It is time for the annual assessment of winter for cross-country skiers in Pennsylvania.  In short, PA skiers have been whirled in a vortex of snow, warmth and rain, cold, and then some more snow.  The cross-country ski season had a good start Thanksgiving week with a large dump of snow.  Sun Valley Nordic at Oil Creek State Park had a solid base and great grooming.Oil_Creek_Skier.jpg  This snow lasted through the deer season and even Philadelphia and southeastern Pennsylvania got a great start before Christmas.  In fact, the snow cover maps for December looked backwards as the highest amounts were south and east instead of off Lake Erie in the traditional snowy areas. This began to change as the holidays approached.  And when skiers were ready to spend some holiday time on skis, the rain came.

The meltdown that took place the weekend before Christmas was epic.  The snow seemed to disappear overnight and it was 8 or more inches in some places.  Poles were traded for paddles as the runoff created some great holiday season canoeing and kayaking.  Temperatures in the 50's and 60's made conditions great for bicycling and roller skiing.  There was not much skiing to be had until the New Year holiday.  Some cold air and snowfall across the northern tier counties allowed for skiing off Route 6 near Denton Hill.  It looked like the snow would continue but then there was another widespread hard rain.  At this point not much was left for cross-country skiing.  Things were looking dismal as snowless January days passed until the arrival of the POLAR VORTEX.  The first visit by the polar vortex plunged Pennsylvania into the cold.  Lake Erie snows came alive and hit mainly just south of Buffalo, NY.  However, the winds shifted enough for Wilderness Lodge to get back into operation.  Then another southern storm came and once again southern and eastern Pennsylvania were big snowfall winners.  Central areas of the state became very cold but did not have much snow.  Ponds, lakes, and dams froze solid and suddenly nordic skating for the snowless skiers became a possibility.  Cross-country ski boots are worn with nordic skates and poles can be used.  It is not skiing but close to it. 

Nordic Skating Black MoshannonClippers started coming in a line dropping dribs and drabs of snow for most and the upslope areas of the Laurel Mountains and Lake Erie enhanced snow finally allowed Laurel Ridge and Laurel Mountain to groom.  Wilderness Lodge improved and finally got back to normal.  Oil Creek was able to open on January 24 and finally think about grooming on the 25th.  The second coming of the vortex brought more cold air and more clippers right before it arrived.  The skiing on lakes and dams is pretty much powder heaven and now and Crystal Lake Ski Center is finally in a position to open on Jan 30.  

What does the rest of the winter have in store for us?  Stormy is the thought for February.  The temperature should trend to be more normal too.  This will bring a little more ice back into play as well.  We have been enjoying cold powder conditions for the second half of January.          


For those in low snow areas there has been the lack of a base because the snow has been so fluffy.  However, February storms could bring us a different challenge.  Warmer storms bring icing and often storms end with a glaze on top of the snow.  There is always a challenge for cross-country skiers to overcome.  Will February actually turn out to be stormy?  The next twenty-eight days will reveal the truth about the month of February. Rock_Run_14.jpg

March is the transition month and can produce a lot of snow in Pennsylvania.  Long range forecasts say cooler than normal and lingering winter in the northeast.  It is too far away to know anything for certain.  Phil the groundhog may have something to say about how the spring will unfold.  However, Phil will have little influence on what the weather turns out to be.  If there is snow in March, the cross-country skiers will enjoy plenty of daylight to go along with it.  That is a certainty-increasing daylight. 

Thanks to the polar vortex we have an ingredient that has been missing the past few winters, cold air.  If weather systems can introduce moisture into this cold air we’ll have plenty of skiing for February.  And if the cold air can hang on, March should turn out to be a good month too.  So grab your skis and poles, get out there, and get whirled in the vortex that is a Pennsylvania winter with its polar plunges, wild temperature swings, rain and snow, and some of the best places to ski on the planet.  The “State of The Winter” in PA is "Whirled in A Vortex".  HP