It’s pretty much my unofficial goal to become a cross-country ski bum. I’ve outlined before why one of my favorite outdoor activities and am stoked that this winter has been generous with the snow thus far. I think I skied five times last year and two of those required traveling up to Lake Placid for a weekend. I was pumped to finally find a spot to ski in Lancaster the week before Christmas (Central Park has trails set aside for XC skiing) and went into Christmas break thinking that it’s all I’d do. Unfortunately the weather did not agree with me and my skis sat in my car for the duration of the holiday.
All that turned around two weeks ago when winter storm “Hercules” dumped a bunch of snow our way. School was cancelled Friday and despite only having arrived back in Lancaster the day prior, I packed up my car and headed right back to NEPA to ski all weekend (Lancaster has good trails, but NEPA has excellent ones, as well as XC ski companions).
On Friday night, my cousin and I took a 7 mile night ski from my house to the Beacon, a local bar, where we had my parents come and pick us up, after some wings and beer of course. We wanted to continue the night, but the ski had worn us out and so by 11:30, we were both home and asleep. This was good as it allowed me to wake up early Saturday morning, get some work done, enjoy a great breakfast (jalapeno cheddar waffles inspired by Meat & Potatoes in Pittsburgh) and then joined my parents, uncle, cousin, and some family friends for a leisurely afternoon ski on the PA Rail-Trail system in Simpson. I was excited to learn that the Rail-Trail, which has always been maintained well, had recently redone some old railway bridges, opening up the number of trails that are now skiable. Afterwards, we go drinks and food at my favorite restaurant, Franks (which the newly opened bridges now made reachable by skiing) and then my cousin and I ended up on an afternoon-nightly bar crawl that went far longer than I anticipated.
Despite an ill advised round of carbombs and 1:30 bedtime, I woke up Sunday still sore, but energized and by 10:00 was back out for a nice solo ski on the trails between Browndale and Simpson which was invigorating and mind-clearing. I’d initially wanted to wake up and do a sunrise ski, but I always rationalize that I’m not going to ever regret a fun night.
NEPA is the perfect place to ski because of the bountiful trail system, the gorgeous scenery and the ability to ski to various bars or restaurants with some advance planning (ie: having a car waiting for you at the end-you won’t want to get back on those skis after a few beers and a burger stacked with bacon, fries and hot wing sauce…trust). The things is, as much as I can’t help extolling NEPA as the best XC Skiing in PA because it’s my home and my favorite place to go, the whole state is extremely conducive to this underrated sport, as long as the snow holds up its end of the bargain.
What I’ve decided to do is compile a list of XC ski locales in Keystone State. Some of these places offer groomed trails. Others have rental equipment while some are simply trails that received solid recommendations. This is far from an all encompassing list and remember that if you have your own skis, the opportunities are pretty endless.
PA XC SKI LOCALES:
Chet’s Place – Chet’s is a popular bar located just a couple of minutes from Elk Mt. They offer XC ski and snow shoe rentals and will provide you with maps of where to go. As an added bonus they have accommodations on site and are a fun bar.
Inn at Starlight Lake- The Inn at Starlight Lake is another NEPA locale where you can rent skis and will be provided with a trailmap, which makes it a good option for beginners.
Crystal Lake Ski Center- The Crystal Lake Ski Center in Hughesville, PA also has rentals and maps but also features groomed trails and lessons if you need. They also host several nights skis. I’d love to make it up there next time it snows.
PA State Parks System- Pennsylvania has an extensive state park system and this website shows you which parks allow XC skiing and what the best trails are.
High Point XC Ski Center: The High Point XC Ski Center is technically located in Sussex, NJ but since there are not a lot of locales who offer groomed trails AND it’s only 20 minutes from the PA border, I figured it was safe for inclusion.
Art Roscoe Ski Trail System- The Art Roscoe Ski Trail system in northwestern PA (and southwestern NY) is maintained by the Allegheny Nordic Club.
XC Ski Resorts and Trails- XCSki.org is the best resource for where to XC ski in the USA. This link will take you to their Pennsylvania homepage.
Wilderness Lodge: The Wilderness Lodge in western PA has groomed trails, rentals, lessons, snowshoes, a bar, restaurant and lodging for up to 40 guests.
Laurel Ridge - The Laurel Ridge XC Ski Center is southwestern PA is located in the Laurel Ridge State park.
NEPA Rail Trail- Here’s a map of the NEPA railtrail that I mostly XC ski on when I’m at my parent’s house. You could rent skis from Chet’s if you don’t have your own.
Jim Thorpe- Jim Thorpe is fast becoming a mecca for XC Skiing and Snowshoeing and there’s a whole slew of trail systems to chose from. This link will take you to Mauch Chunk Lake Park, where you could rent a set of skis.