Since I got the entire family excited about skiing at Mad River last month, I decided that I should start exploring some of the ski areas in eastern Pennsylvania. My hope is to find a place where next year we could maybe buy a season’s pass or discount card so that we can spend some weekends skiing, keeping our legs in shape for trips to the bigger mountains.
First on the list was Bear Creak Mountain, almost exactly two hours from our front door and very doable as a day trip. So on the Saturday of the Presidents’ Day holiday weekend we were up and out the door at 7 a.m., Pocono-bound.
I had signed both the boys up for the morning ski programs for kids and was impressed by how well-organized they were. Although there was a crush of people waiting in line when we got there, we found that it moved quickly. The people behind the desk were friendly and efficient. While parents signed a release, they gave each child a lift ticket and a bib with his or her name before moving them quickly into a large room where they were sized and matched with any equipment they needed.
Travel-with-kids tip: If you’re interested in the kids’ programs at Bear Creek and are planning to ski on a weekend, you should call to reserve a place. We saw several people who were turned away because they hadn’t done so.
For $80 apiece the children got all of their equipment including helmets (which they were entitled to use all day), a two-and-a-half hour group lesson, and an extended-day ticket that allowed them to ski until 10 p.m. When we picked them up at noon, each of their instructors gave us a written report card and also took the time to tell us exactly what the boys did and what they needed to work on.
Since the ski school personnel took over suiting up the boys, shooing away the parents and telling us to return at lunchtime and no sooner, within fifteen minutes of arrival we were childless and able to get our own tickets and rental gear. We were up on the “mountain” (more of a big hill really) soon after, enjoying the great packed powder.
One thing that impressed me about this ski area was the way they use multiple lifts and clever divisions of trails to segregate novice skiers, hot-dogging snowboarders, and those who just want to ski. There’s a lift for beginners and a terrain park for the boarders with lots of jumps, steps, and other toys aimed at those who want to be airborne.
It’s not a big place, and it was pretty crowded the day we were there. But I never felt overwhelmed by the crowd or unsafe because of it. Although I do wonder how skied off it gets when the conditions aren’t as perfect as they were thanks to the storms that dumped feet of snow during the previous week. There are lots of snowmaking guns, but with all of the people going down on boards, I’m guessing it probably gets icy.
The trails are aptly marked. There are a few legitimate black diamond trails with some nice moguls. The only wish I had was that the runs were a little longer – it often felt like my legs were just warming up when I hit the bottom of the trail. But I’d have to trade time in the car to get more vertical, and I’m not sure I’d want to drive more than 4 hours for a day trip.
We ate lunch in the Mountain Eatery, which is the main cafeteria and a very nice space with picture windows overlooking the slopes and big stone fireplaces. The food was surprisingly good – I had a fantastic buffalo chicken cheesesteak and Matt and Tommy had very tasty hamburgers. But lunch for four people came in at $42, so I think I would be inclined to bring lunch next time. Other eating options include the Grille , which has a pretty decent looking pub menu,some fancier fare, and a full bar. There’s also the Trail’s End Café, which judging from the menu offers a good mix of soups and salads – but it’s located in a different building, away from the main lodge.
Travel-with-kids tip: The Waffle Hut, which dispenses Belgian waffles topped with powdered sugar or other toppings sits at the bottom of the one of the chairlifts. We didn’t try them, but they smelled great and I’m guessing they make for a fun mid-afternoon treat.
After lunch I took some runs with Tommy for the first time (you may recall that at Mad River, his grandparents kept him to themselves). He was tired, so we only did about three runs, but I was impressed with the progress he had made. His instructor was completely accurate in his assessment that he needs to work on his “French fry” turns, keeping his skis and legs together as he traverses. But he’s definitely skiing – if we could get out more often, he’d probably be an intermediate skier before this season was over. I’ve enjoyed few things more in my life than cruising down the hill in his wake.
While Matt, Tommy, and I were out in the afternoon, Teddy hung out in the daycare center, which was just fine with him. It wasn’t a big space (and was dominated by a large TV) but he had a good time and the young women who worked there were very nice. For $6 per hour, I was satisfied.
Travel-with-kids tip: If you’ve got a child who’s a non-skier, you might consider the snowtubing park, a big sledding hill which has a carpet lift. It costs $28 per day on the weekend and is not included in the price of lift ticket. Bear in mind that your child must be at least 6 years old and 42 inches tall.
We were at Bear Creek on a holiday weekend and it was busy, although not as busy as I expected it to be given the tremendous amount of snow that fell the week before. And they are clearly prepared for crowds. Every area of the resort, from the ski school to the rental area to the lifts was more than adequately staffed with cheerful young people who kept things moving at a good clip.
Although I found the kids’ programs to be a good value (especially since my kids needed equipment) the adult lift tickets and rentals were pretty pricey. Matt and I paid the same price for ourselves as we did for each of the boys and of course neither of us got a lesson. We were paying peak rates, since it was a holiday weekend.
I liked Bear Creek. It has a friendly vibe and nice terrain. But given the limited size of the area and the fact that we don’t always get great snow down here, I’m not sure I’d spring for a season’s pass next year (it was $1600 this year to get an unlimited one for the entire family). I think I’d be more inclined go for the discount cards, which would give us each one free anytime lift ticket and decent discounts on both weekday and weekend tickets.
I’ll also be looking into purchasing equipment for me and Matt and leasing it for the boys, because after another fun day outdoors on the snow, it’s clear to me that we’re now official a family of skiers!
Bear Creek Mountain is located in Macungie, Pennsylvania, about an hour from Philadelphia and 90 minutes from Wilmington, Delaware.