Greg Alexander

Face your fears in the Poconos

Baltimore Sun, January 7, 2007

“Snowplow! Snowplow! Snowplow!” As a kid learning how to ski, I remember having that screamed at me the first time I tried snow skiing on a icy mountain in North Carolina, not known for its excellent skiing, especially for beginners. And while learning how to properly snowplow will hopefully keep you from breaking a leg – or worse – there’s more to learning how to ski than simply turning your skis inward to slow your forward momentum.

Learning how to ski can be one of the more terrifying and intimidating sports to try for the first time; however, ski resorts have responded by offering an array of skiing camps and instructional classes for beginners. No longer do novice skiers simply head for the bunny slope and hope everything turns out OK; instead, beginners can benefit from expert instruction and one-on-one personalized attention. And while the ski resorts out West may have a certain cache and the possibility of spotting celebrities, flying 2,000 miles and spending an exuberant amount of money on the off chance that you may enjoy skiing seems like a silly idea. Instead, drive north about three hours to the picturesque Pocono Mountains, where a wide selection of resorts are at your disposal, each offering specialized packages for the novice skier.

The Pocono Mountains are home to seven ski/snowboard resorts and nearly 1,200 P.S.I.A. (Professional Ski Instructors of America) certified ski/board instructors to teach beginners the basics for skiing. Each resort offers different accommodations, slopes and activities, so you’re bound to find one that matches your interests. Beginner packages also are offered at each resort.

Beginner skiers can try their hand at Jack Frost Mountain’s 24 slopes and two terrain parks or its sister resort, Big Boulder’s 12 slopes. These two resorts ( have teamed up for two beginner packages: the “Discovery” package, which includes an all-area snowpass, rental and lesson for those 9 years and older, or the “SnowMonsters” package, a three-hour supervised learning program for those 3-10 years old.

Meanwhile, at Camelback (, experienced skiers are encouraged to “Introduce a Friend to Skiing.” Those skiers aged 13 or older who purchase a lift ticket can bring a beginning skier to Camelback on any non-holiday Tuesday and the beginner will receive a free beginner package, including a restricted lift ticket, beginner lesson and rental equipment. Skiers need to sign-up by 9:30 a.m. for the day session or by 1 p.m. for the twilight session to receive this package. Camelback is one of the more popular and the largest ski area in northeast Pennsylvania. The resort offers 33 trails, night skiing and two high-speed quad lifts.

No matter which day of the week you go, novice skiers can take advantage of Ski Big Bear at Masthope Mountain’s ( “Learn to Ski” package. In addition to a lift ticket and rental equipment, skiers will benefit from a one-hour private instructional class and 18 trails to sample. Of course, one the most intimidating aspects of learning how to ski is to be surrounded by more advanced skiers yelling at you to get out of their way. However, at Blue Mountain Ski Area (, those who buy a “First-Time Ski or Board” package will have unlimited use of Blue Mountain’s three school practice hills, offering a little more privacy for the beginner skier. Blue Mountain is also home to Pennsylvania’s highest vertical, 30 trails and a new high-speed detachable six-passenger lift.

More traditional beginner packages also are available at Shawnee Mountain ( and Alpine Mountain Ski & Ride Center ( Both offer a lesson, rental equipment and lift ticket. Self-dubbed the Poconos’ favorite ski resort, Shawnee has a nationally ranked children’s program and 23 slopes.

Typically, beginner skiers are urged to rest in between ski days to avoid fatigue. Sitting in the lodge or in a hot tub sipping a warm libation are, of course, wonderful options, but if you’re looking for more active non-skiing activities on your day off, you’re in luck. In the Poconos, there are 10 places to snowtube, a fun activity for the entire family; countless snowmobiling locations; romantic horse-drawn sleigh rides; ice skating rinks; sledding and tobogganing areas; and even places to try your hand at ice fishing.

Shop-aholics looking to bring back something special for a loved one – or themselves – can put those credit cards to work in the four-county Pocono Mountains region’s four downtown shopping districts, outlet centers, antique stores and dozens of specialty stores. Myriad dining and nightlife options also are available, as well as historical structures, area museums and cultural attractions and local festivals to make your vacation complete. Each resort has overnight accommodations for every budget, including country inns, bed and breakfasts, hotels, cottages and rental homes.

For information on skiing, accommodations and all that the Pocono Mountains have to offer, visit

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