Skiing and riding stayed in the snow zone this past weekend and even with a forecasted brief warm-up, conditions are shaping up to be great for the St. Patty’s Day celebration at ski resorts on Sunday.
Saturday was the best day of the season with bluebird skies, temperatures in the 30s and low 40s, no wind, low humidity and deep bases with packed powder, groomed surfaces throughout the Northeast. The storm that came in overnight on Saturday was a surprise more-snow-than-expected weather event with up to four inches in the Catskills and the forecasted rain never materialized.
Steep fest in the East
After doing some research on the steepest trails in the East, I came across a listing for a trail called White Lightning at Montage Mountain in Scranton, Pa. I hadn’t skied there in about 25 years and figured I should check out their claim that White Lightning is the second-steepest trail in the East. Montage is only 80 minutes from Middletown and an easy drive on Interstate 84 to I-81 south and Exit 182, following the signs along Montage Mountain Road.
The ski area has had an up-and-down life cycle, being run by Lackawanna County at one time and filing for bankruptcy before being bought by a private and local investor about six years ago. Under the current ownership, a large amount of money has been invested and it shows. The base area entrance and lodge have been renovated and modernized and lots of evergreens planted to act as windbreaks and to beautify the landscape.
The snow-making system has seen a major upgrade and there were a number of tower-mounted fan guns on many trails, including the steeper expert pitches where I saw guns spaced only 50 feet apart in spots. Clearly, the current owner understands the need to produce lots of snow in very short periods of time in the fickle weather of northeast Pennsylvania. Other than White Lightning, which was added about a dozen years ago, the trail layout is the same as it was when I last skied there.
Montage is a fairly large ski area with 140 acres of skiable terrain. There are 26 trails and a terrain park with six lifts, including a quad chair, two triples and two double chairs, along with a magic-carpet lift. The resort also has a very large tubing area with its own magic-carpet lift. The upper third of the mountain has lower intermediate and novice terrain and the slopes are extremely wide, making for very comfortable skiing and riding for lower-level skiers and snowboarders.
But beware the lower two-thirds of the ski area, where everything is black and double-black diamond. When it’s groomed out and with packed powder conditions like I experienced last week, strong intermediates can handle trails like Lower Fasttrack, Lower Runaway, Cannonball and Express. Boomer and Smoke are two double-black trails you can reach by using the Phoebe Snow Quad lift and they are relatively steep. Rattler, a Black Diamond run that I thoroughly enjoyed, is a narrow, winding run that connects Lower Runaway to Cannonball.
However, what separates the wheat from the chaff is White Lightning. It’s the real deal and super steep and unless you’re a legitimate and strong expert, you have no business on the trail. Any flaw in technique could have you sliding straight to the bottom of the run. White Lightning is an elevator shaft but it’s only 300 vertical feet of super-steepness, so it’s not comparable to trails like Blockbuster at Plattekill, K27, Westway, Claire’s and Annapurna at Hunter, or Wedel, Wolverine or Wheelchair at Windham.
That said, I enjoyed eight trips down the trail and it had me smiling at this Pennsylvania gem, along with the other great advanced terrain. Montage has a $299 season pass sale in effect through the end of this month and you can ski free the rest of the season there with the purchase of the pass. They should be open right through March and possibly into the first week of April.
Nothing like a Holiday
I skied at Holiday Mountain on Saturday after spending a couple nights at the Villa Roma Resort, near Callicoon. The Passante family, which owns the resort, also owns and operates Holiday Mountain and the ski area on the hotel grounds. That ski area, which has a double chairlift, one intermediate and one novice slope, and a tubing area, is ideal for families looking to get their children started on skis or a snowboard. The area was closed for the season but I was able to look at the slopes and they are relatively long for the modest 300 feet of vertical but non-intimidating for the beginning and lower intermediate skier or rider, a perfect way to get started in the sport.
The resort itself is like a mini Disneyland with all sorts of activities both indoors and outdoors, including pools, hot tubs, a bowling alley, Walley ball and racquet ball courts during the winter months and golfing, horseback riding, a zipline and tennis among the many other outdoor activities. I dined in the main dining room and the food was wonderful and the menu options extensive to suit a wide range of tastes.
And Holiday Mountain, only 35 minutes from the Villa Roma, and served by a hotel shuttle, was the usual enjoyable little ski hill that I always experience with perfectly groomed slopes on deep bases. I shared the slopes with several groups of children in the ski club program along with their instructors and managed 31 runs by 11:45 a.m.
I skied at Hunter on Monday morning and all I can say is, wow! Great conditions with bases that are more than 10 feet in many places on the mountain, so look for a long spring skiing and riding season there.
Kudos to Mikaela
Finally, my vote for athlete of the year has to go to Mikaela Shiffrin, who notched her 15th World Cup victory a week ago, the most ever by any athlete – male or female – in a single season. And she still has more races to go to increase her record-setting tally.
Think snowy shamrocks and leprechauns, and happy skiing and riding!
Al Neubert’s ski column runs on Thursdays in the Times Herald-Record and recordonline.com/sports.