Not everything has to go downhill when the flakes begin to fly.
Not everything has to go downhill when the flakes begin to fly.
There’s much more to snow season than schussing and slaloming on the slopes. In public parks and on expansive resort properties, you can glide at your leisure along serenely scenic cross-country trails. Or trade your hiking boots for a pair of snowshoes and make some tracks of your own along freshly blanketed back roads.
If you prefer to be propelled via horsepower, there are sleighs, snowmobiles and even Hummers available for some off-road recreational rough-riding. Then again, you might also want to mush on a dogsled or prowl the slopes at night on a snowcat.
For a mid-week or weekend escape, it’s only about a four-and-a-half hour drive to the three southwestern Pennsylvania counties—Fayette, Somerset and Westmoreland—collectively known as the Laurel Highlands (laurelhighlands.org, 800-333-5661). Farmington, in Fayette County, is home to Nemacolin Woodlands Resort (1001 LaFayette Drive, 800-422-2736, nemacolin.com) and its 25-acre Mystic Mountain with eight well-marked cross-country trails covering 15 kilometers. The generally gentle terrain is also perfect for snowshoeing ($20/person for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing; rental equipment and cross-country skiing instruction available).
It’s not quite the Iditarod, but the mushing at Nemacolin is a pretty unique experience in these parts. The resort has its own lively team of Alaskan Huskies who will take you sledding through the snow—or along the bare terrain in a four-wheeled Touri cart if Mother Nature won’t cooperate—on a wild half-hour ride along the 2,800-acre property’s trails ($160/first rider, $50/each additional).
On the more sedate side are half-hour sleigh rides at the resort’s equestrian center ($75/half-hour; up to four people). Although sleighing does require snow, your cocoa will taste just as good if you drink it in a surrey substitute when the ground is dry.
You might not think of off-road driving as a winter sport, but a little white ground cover simply adds some seasonal spice to the challenge of taking the Hummer H1’s and H2’s and Toyota FJ Cruisers through their paces around the resort’s 18 miles of rugged trails and logging roads. Bring your own Hummer or rent one. Certified instructors conduct a how-to session on “The Crater,” a one-mile field course. ($275/two hours, $125 with your own Hummer.)
For posh aprés ski, shoe, sled, sleigh or off-road sport accommodations, Nemacolin has numerous options. Falling Rock is a Frank Lloyd Wright-style boutique hotel that features guest rooms and suites, some with individual butler service ($365-$595). Crystal chandeliers and other elegant accoutrements give Chateau Lafayette ($260-$520) the look and feel of a grand European hotel. The Tudor-style Lodge ($210-$415) combines English stately with cottage cozy.
Fourteen on-the-premises restaurants and lounges provide ample nourishment, from the quick-serve Hungry Moose Café to the upscale Italian dishes at Autumn, the innovative progressive format at Aqueous and the contemporary French cuisine at the white-tablecloth Lautrec. Muscle-soothing massages and other head-to-toe treatments are on the menu at Nemacolin’s Woodlands Spa (above).
Need for Speed
With its 35 slopes on 5,500 acres, Seven Springs Mountain Resorts (777 Waterwheel Drive, 800-452-2223, 7springs.com) in Champion, Somerset County, is Pennsylvania’s largest ski resort. While best known for its downhill trails, Seven Springs also offers guided snowshoe tours (below) around the bottom of the slopes when the natural snow is at least six or seven inches deep ($25/person, $18 with your own snowshoes).
The sight of snow-covered slopes is beautiful by day. But after the sun sets, it’s pure magic. At Seven Springs, two-hour guided snowmobile tours give drivers experienced with the vehicles (or ATVs or Jet Skis) the opportunity to motor around the mountain after dark ($80). Novices should stick to the daytime one-hour tour ($45/midweek, $50/weekend). On snowy nights (and days), you can snuggle under a warm blanket for a half-hour ride in an open horse-drawn sleigh ($20/person, $10/children 11 and under).
Late at night, after the slopes and trails are closed to skiers and boarders, the snowcats (below) come out at Seven Springs. And you can hitch a ride on one of the resort’s custom-designed vehicles as it makes its grooming rounds ($20/45 minutes).
Set on 5,500 acres, the family-owned Seven Springs has a sleek, contemporary, 10-story high-rise hotel ($159-$189 midweek, $189-$219 weekends) with a warm, wood-accented Alpine feel inside. An intimate on-the-premises spa offers pampering facial and body treatments. During peak season, guests can choose from 16 dining spots (ranging from the outdoor slope-side Emo’s Pit barbecue to the romantic Helen’s Restaurant, with its sweeping views and roaring fireplace) and eight lounges (spice up your Bloody Mary at the Foggy Goggle’s do-it-yourself bar).
It’s only about a 90-minute drive to the Victorian Pocono Mountain town of Jim Thorpe. An all-season destination, it’s particularly appealing when snow covers the narrow streets, preserved architecture and surrounding snow-capped mountains, a sight that prompted the Swiss Tourist Board to dub Jim Thorpe “America’s Little Switzerland.”
Another reason for the comparison is the town’s wealth of winter sporting opportunities. Mauch Chunk Lake Park (625 Lentz Trail, carboncounty.com, 570-325-3669) offers 18 miles of cross-country skiing along the old Switchback Trail, once a gravity railroad that carried coal to the Lehigh Canal in Jim Thorpe. The inclines can be a challenge, but if you start at the top and ski your way down, you can still enjoy the experience without as much physical exertion. To plan your route, the park office ($20 fee) offers a trail guide. You can also rent all of your equipment—from boots to skis to poles—at the office.
At the end of the day, spring for a whirlpool (there’s room enough for two) and/or fireplace suite at The Inn at Jim Thorpe (24 Broadway, 800-329-2599, $169-$279), early 20th-century accommodations with a Victorian heart (including marble floors and pedestal sinks in the bathrooms) and New Orleans spirit (wrought iron balconies reminiscent of Bourbon Street).
For dining, there’s hearty English-Irish specialties at the Inn’s Emerald Restaurant. Or if you’re in the mood for Italian, the Black Bread Café, close by on Race Street, is a good bet. Café Origins, also close on Broadway, is the place to go for imaginative vegetarian fare.
With its wide-ranging views of the Delaware River and the surrounding countryside spanning three states, High Point State Park may seem like the top of the world. At the northernmost tip of the New Jersey Skylands region, it isn’t quite, but this Kittatinny Mountain perch is the highest point in the state. That elevation makes for a cross-country skiing spot well worth the two-and-a-half hour drive.
Most of the 15 kilometers of groomed trails at the High Point Cross Country Ski Center (1480 Route 23, 973-702-1222, xcskihighpoint.com) is at 1,600 feet, ensuring a maximum amount of natural snow. But even if the flakes fail to fall, man-made snow on half of the trails means skiers won’t be disappointed. High Point is a great family place, with trails that accommodate every skill level from beginner (there are special trails for children and physically challenged skiers) to pro, and every cross-country style from classic to skate. You can snowshoe here, too—on eight kilometers of crisp white snow cover. (Cross-country trail passes: adults $13/weekdays, $16/weekends; children and seniors $11/weekdays, $14/weekends. Half-day rates from 1 p.m.: adults $10/weekdays, $12/weekends; children and seniors $8/week-days, $10/weekends. Group lessons offered for adults and children; ski, boot and snowshoe rentals available.)
A lovely place to stay during your visit to High Point is the Alpine Haus Bed & Breakfast (217 State Route 94, 973-209-7080, alpinehausbb.com) in the nearby town of Vernon. Located on one of the original farms in the area, this 1887 Federal-style home has been furnished by owners Jack and Allison Smith with lots of antiques and amenities, including Jacuzzi tubs and gas fireplaces. A home-cooked breakfast is included with your stay ($110-$145). For dinner in another historic setting, the Iron Forge Inn, right across the border in Bellvale, N.Y., (38 Iron Forge Road, 845-986-3411, ironforgeinn.com), serves contemporary local and seasonal American fare in a converted Revolutionary War-era home, along with a pub menu in its Tap Room.
With three state and two federal parks, seven lakes for fishing and boating, and a “Grand Canyon” that cuts more than 800 feet deep, 40 feet long and 4,000 feet from rim to rim through the mountain, Tioga County (570-724-0635 or 888-TIOGA28, visittiogapa.com) in north central Pennsylvania (about a four-hour drive) is a largely pristine paradise for outdoor aficionados any time of year. Fall and summer are the top tourist seasons here, which makes it just fine for snow sporters who want to get away from it all.
Following each snowfall, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources sets a track of at least 20 miles for cross-country skiers. It follows the area’s famed Pine Creek Rail Trail, a former Indian path and locomotive transport route that runs along the canyon bottom.
Because the canyon walls limit the amount of sunshine that hits the trails, any snow on the ground can stick around for a pretty long time. Country Ski & Sports (81 Main Street, 570-724-3858) in Wellsboro rents cross-country equipment at reasonable rates.
The dramatic backdrop of the canyon attracts many snowshoers to Tioga County. Wild Asaph Outfitters (12389 Route 6, 570-724-5155) in Wellsboro rents snowshoes ($15/day) that are specially designed for icy mid-Atlantic conditions. Wild Asaph also offers snowshoe clinics. For overnight stays, you might want to try Bear Mountain Bed & Breakfast (8010 Route 6, Wellsboro; 866-724-8010 or 570-724-2428). This woodsy-luxe North Country-style chalet ($150-$225) is tucked away high on a hill. Think cushy, hand-crafted beds; an in-room whirlpool or hot tub; gas fireplaces; healthy snacks for the trail; and more.
Two other culinary charmers are the Euro-flavored bed and breakfast La Belle Auberge (129 Main St.) and the cozy La Petite Auberge (3 Charles St.), both in downtown Wellsboro ($175-$195, discount for three-day weekends; 866-250-8117, 570-724-3288).
Two favorite local dining spots are Timeless Destination (77 Main St., 570-724-8499, Wellsboro), featuring a wide variety of Italian-accented specialties, and Wren’s Nest (102 W. Wellsboro St., Mansfield, 570-662-1093), which offers candlelight dining in a historical homestead.
And don’t even think about leaving town without doing breakfast. It’s served all day at the Wellsboro Diner (19 Main St., 570-724-3992), a popular downtown landmark since 1939.
Ever had a yen to sleep in a yurt? It’s a five-hour drive to Salmon Hills in Redfield, N.Y. (100 Noble Shores Drive, 315-599-7008, salmonhills.com). But once there, you can pick your pleasure, from cross-country skiing to snowshoeing to snowmobiling.
Salmon Hills is on the Tug Hill Plateau between Lake Ontario and the Adirondack Mountains. Thanks to lake-effect snow, it’s the snowiest area east of the Rockies, which keeps the trails in peak condition for all winter sports. On select nights, trails are open until 9 p.m. (Full-day fees: adults $12/weekdays, $15/weekends. Half-days: $7/weekdays, $11/weekends; discount rates for seniors and kids 6-15. Lessons and equipment rentals available.)
At Salmon Hills, the accommodations are as much of an attraction as the snow. At Yurt Village (“the only one of its kind in the East,” according to facility owner Hans Karlsen), structures were designed to replicate the rustic living quarters favored by the Mongolian nomads thousands of years ago—only the insides have been jazzed up with electricity, modern plumbing and, most important of all, heat.
One of the most romantic features of Yurt Village’s circular, pointy-roofed structures is a five-foot, domed skylight for nighttime star watching in the comfort of your own quarters (one-story model $75-$10, two-story model $240). Bring your own sleeping bag and other bedding to wrap up in, or Salmon Hills will supply you with one ($10).
During the week, Salmon Hills has its own casual café, which serves hot breakfasts and burger-chili-salad lunches and dinners. Not too far away in Williamstown, N.Y., is the Hayloft Pub (410 Route 39, 315-599-7669), which serves everything from burgers to prime rib in a renovated 150-year-old barn complete with inviting fireplace bar.