Marcus and I took a last minute outing to Blue Knob yesterday. I thought I would be taking my son to do his terrain park thing at Seven Springs for his last Pennsylvania skiing of the year while I went off to bag some trees on the front side that I didn’t get to on Thursday. Marcus came back from the Vermont Gathering with a gimpy knee and thought he should rest awhile. Then out of the blue my son said that he accepted an invite for a birthday party on Saturday and wanted to ask a friend over Friday night. That freed me and after all the snow that fell on Wednesday, Blue Knob was the choice. I called Marc and asked about his knee. He said he still had both. I ask Blue Knob? What resulted was the best day of spring skiing here I've ever had in all my years of skiing Pennsylvania. How good was it? I did not feel compelled to ski Extrovert at all and we did not. There was just too much fun and challenge to be had elsewhere on the mountain.
We skied groomed and machine made mostly to get to the natural and the cover hasn't been better since 2010. The morning started firm but by mid-day the blues skies, sunshine and warm temperatures created an all day corn that never went to mashed potatoes, at least where we skied. We skied all marked glades, skipped the old Bone Yard and Mine Shaft Glades which are rightly left to grow in (past critics were right with complaints of erosion damage due to no erosion control when those "glades" were logged out) but instead we found an unmarked tree run; very steep, very tight and filled with snow. We ventured into and survived it for a few runs. I must confess I had real reservations about side stepping in. I knew this would challenge my modest skill set and I’m leaving for a huge family ski vacation out west on Friday. I just didn’t want to risk injury. When Marcus lead the way and attempted to sideslip, instead hooked some brush and did a head over skis shoulder roll into some saplings below my reservations (fear) increased tenfold. The plain truth won me over. You've got to bag a lady like this when you can for she might not come around again for years. In keeping with the tree skiers code I will not tell you where it is since it is not a marked glade. I have left enough hints for those intent on finding it.
Shortway, Lower 66, Triple and Forever Glades were sweet and we poked around mid-mountain in other short tree shots the youngsters were packing out. My favorite marked glade on the hill, Skyline, was in excellent spring shape. Skyline is eastern style, citizen maintained tree skiing but this one is resort maintained. Only the scrub was removed and trees thinned just enough so you keep your speed in check and your brain in tune. It is not steep but has interesting terrain variations to keep you engaged. My sincere appreciation goes out to GM Doug Houck for cutting this Mid-Atlantic gem. When Skyline is coupled with Laurel (a short ride on novice Mambo Alley) you have a natural covered tree run that uses most of the vertical accessed from the triple chair. We did not ski the legendary side country Blue Trail choosing to adhere to the adage, “Never leave good snow to find good snow”. (I wonder who said that, jimmy?)
As I said we mostly skied natural snow trails and glades but we did ski most of the machine covered except Extrovert and Expressway and all of Mambo Alley (short stretches between tree shots). The coverage and grooming were excellent. This leads me to this bit of editorial comment. It is conventional wisdom that rock skis are a must at Blue Knob regardless of when in the season you go. When a bad reputation is established it takes a long time to overcome the image. It is my opinion that snowmaking and grooming have improved significantly, no tremendously over the last few years. Like last season we have had to deal with several freeze/thaw cycles early. Just a few short years ago we would not have had the good condition we had at our Gathering last month if not for the effort on management’s part to invest and improve in their snowmaking. I know I wrote a Trip Report earlier in the year about the rocks and machine made snow piles that were not pushed out. After discussing the issue with resort management I found out that not grooming out the mounds was not just a lazy oversight. I would imagine that most of us are not knowledgeable about methods and rational behind making and managing snow, even here in the East where machine made snow is our salvation. Blue Knob management is committed to allowing its machine made to “cure” for a minimum of 3 days before a groomer gets near. Perhaps we can fault them for having a marginal trail open at all early in the season but I for one appreciate the choice to ski it, as long as the trail itself is marked as thin cover. Glade and natural snow trails are never a guarantee of solid cover. Ask the participants of the recent Vermont Gathering how MRG skied.
It is also conventional wisdom that closed trails at Blue Knob aren't really closed but I've been informed that the closed policy is being more consistently enforced and not because the Patrol is saving it for themselves. We here in the East know of the vicious freeze/thaw cycles that resorts must contend with. A trail Like Extrovert is beyond the resorts ability to groom and the huge snow whales become bullet proof after a rain and quick freeze. When the rope is still up after a foot of fresh it is because management hopes to give the new snow and opportunity to bond with the old. Too often a poacher will get to it and in one run all that fine looking powder sloughs off and the infamous ice is revealed. For future Blue Knob skiers, please respect trail closures. It is a matter of safety and future snow quality.
Blue Knob Lift tickets are now half price and that began on March 1. That means you can ski the best expert terrain in the Mid-Atlantic with the best coverage since the 2010 eastern snowpocalypse for a walk up ticket window price of $30, adult all day ticket. If you use their online cloud store you could have had a Saturday lift ticket for about $27.00. Marcus bought a senior ticket for yesterday at a $14.00 price and he was able to grab that late Friday evening. You cannot beat that for value. Yes, one lift is down for the season but the only thing you lose is the mid-mountain unload station. All terrain is still lift served.
Next weekend is Blue Knob’s version of spring carnival, The Beer Goddess Parade. The snow pack was as good as it get this past week. Hopefully Ullr will be kind and drop temperatures below freezing overnight and keep the immature snow at a minimum. You all know how it is here in the banana belt; you got to get it early ‘cause it might not be there later. With 70 degree temperatures today in the Pittsburgh area, motorcycles and convertible were sprouting on the local roads like spring crocuses so get out there before it’s gone.
I’m sorry for all the words and no photos. The idiot left his camera on the table. Marc took some shots and I’ll try to get them up later.