Where to Ski

General Information

Ski anywhere there's enough snow. - Really. The best places to ski when it snows around Philadelphia is the nearest park or athletic field. Generally, walking paths or open spaces where others are or have been skiing will allow you to ski in their tracks which, if they are about shoulder width, is a bit easier. If they are haphazard, you can set your own track. If you can make a loop of about 1/2 to 1 kilometer, you can practice your technique and/or get a nice workout. It takes a uniform snow depth of 3 to 6 inches (depending on the snow density) to make it worth skiing. Often it will partially melt the next day or following days but, in the mornings when still frozen, you can ski for several days after a snow storm.

Some other places to try

Some local destinations - Your website creator has skied in only a few spots and mostly in the western suburbs so this information will not be a complete listing. If I hear of addtional spots I will update the website with them. I really can't vouch for most of them so you'll have to develop your own favorites.

Quite a few show up at Valley Forge Park but there's a lot of open areas with high grass, windswept areas and areas that get sun melt. A better place is Tyler Arboretum where regulars come out to ski the 20 miles of trails. The main trails are more traveled and easier to ski. You have to pay a small fee to visit (well worth it) or you can become a member. The Loop Trail at Fort Washington State Park is another popular spot. I've tried Ridley Creek State Park but not been happy - the walk/bike trial is plowed and other areas are too small to be that enjoyable for a park experience. Rose Tree Park north of Media is a good spot and is frequented by quite few after a storm. It is usually skiable for few days.

My Favorite

Right in the heart of Philadelphia - After a good snow storm of about six inches or more, a great skiing experience can be had on Forbidden Drive in the Wissahickon Valley section of Fairmont Park. It's such a great place to go during these times that I've listed it as a day trip. See DAY TRIPS link above. When conditions are right, you can literally ski for miles on a well tracked, relatively level trail and never know you're in the middle of a city.

Off to the Poconos

Always worth the trip - The Pocono area has a totally different climate than the Delaware Valley and there's often skiable snow throughout the winter. Occasionally, a thaw or rain storm will make it too icy but with a quick snow storm it's back to good to excellent conditions. Several good destinations are described in the DAY TRIP link above and more will be added as they are investigated. These trips include Tobyhanna State Park, Lackawanna State Forest, and Brady's Lake. Do check the OTHER LINKS section for some other options and to see how to check the weather and snow conditions. The PA DCNR website provides frequently updated reports of snow conditions at its parks and trails and best of all, there's a traffic cam positioned at Mount Pocono so you can check out how much snow is on the ground - there's often more at other locales. What a state.

Further afield in Pennsylvania

Would you believe groomed and set tracks in Pennsylvania? - Now we're talking. While I've only skied these two ski areas once, they were really very good. The first is Crystal Lake Ski Area, 3 1/3 hours from Philadelphia near Williamsport. My trip was for their yearly 15K citizen's race attended by about 50 racers, mostly skaters (there's also a 5K race on flatter sections). It was a bit hilly - you will enjoy the excitement - but you will have to be able to snowplow. The trails were very well groomed and the conditions were excellent. A long day trip from Philadelphia to ski this is possible since that's what I did.

The second area I skied was during a trip across the state where I stopped in at Laurel Ridge State Park. This area is home to the Pennsylvania Cross Country Skier's Association (PACCSA) and their dedicated volunteers, with a concessionaire attending the ticketing and small shop in the lodge. On the bright, sunny, post-storm day I skied, the parking lot was packed and probably a hundred skiers were out. It's 4 1/2 hours from here and frequented by Pittsburgh and Ohio folks. They hold the state's Nordic Championship race there every February.

The Great White North

Upstate New York gets more than 300 inches of snow a year - Can you believe it? There is a unique microclimate just north of Syacuse that is subject to frequent lake effect snow - lots and lots of snow. CLICK ON THIS LINK TO SEE THE UNBELIEVABLE SNOW! This is home to the Winona State Forest Trails, Osceola Tug Hill Ski Center and many other skiing areas - most on machined tracked trails. Best of all is the annual Winona Forest Tourathon (previously known as the Tug Hill Tourathon) the closest long distance citizen race. This is a locally sponsored race that's been going on for almost three decades and many regulars meet here every year. If you're looking for your first event, this is the one and also one to make a yearly ritual. See the OTHER LINKS for more information about this special place.

The Adirondacks and New England - Unlimited cross country skiing. There's almost too much to say about the weekend destinations available here. The idea is to pick a central location and ski a few places in that area. It's hard to beat the Olympic ambiance of Lake Placid. There are several ski centers to try, the intervillage Jackrabbit Trail and many other diversions. True backcountry skiing is possible and there's the Lake Placid Loppet, a ski event on the Olympic trails of Mt. Van Hoevenberg, a most challenging race. Similar opportunities can be found near Stowe, Vermont and Jackson, New Hampshire. You can expect to ski on machine groomed and tracked trails at all the ski centers. Check the OTHER LINKS.

North to Canada - Closer than you think. Ottawa is great for an extended weekend and it can be made in less than seven hours by car via Syracuse. It's a skier's city with sprint races on downtown streets. Nearby Gatineau Park has miles of perfectly groomed trails and hosts an international World Loppet Series race, the Gatineau Loppet (formerly the Keskinada). Another special event is the Canadian Ski Marathon which is held over two days traveling from just outside of Montreal into Ottawa. You can ski from 10 miles to 50 miles a day, stopping in small towns along the way. While it can be planned as a 10 miles/day easy tour, the rugged (or slightly deranged) seek the Coureur des Bois awards and ski the 100 miles and, for the highest award, carry their camping gear and sleep outside overnight. The central location for the CSM is the Fairmont Hotel's Chateau Montebello, the largest log structure on earth, a classy place and a destination in and of itself. Temperatures in Canada can be quite low and you'll need to plan a few extra layers. That said, your website creator skied in the Keskinada a few years back starting out at -20 degrees F warming to -10 and never felt cold - the power of keeping moving.

Is a ski marathon in your future?

If you have progressed in your training and technique and are interested in setting some goals, participation in a nearby ski marathon is a rewarding experience. The above link provides more information about these opportunities. These events range from family centric events for skiers of all abilities (one just 4 1/2 hours from here) to major events with hundreds or even thousands of skiers not much further. Avid runners and cyclists can easily adapt to the fitness levels required for these events with just a bit of cross-training when local snow conditions permit.
So you need to buy something.

While it's easy to get by with just basic skis, bindings, boots and poles, if you really get in this sport, you will be shopping. The link above provides some perspectives on what's worth buying. Like any sport, there's a wide range of what's available, what's really needed versus what provides incremental advantage at a very high price, and how to plan these purchases. Avid skiers will benefit from 2-3 pairs of skis for different conditions or skiing techniques, and sporty clothes will make skiing more comfortable. You can find on-line shopping links on OTHER LINKS.