High in the Endless Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania, you'll find an expansive collection of slopes and trails that define the diversity of Pennsylvania skiing and snowboarding. In the rugged terrain that ranges from valley farmland and rises to nearly 3,000 feet above sea level, Elk Mountain looms large. It remains pristine. At times you ride a chair above clouds that can obscure the valley below. Wherever you ski and ride, the vista is always changing, always dynamic. What can you expect to find? Here's what. -- Jay Lloyd
The elevation and northern setting in Susquehanna County offers one of Pennsylvania's most dependable winter snowfalls. Nature has rarely disappointed. It was helped along by the men and women who carved the trails, designed a powerful snowmaking system, built a comforting lodge and populated the highly advanced ski school and ski patrols. Let's take the tour.
Combining some of the steepest and longest headwalls in Pennsylvania with moderately pitched cruising trails that meander along the outer edges of the mountain, Elk uses its 1,000 foot vertical drop to provide challenge and an opportunity to cruise and improve. More than half of the terrain is rated for advanced skiers and riders. You can take runs that extend to 1-1/2 miles of constant pitch, non-stop sliding. Twenty-eight slopes and trails include 2 terrain parks and a dedicated area for learners. Six lifts move us from base to summit and beginner slope launching spots. Over half of the mountain and the most popular terrain is lighted for night skiing. The summit provides access to clearly marked runs for novice, intermediate and expert skiers and riders. The black-diamond "Tunkhannock" headwall provides one of the most steeply challenging mogul fields in Pennsylvania.
To get an overview of the mountain takes several runs. But by riding the "B" and "C" lift gives you a good idea of the steep pitch you'll find on the mountain's most challenging slopes. "Susquehanna" just to the right of the chairs typifies the pitch and length of the major headwalls. "Tuscarora" and "Slalom", hidden from sight by woods offer the same pitch over tighter terrain and with less traffic. If there are no races during your visit, "Slalom" in its wooded setting is one of the most enjoyable black-diamond trails on the mountain. To the far left you you'll find the long and scenic cruising trails, "Lehigh" and "Delaware". The "Delaware" trail provides access to the main terrain park. Swing right of the "A" and "B" lifts for access to the long, easy cruising "Schuylkill"" trail that provides access to the "Tunkhannock" headwall and nearly all of the intermediate trails on the north side of the mountain. It terminates at the north side "E" and "F" lifts.
WHAT IT COSTS
All-Day adult lift tickets cost $66 on weekends, $54 midweek. Children under 12 and seniors pay $50 on weekends and $42 midweek. There are discounts for active military and a variety of partial day and nighttime rates. Check them out here: www.elkskier.com/tickets-passes/lift-tickets
Adult ski package rentals are $36 on weekends, $32 midweek. Kids and seniors pay $31 and $27. Adult and children snowboard rentals are $40 all week plus $18 for boots. See all the rental rates here: www.elkskier.com/tickets-passes/rentals
The elk Mountain Ski School (snowboard too) has long enjoyed a reputation for polishing skiers before their big trips to the Rockies or Alps. It has the terrain and professionally certified instructors who are well prepared to teach experts, new skills. You want to learn the bumps. They got it. Steeps? It's there. Go from intermediate to advanced? Can do. Group lessons are $35 a person. Private lessons which is the best route for advanced skiers and riders, will cost $94 for an hour, $153 for a two-hour course.
SIPS AND CHOMPS
The bi-level Winter Garden restaurant with its cathedral ceiling and vista-window view of the mountain is one of the best designed in Pennsylvania. The food rivals the atmosphere. The full service restaurant and lively bar serves both lunch and dinner. The menu cruises between a skier warming chili to salads for dainty eaters or grilled steaks and salmon for the robust diner. In between is a range of burgers, pop sandwiches and apps to be leisurely savored, not gobbled on the go. The main cafeteria is the spot for skiers and riders who want to fuel up, but not at the expense of valuable time lost from the mountain.
Just 2 miles from the mountain, Stonebridge Inn combine comfy rooms with a popular restaurant and bar in a picturesque mountain setting. Room rates range around $110 a night mid-week and $165 on weekend. Slide over here for a peek at rooms and menus. www.stone-bridge-inn.com/introframset.html
I generally stay 8 miles from the mountain on scenic Crystal Lake at the Crystal Lake Hotel. The hotel itself is a classic mountain inn that now functions as a restaurant, lounge and bar, while the guests rooms are in more modern units across the road. It's family owned, the dining is Italian and the place to sit is a fireplace warmed 4 table nook in the lounge. Nightly room rates are around $115. Here's the overview: www.crystal-lake-hotel.com/index.php
For immersion into an elegant past, The Fern Hall Inn also on Crystal Lake is the spot. The one-time retreat of the Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical family, it features period furnished rooms and upscale dining. Rates vary. www.fernhallinn.com/online/index2.html
Take the Northeast Extension of the Pa Turnpike to I-81 north. Got off at exit 206 for Route 374 toward Lenoxville. Make a right onto route 374 east and go 2.4 miles to route 106 west/route 374 east. Travel 1.3 miles and make a right onto route 374 east. Another 5 miles and you're there.
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