Category Archives: Elk Hill Winter

Text and images from the most time spent in Winter on Elk

Tracks in the snow

tracks_in_the_snowWhile riding up the chairlift first thing in the morning to help open the mountain for the day, there, far below in the corduroy textured snow left by the grooming tractors was what looked to be large canid paw prints. Left by one of the neighbors’ dogs that live nearby I thought. I radioed my crew member who was opening the east side of the mountain, and asked that they photograph the prints.

Arriving at the bottom of the west side of the mountain a few minutes later, I saw tracks in the snow apparently made by the same animal. Later, another patroller who has spent much time in the woods hunting as well as skiing, remarked that he had seen a large buff colored animal with a bushy tail, too large to be a cat, running across the trail below him.

“A Coydog” he replied when asked what he thought he had seen. These animals are not common as they are the result of the mating of a coyote and dog. Some even doubt that they even exist in significant numbers in this area. Coyotes in these parts of the country are larger than their western cousins, as some members of the packs mated with wolves as they migrated eastward.

It’s not uncommon to hear the unmistakable yips and howls as packs range the valleys hunting rabbits and other small game, however, seeing these animals, part dog, part wolf, part coyote, or recent evidence of them, is quite rare.

Cusp of Spring

cusp_of_springSince sometime in February, the snowpack had been constant, locked in place. Rained upon, then frozen by temperatures in the teens; unchanged by either thaws or considerable new snow.

A couple of weeks ago, a brief warm-up caused the snowpack to diminish quickly, but gracefully. The timing such that one more cross-country ski outing was thwarted as the window of opportunity for a good surface, between rock hard ice and melted mush, was less than a couple of hours.

Unseasonably cold weather continues to dominate, and attentions returned to proper layering of clothing to accommodate single digit mornings that yield to afternoons, sometimes above freezing.

The cold of mornings is now somewhat diminished by March’s rising adolescent sun – enthusiastic, but not yet fully mature enough to cast strong warmth. Continued preoccupation with Winter cold distracted our attention from seeking signs of Spring, and none made themselves prominent. Someone did note that they recently saw a robin, though “…it was wearing a little scarf around it’s little neck”.

Changing the clocks for daylight savings time seemed routine, not cause for enthusiasm as a sign of Winter’s end. Though twilight now comes later, its’ most evident effect was that of causing us to return to waking in darkness, a relapse to typical Winter mornings. A single report of snow geese, nearly invisible on the distant horizon was the only reminder that Winter may indeed, someday, end.

Yesterday’s arrival of astronomical Spring provoked a cursory inventory of the yard. Muddy tire ruts, formed during a brief thaw, remain frozen solid in the driveway. Not a single Snowdrop to be found, not even a blade of new green protruding from the earth, now mostly devoid of snow.

No mournful honking of Canadian geese from out of the dusk, no visible V of them flying overhead. Usually by this time of year, a few raptors have begun their northern migration along the highest ridges, Elk Mountain being one of them. Though the snowpack is essentially gone, Winter continues to own any standing water, keeping it under many inches of ice, inaccessible to journeying birds in search of resting places on their way back to their Summer homes.

Flurries continue to float through the air. Yesterday’s Equinox sent dark clouds at one elevation to obscure happy cumulus clouds higher up. From the top of Elk, one could see that folks in one direction were enjoying sun, rain in another, snow in yet another. The clouds, scurrying this way and that, divided their attention several times; most of us saw both Spring and Winter exchange prominence several times.

And then, as Elk became one of those places enjoying sun for a few moments, high in the sky with a flapping pattern, size, and coloration distinguishing itself from the crows, common on the mountain, was a Rough Legged Hawk; unmistakable with white wings tipped with dark bands. That being and his fellows summer in the Arctic. As they rarely encounter humans so far North, they seem more curious of humans than concerned. Given the altitude that fellow maintained, one could tell his intent was on his journey, not in resting or exchanging pleasantries.

After a cold dark start to the first day of Spring, The Ski King remarked “Sunny day now!” and doffed his hat revealing his shock of silver hair, usually a reliable sign of Spring. As the day wore on, turned dark, back to Winter, he defiantly remained hat-less as the cold wind mixed white flakes into his thick mane.

With excellent mid-Winter conditions, and feet of snow still on the slopes, Elk Mountain has set no closing date yet. Just in case one more storm leaves enough snow in the woods, the cross-country skis remain in place near the back door.

Even for those of us who secretly wish that every Winter was endless, whether we admit it outwardly or not, these harbingers of Spring, are welcome. We are weathered. Skin on fingers is scarred, split from the cold, wounds taped shut. Winter winds have etched crows feet one season deeper into our faces. Body fat is nearly gone having been spent armoring against cold for so long. Though expanded to their fullest size from countless turns on steep slopes and meandering trails, muscles are ready for a respite.

It’s time. The days will continue to lengthen from here on out, till all of a sudden, we find ourselves on a warm Summer day, in t-shirts and flip-flops, vaguely considering, anticipating, how next Winter will be.

Spring Carnival

spring_carnival_2014Though Elk is still enjoying mid-winter ski conditions, it’s time for the Elk Mountain Spring Carnival, Saturday, March 15th.

Check out Elkskier.com for times and details for the following events – there’s something for everyone!!!

Spring Clearance Sale in the Ski Shop
Cardboard Box Race (West Slope)
Snow Sculpture Contest (East Slope)
Rootin’ Tootin’ Slalom Race (Beginner Slope) Ages 12 and under
“Slope Style” Competition (Stompin’ Grounds Terrain Park)
Pudding Eating Contest (Children’s Area Main Lodge) Ages 12 and under
Fun & Games w/Music (Winter Garden Lounge/Adults Only)
– Musical Chairs
– Limbo
– Other Games
Costume Parade (West Slope)

Weathered

weatheredElk Mountain is just under 3,000 feet tall: a combination of elevation and latitude whereby the trees on the summit are just starting to show characteristics of dwarfism. The crowns of the deciduous trees that grow there are more compact than their counterparts in the valley; their limbs are shorter, thicker and more gnarled.

There is no higher terrain between Elk and the Atlantic Ocean; it is the first thing with which weather systems collide. Winds, sometimes traveling for hundreds of miles, accelerate as they are disrupted by, and forced to overcome Elk’s steep slopes.

These winds, often bringing with them snow and ice, pummel the vegetation on the summit, exposing it to climactic conditions usually associated with regions much further to the north.

Tree line, or the elevation at which trees can no longer sustain themselves due to harsh weather, is at about 4,000 feet in the mountains of New England. There, on the highest mountains, one can hike upward through several climate zones, from the valley floor through deciduous, then boreal forests to rocky alpine peaks, essentially devoid of vegetation.

These same conditions that cause trees to keep themselves resolved against the weather, etch lines into the faces of those of us who spend a lot of time on The Hill. The youngest of us display these lines only when frowning and laughing. Temperate Spring sun will gently ease, erase these lines. By Summer, they will be all but noticeable.

For the rest of us, as season after season has accumulated, these gentle lines have etched themselves permanently into our faces; evidence of our extended presence in weather, both gentle and harsh, at elevation.

Timmy’s Town Center

timmys_town_centerAs with any community, people are born, marry, mate, and die. The Elk Mountain community is no different, except that a lot of skiing gets done between those milestones of life.

Some of us have been going up and down that hill for half a century. Others have been called from this existence much later; some much sooner.

It is incumbent upon those of us still making the trip up and down the hill to remember and honor those friends and family members who are no longer able to share this joyous routine.

This Sunday, make some runs down the race course on the West Slope – Ted Ligety is not the only champion to ski Elk – there’s a bit of champion in all of us!

Come on out, support a great cause, and honor those of us who have gone before us.
Elk Mountain Memorial Race Benefiting Timmy’y Town Center. Sunday 3/2/14 at Elk Mountain.
1/2 day lift tickets good either 8:30 – 12:30 or 12:30 – 4:30 $25 each.
Race at 1:00 PM on the West Slope. $5 per run.
All proceeds benefit Timmy’s Town Center an interactive children’s museum in Scranton Pa, founded in memory of a little boy who died from cancer.

For tickets call 570-504-3200 or 570-585-2931 or 570-341-1511.

Chet’s Place MVGC Award

mvgc_chets_placeCongratulations to Jean Shinn and Mark Silfee of Chet’s Place on the recent “Hometown Pride Award” presented by the Mountain View Garden Club.

If you’ve never seen Jean’s handiwork at it’s best, plan now to come and visit Chet’s Place in late June or early July, when the Summer is at it’s height. The flowers around Chet’s Place bar, the lodge, and Jean and Mark’s home are absolutely spectacular! One wonders how Jean get’s all this done, cooks for Chet’s Place patrons, and still has time to keep the Chet’s Place softball field in perfect condition!

Since forming in 2005, the Mountain View Garden Club members have been busy fulfilling its mission to share their knowledge and love of gardening while beautifying the Elk Mountain area and surrounding communities.

Previous “Hometown Pride Award” recipients include:

Portable Playhouse in Forest City,  Clifford Historical Society,  Idlewild Ski Shop, St. Pius X Church in Royal, The Shifler-Parise Funeral Home.

The Mountain View Garden Club accepts nominations recognizing businesses or organizations for upgrading the appearance of their business establishment’s exterior, improving the appearance of their neighborhoods, and beautifying the region. Also eligible for the award are organizations hosting projects/festivals that enhance the area’s quality of life.

While winter’s chilly temperatures and continuous snowfalls still have a grip on the mountain and area communities, you may not be thinking about gardening and outdoor projects! Actually it’s the perfect time to browse seed catalogues, leaf through gardening books and draft a spring planting plan. The payoff can be huge –beautiful blossoms, delightful scents, a peaceful and serene spot to enjoy the morning dew or evening sunset. You too, can beautify the community!

The Slalom Trail

the_slalom_trailThe very top of the Slalom trail, shown here at night, is docile and nearly flat. Beautiful in the evening light; one can sometimes see deer and fox tracks weaving in and out of conifers and hardwoods that line the trail.

Once over the top of the headwall the character of this slope changes dramatically; the Slalom opens to a wide expanse dropping several hundred feet at a steep, consistent pitch making it one of the best slalom ski racing trails on the East coast.

Many, many years ago, half of the Slalom was left as a glade – just enough trees were removed so one could turn, or “slalom” around the remaining hardwoods adding considerably to the challenge already posed by the trail’s breathtaking incline.

Over the years, the trees were removed, and the fall line adjusted to provide the wonderfully consistent pitch enjoyed today.

“Uhh… I dunno 60, maybe 65.” Replied a coach when asked by a young racer to estimate how fast he was going as he passed by. The trail has always been steep enough to allow considerable velocity – care must always be taken regardless of one’s ability level.

Inappropriate for beginner skiers, the Slalom trail has been skied by some of the best skiers in the country; young racers who learned to race on this hill have gone on to ski for and coach the US Ski Team, and to successful pro ski racing careers.

Eight years ago, just after the Torino Olympics, members of the US Ski Team, including current Olympians Hannah Kearney who captured a bronze medal in Freestyle Skiing Ladies Moguls earlier this week in Sochi, and Ted Ligety, pictured below, who won a gold medal in Torino, raced on the Slalom Trail along with junior racers from all over.

When not racing, the Olympians skied with aspiring local racers, giving them ski and racing tips, as well as the thrill of a lifetime: skiing with the best skiers in the world on their home mountain.

The Elk Mountain Slalom Trail has hosted thrill seekers and racers of all levels – from hearty souls navigating ungroomed snow between immoveable tree trunks on 210 centimeter skis with bear trap bindings, to first time junior racers, to Olympic gold medallists.

This Wanderlist was handcrafted at 2660 feet, from where Pro2 sends warm regards to all his friends and colleagues.

The Lehigh Trail

the_lehigh_trailThe recent storm provided enough snowfall for the Lehigh Trail on Elk Mountain to be opened. This trail, the longest of all, is beyond the reach of snowmaking facilities. It winds leisurely around the North Knob’s shoulder, offering spectacular views of the South Knob, and beyond.

Many years ago, before being re-routed, the Lehigh actually went uphill for a bit on it’s way to rejoining the Delaware trail further down the mountain.

Several very large rocks are precariously perched on either side of the trail. A close examination reveals parallel grooves in these rocks; seemingly the result of glaciers dragging debris as they extended and retreated during the last ice age.

The truth about these rocks is much more compelling. They are sedimentary rocks, having been created by sand and earth deposited at the bottom of an ancient delta. As the course of the delta shifted, debris settled in one direction, another, and another, layer upon layer. The sediment eventually hardened into rock. The changes of the water’s direction countless years ago is recorded in these rocks and is evident today.

As geological forces shaped the continents, the floor of the delta was thrusted upward, creating what was once one of the tallest mountains on Earth.

Hard evidence of such drastic change casts a different perspective on the hill that brings us such joy. Now, a modestly tall mountain, Elk was once was once lower than sea level; it was also part of a range higher than the Himalayas are today.
This Wanderlist was handcrafted at 1620 feet.

Mid-Winter

mid_winterFinally, it happened. The mercury rose to nearly 20F – a welcomed respite from the single digit above and below temperatures for which this January will be remembered.

For a while, it seemed that one could not put on enough clothing to be comfortable; now, one can choose whether one or two pairs of longjohns will suffice, rather than donning everything in the underwear drawer, and hoping for the best.

It’s not dark until well after 5PM. Dawn comes sooner; the sunlight finally casts noticeable warmth along with low-angled light.

February poses a full month of Winter, keeping the worry that ski season is almost over at bay. There is still plenty of skiing to be done, and though Spring may try to rush, it seems that Winter has no thoughts of going anywhere soon.

Optimism for more moderate temperatures, more snow, and more light is a welcomed companion to the stern resolve that has been necessary to maintain a bright attitude while transiting the darkest, coldest days of the year.

This Wanderlist was handcrafted at 1620 feet.

White Smoke

white_smokeThis is what that sumptuous “corduroy” surface many of us enjoy the first few runs of a ski day looks like before it settles to the snowpack, and is carefully plowed and tilled by the groomers in their tractors.

Recent temperatures have sunk to -14F with enough wind for the weather station at Ski Patrol base on the top of Elk Mountain to register wind chill values colder than -30F. When Nick and his crew stop in to base to check temperatures and humidity before continuing outside to keep the the snow guns running efficiently, their Carhartts are sometimes frozen solid, depending upon how close to the guns they’ve had to work. Yet, one never sees Nick without a big smile; “Did you ski the Tunkhannock this morning? I set the guns so they dusted it just right last night.” Those of us who are hardy enough to brave the cold, often head to the Tunkhannock trail first thing in the morning to enjoy Nick and the crew’s handicraft.

Despite the almost unbearable conditions, the snowmaking crew take great pride in their work, and, in coordination with the grooming tractor drivers, consistently deliver some of the best man-made conditions on the east coast, or anywhere else for that matter.

Though these cold snaps can be strenuous to endure, they do provide just the right conditions for making very high quality snow, or what skiers call “White Smoke”.

Though the recent storm left more snow in Philly than here, Elk continues to have outstanding conditions. Mother nature may help contribute to the Winter Wonderland this weekend with a couple of more inches. The Ski King often notes that even just an inch or two of natural snow tilled in with the existing man-made snow “met-a-morph-a-sizes” the surface into something truly delightful.

Let’s all fill our bellies, bundle up, get outside and enjoy the beautiful winter conditions this weekend!
This Wanderlist was handcrafted at 1620 feet.