldn’t be stranded on back roads in Pennsylvania on Monday night. But guess what? We didn’t encounter snow until we were South of Baltimore on the drive home. We arrive to find snow showers and an updated forecast of 3-6 inches of accumulation, closer to the three. I could just SCREAM! But instead I’m going to pitch my idea of Zap the Weatherman to Mark Burnett. After each forecast for snow that the weather forecasters hype to DEATH, we strap them down in a chair and zap them with a Tazer. For each inch under or over the actual accumulation they get one zap. Sure, we’ll give them a few inches leeway. So they can still call for 4-6 inches of snow. But if it’s only an inch, then 4 minus 1 equals 3 zaps. There won’t be any prizes - just viewer satisfaction.

We did get in two days of skiing fortunately before the world was predicted to come to an end. We all met up at Blue Mountain on Saturday for the twilight session. Additional friends, Mike and Julia (who had just moved to Allentown) also joined us … as did everyone from Allentown and Philadelphia and all of Eastern Pennsylvania. The place was packed to the gills.

A recent cold snap had brought in 5 inches of snow the previous Sunday night, 3 more inches on Monday and another 3 inches on Thursday evening. Blue Mountain has about a thousand foot vertical drop and 30 trails. The trails are spread out across the mountain. Thus, you have to do a few runs and a couple of lifts to get from one side to the other. But despite the number of runs, the mountain feels rather small.

The trails were well groomed and they even did some intercession grooming while we were there. However, the lift lines were a nightmare. We stood in line for over a half an hour several times (45 minutes once) and only got in 8 runs in six hours of skiing. That’s including the initial run from the mountain top lodge to the first lift and the traversing run back to the lodge at the end of the day. Thus it was really just six runs in six hours - an hour per run. Ugh! Getting on the two-person chairs was also quite the challenge. The entrance chutes are narrow, the chairs whiz around really fast and the lift operators weren’t always paying attention. I lost count of how many people I saw knocked off the narrow chute by the chair. My friend Ben, an expert skier, was hit in the head by the chair!

But other than the lift problems and the horrendous crowd, it’s an okay mountain and probably a lot nicer on weekdays.

After skiing, we all went over to see Mike and Julia’s new home and dine on the standard post skiing meal: pizza. Jan and Ben and Karen and I continued on up to Hawley, PA to the Country Inn at the Old Mill Stream. We had reserved a two-bedroom unit with two double beds. It’s one of those timeshare swaps. Of course they didn’t have the right room even though I had made the reservation a year ago. The second bedroom only had a twin bed and the place was booked up. I suppressed my urge to scream and used creativity. We pulled the mattress out of the sleeper sofa and then rearranged the twin bed and box spring side by side to form, in essence, one large box spring. We placed the sleeper sofa mattress onto this configuration to make a double bed, more or less. Jan and Ben said it worked well enough. The inn is overall rather charming. But all of the floors tilt, it’s drafty and the walls are paper thin. Some teenage girls in the suite next to ours were partying late into the night and would not shut up, even at 1 a.m. I lost my patience at this point and started pounding on the wall and yelling. I had some pent up frustration from the day. It shut them up.

We woke up early the next morning, despite the lack of sleep, as the sun streamed into the large windows. After breakfast and several cups of coffee, we loaded up my truck and drove 40 minutes to Montage Mountain, named least crowded resort on weekends by Washingtonian Magazine. Okay, I was one of the people who named it least crowded based on previous experience and numerous recommendations. But the accolade is well deserved. The place was almost empty. There are 20 trails, a thousand foot vertical drop, a few triple chairlifts, a quad and a double on the bunny hill. We spent the entire day just zooming down the runs and hopping right back on the lift. The lodge is mid-mountain and the top half has blue and green runs. The bottom half is advanced and expert trails. Thus you cruise down one of the nice long blue runs and then make the jump to light speed on a black trail. What fun!

The snow was perfect. The sun was shining and the temperature a steady 30 degrees. Who could ask for anything more? And even though none of us are that good at moguls, we gave it a shot on a couple of the double diamond runs. The soft (real snow) moguls were fairly easy to navigate. Usually double-diamond mogul runs are like a series of frozen Volkswagen Beetles glued to a shear cliff face. For the first time on the east coast, I was having fun on moguls. At about 5 p.m., Karen and Jan succumbed to the cold as the sun faded into shadows. They headed for a glass of wine at the bar and a rest in front of the fireplace at the lodge. Ben and I picked up the pace and cranked out 6 more runs in under an hour, cruising from the blue trail Switch to the black run Lower Runway. We were going so fast and having so much fun that we’d arrive at the lift laughing like little kids. It was a perfect day of skiing.

The next day we planned to go to Elk. Elk has won a zillion awards for grooming and is like a little bit of Vermont in Pennsylvania. Karen and I had gone there last year and fell in love with the place. We knew Jan and Ben would love it too. It has a thousand foot vertical and 27 trails, nearly every one of them going from top to bottom. A few trails are ungroomed for mogul lovers. But the rest are wide, long cruisers weaving through a forest of Norwegian Pines. But alas, we foolishly believed the weather forecast and came home. Damn!

If you want to try some new resorts at about a 3.5 to 4 hours drive from DC, head up to the Poconos. They’ve got a ton of snow and over a dozen ski resorts: Montage, Shawnee, Blue Marsh, Blue Mountain, Bear Creek, Big Bear, Big Boulder, Jack Frost, Alpine Mountain, Camelback, Tanglewood, Tussey, Denton, Sawmill, Eagle Rock and more. I highly recommend Montage and Elk Mountain and I’ve heard good things about Camelback. There are a ton of inexpensive chain hotels and lots of B&Bs in the area. I can’t really recommend the Country Inn at the Old Mill Stream. Last year Karen and I stayed at Caesars Pocono Resorts, the honeymoon capital of the world. It’s kind of kitshy and the dining isn’t anything to write home about. But each room has private pool, hot tub, steam shower and sauna. It’s perfect after a long day of skiing.

For more information on Caesars, visit www.caesarspoconoresorts.com.

For accommodations and other information, see www.800poconos.com.

About Matthew Graham

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.

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Reader Comments

JimK
March 2, 2005
Matthew, I got a lot of chuckles reading about what sounded like the ski trip from he!!, until I got to the part about Montage. Sounds like you found some heaven there.
Though DC didn't get a blizzard on Monday, local ski season seems to be peaking right now as March comes in like a lion.
John Sherwood
March 2, 2005
Matthew:

Funny article. At Blue Mountain, I recall that most of the expert terrain was served by a detachable. How did lines at the detachable compare with lines at the slow doubles?

I visited Blue Mountain a few years ago on a Friday. It was a great day until about 4 pm. At that point, bus after bus of high school students from the Philly metro area began arriving and the mountain crowded up quickly. I swore never to go back to Blue on a weekend, but I also swore to go back for the expert terrain, which skis big.
Matthew
March 2, 2005
The line for the high speed quad was just as bad as the line for the double. And all of the lifts stopped over and over again on each ride up. I talked to a friend who had been there the previous Saturday (over Prez Day Weekend). It wasn't as crowded then. He said the lift line wait was about fifteen minutes each time. Usually things start to thin out at the ski areas after Prez Day wekend. I guess the recent snow there drew the crowds.
Connie Lawn
March 2, 2005
HiMat - Great! Keep up the good work. I was a "weather girl" once, and was terrible. But, they have my sympathies.
How are the other sports? Love to your "better half" Yours, Connie and Charles
VTBoarder
March 2, 2005
I was at Blue Mountain on Sunday and the lines were just as bad. We got in 1, maybe 2 run runs each hour. I liked the way the mountain was laid out...a lot of winding runs and a great terrain park, but the wait for the ski lift was way too long. If they put in a few high speed lifts they'd be one of the best resorts in the Poconos.
SkiBumMSP
March 2, 2005
I've spent a weekend up that way a couple years ago, over a President's Day weekend.

I've spent one day skiing Shawnee and two days skiing Blue.

Shawnee was a nice little mountain, but the only reason I skied there was that one of my friends was an instructor there. Was interesting that they had me put on the red jacket though. The advantage with that is that I did get to jump lift lines, since the place was pretty crowded that Sunday. Also, the conditions could've been a bit better (This was during that crappy winter of 2000-2001 - the one with no snow.)

I skied Blue Monday (Pres Day) and the following tuesday morning.

Monday (Pres Day) was getting kinda crowded, but after around 4:30 or so, that place emptied out! I skied right up onto the lifts. I ended up skiing the place till close. I do like a lot of the terrain there at Blue.

Since it was on the way home (I was staying at a Super-8 right there in Stoudsburg), I went and skied Blue again that Tuesday morning. The place was practically empty! I skied the hell out of it before heading home around 3-ish or so.

I'd like to get back up to the Poconos again, as I'd like to try out Elk, Montage, and Camelback. Unfortunatly, coming from Fredericksburg, it takes me a good 5 hours to get up that way.
cheechman32
March 2, 2005
Good article. I'd recommend Camelback to anyone who is not skiing on a weekend, especially not a holiday weekend. They have some mammoth crowds, but their two high speed quads do a decent job of handling the workload. Montage is a great resort, and has some superb lift ticket deals during the week and on certain nights. I would recommend Montage for anyone making a weekend trip.
David
March 4, 2005
I went to college in the Scranton area during the late 80's/early 90's, and I was an instructor at Montage for one year.

At the time, the Poconos had a lot more to offer than the local areas did - 'bigger' mountains, and plenty of real snow during a decent season. Whitetail didn't exist at the time, so if you wanted more than a 600' vertical, then WV, Blue Knob, or the Pocono ski areas were the only options within 5 hours.

Elk and Camelback were my favorites. Elk has a "New England" kind of feel to it. The trails are twisty and often vacant, they usually get more real snow, and it's in the middle of nowhere 45 minutes N of Scranton.

For an Advanced/Expert person, only the bottom 2/3 of Montage are of interest, but I had plenty of fun there. The top 1/3 of Montage is all blue/green and straight down the fall line. In fact, all of the trails are straight down the fall line. It is definitely a day-trip area, but worth skiing.

Big Boulder/Jack Frost are a few miles from each other, and they are more family-oriented (and smaller).

Camelback has some real steeps up top, but I wish their 800' vertical was 1000'. If that was the case, then I never would have gone anywhere else. Camelback excels in two areas: snowmaking and weekend crowds.

If you are planning on doing the Poconos for a weekend, I would suggest:

(a) Stay in Scranton or Clark's Summit (N of there). Ski Elk on the first day (45 min N of Scranton), then hit Montage (on the way South) on Sunday.

(b) Stay at Camelback and ski it for the whole weekend. Crowds could be a problem, as the NY/NJ folks are a factor. They have tons of lifts, but don't expect any moments of "just you and the mountain". I have seen Hunter Mtn., NY on a weekend, though, and it's nothing like that.

(c) If you don't care about steeps and vertical drop, then do the Big Boulder (450', I think) and Jack Frost thing. JF during the day, BB at night. They have a joint lift ticket, and it seems like a good family trip. If you are taking this option, then take the northeast extention of the PA turnpike to get there.

Ski and Tell

Snowcat got your tongue?

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