UNION DALE, Pa. — Subfreezing temperatures and light winds made for a bluebird day of skiing at Elk Mountain (official site) on January 22, 2022.
It had been two years and four days since I last skied. On that day, I made my first trip to Elk Mountain. That had been so successful, “The Videographer” and I decided to go there again. We became a trio later in the day when “The Sys Admin” joined us.
A cold morning
Several days removed from fresh snowfall, Elk, like most of the East, was dealing with the coldest temperatures of the season. Driving up Interstate 81 from Hershey at dawn, the car display showed -10° near Hazleton. A seemingly prolonged and beautiful sunrise accompanied us from Harrisburg into the Anthracite region.
Arriving at Elk after a stop for food in Clarks Summit, the mercury had reached the teens.
As with last time, we stopped at Idlewild Skip Shop on PA 374 on the way into Elk. Ski and boat rental comes to about $36 for the day (return by 5 p.m.). If you brought your own boots, like I did, it’s $30. Service was efficient.
Consider this an official recommendation to rent skis off the mountain.
Parking lots at Elk Mountain are paved and were largely dry and clear. We had a short walk to the open-air shuttle to the main lodge. While I had purchased my lift ticket online, my friend had not. I was able to scan my QR code at ticket kiosk and was issued a RFD card. Transaction time – under 60 seconds. Elk has a kiosk outside the quad lift eliminating the need for ever visiting a ticket window or the lodge.
Lift tickets have increased in price significantly since 2020. My extended day lift ticket was $90, up from $75. The marketplace is not objecting to the rate.
We started our day on either Lift B or C (whichever was operating) to the top of the mountain. We warmed up on ●Lehigh, a pleasant cruiser to stretch us out. Conditions — not just “packed powder” but Eastern hardpack; firm but not very icy. If Elk blew snow (in sub-zero temperatures) on Friday night, it wasn’t apparent by 9:30 a.m., an hour after opening.
Following our second and ultimately, last ride up B/C lift, we changed direction to the west side of the mountain. We skied down the far side ■Mahican and into ■Lenape. Conditions were more of the same – hardpack and a fast track.
A few rides, The Videographer got his GoPro going as we explored the west side. A snowboarder recommended ■Kickapoo with it’s hairpin turns down the mountain. I really enjoyed it, conditions were softer than elsewhere and the turns were fun. The legs sure felt it!
The GoPro battery wasn’t great, so after two runs, it was off. I’m told that the edge caught just off piste on Machican was an entertaining wipeout, but alas, the camera was off. No yard sale, but getting up from a fall is harder that it used to be. I’ll guess I’ll just dismount from the start the next time.
On the recommendation of another skier on the lift, we tried out ♦Chippewa for our first expert run. The legs got burning on it, but was fun and satisfying. By now the snow had softened up a bit and bright blue sky was stunning. Most surprising of all — no wind. I can’t remember skiing in less wind.
Other than Lenape, many of the west side runs empty out into ■Snow Bowl which sounds more fun than “where the trails converge before the lift.”
Elk was crowded and 15-20 minute waits for the C lift were common throughout the middle of the day. While the crowd was self-regulating well. This was important because Elk’s quad is a standard lift, not a detachable high-speed model.
The Videographer and I generally enjoyed alternating between Mahican/Lenape and Chippewa. Waiting for another Penn State classmate to arrive, we decided to break for lunch.
Between COVID concerns and hoping to maximize our time skiing, we skipped the lodge and Cafe Teria’s tempting chicken fingers and fries. The Videographer grabbed our sandwiches and Pepsi Made with Real Sugar out of the car where we joyfully devoured them. Two port-a-johns near the Quad Lift meant missing out on walking up and down stairs in the lodge in full equipment. As tough as it was to forego that quintessential ski area experience, we pressed on.
Past 1:30, the sun was starting to get conspicuously lower in the sky – it felt like we had find a way to get more runs in. Eventually, our classmate, “The Sys Admin” met up with us. He had tried to rent skis at Elk, but found the wait so long that he altered plans and got skis and boots at Guenther’s Ski Haus.
Since the Sys Admin hadn’t skied in sometime, we started on blues again. We found our way back to Kickapoo and probably ■Wissahickon as well. We split up a little between lift rides. Chippewa got another ride and I “accidentally” skied down ♦Wyalusing while the Videographer hit ♦Tecumseh. I can’t recall if I made it Tecumseh. Wyalusing was a fun roller, but with shadows arriving, it started to ice up a little. Earlier in the day I would greet the air I caught going fall lines a little more enthusiastically. That was enough on this day, but next time…
We never did get the nerve to hit ♦Tunkhanock and its moguls. Maybe we’re smarter than last time.
We hit Kickapoo a few more times and then with the 4:30 lift closure looming we found ourselves on Lenape for one last run. I couldn’t help but take off at the end to finish strong. In doing so, I saw the lift was still taking passengers, so I got up the gates. I called the Videographer to tell we could get one last ride in. He figured RFD cards meant no “sympathetic liftee” and had made the decision to end the day. I went up solo, hoping to get a sunset photo from Lenape.
At the top, I realize that while liftees might be sympathetic, ski patrol is not. All the western trails were roped off and the only way down was ●Tioga, a good long cruiser. It put me over that lodge though which meant I needed to wait for the shuttle back to parking lot. Thankfully, it wasn’t a long wait and shortly thereafter I returned to my classmates enjoying soft drink apres ski. Needing to get back to Idlewild, we parted with Sys Admin and began the long ride home as the sun set over Northeastern Pa.
“There’s no bad weather, just wrong clothes”
Since it was colder than normal, I asked around on dcski.com forums about snow pants. I wound up buying a new pair of Columbia Bugaboo IV snow pants from Sun & Ski’s Seven Corners location. That and a pair of thermal long johns was sufficient.
Under my two-layer Columbia parka, I had on a Penn State hockey jersey, lined sweatshirt, long underwear and a long-sleeve cotton t-shirt. Cotton was discouraged, but I had not ill-effects. Good ski gloves too.
My head was covered in a balaclava, ski helmet and goggles.
I was comfortable all day long and didn’t sweat.
Rating and final thoughts
Back in 2020, we caught Elk on a day where it snowed a few inches. That, paradoxically, probably kept the crowds lower. In 2022, we found Elk to be more crowded. The ratio of skiers and snowboarders was closer today too. The clear skies and light wind made it quite a day.
Elk has enjoyable trails for Type II Intermediate skiers like me. It doesn’t inflate the trail count much and almost every run is top to bottom. Even with the subzero temperatures the last several nights, the slopes weren’t icy.
I am not sure I have seen fewer crashes, spills, wipe-outs, yard sales at a ski area than I did at Elk this time. There were a few, but very few.
Staffing issues that plague the entire industry were present at Elk. I don’t see much help until we’re post-pandemic and bringing H2-B and J-1 staff in at pre-pandemic rates.
On my standard rating scale of green circle being the lowest and black diamond being the highest, highest, I rate my day at Elk as at ■■.
What would it take to be a ♦?
- high-speed, detachable quad
- More staff, like everywhere else
- Less lift ticket inflation
As mentioned previously, at 257 miles from the Capital Beltway, Elk Mountain is probably too far away for a daytrip for most Washingtonians. I broke up the drive heading up with an overnight stay near Harrisburg.
Mid-Atlantic Skier Guide
My Mid-Atlantic Commuter Skier Guide is a resource for anyone looking to take a daytrip. I have compiled ski reports over the last decade from resorts throughout the Mid-Atlantic.
P.S. Check out another winter sport – broomball
I’ve adopted the “don’t hate winter, use it” mindset – skiing is obviously part of that thinking. I don’t limit my winter fun to those one or two trips a season. Here in the D.C. area, we’re fortunate to have an active broomball community.
Broomball is like ice hockey — played on a rink, but in shoes instead of skates and with a ball instead of puck. Special “brooms” are used for the stick.
Capitol Broomball is planning a pick-up game for new players February 1, 2022 at Tucker Road Ice Rink in Prince George’s County, not far from the Wilson Bridge. Come see for yourself how fun broomball is — if I can score a goal, so can you!
Learn more: Capitol Broomball 2022 winter season announced