Just 47 miles from the George Washington Bridge, Mountain Creek is the largest ski resort within a short drive of New York City.
When Intrawest purchased the resort formerly known as "Vernon Valley, Great Gorge" in the late 1990's, it began a revolution at Mountain Creek that has transformed the resort into one of the New City metro area's favorite day trip destinations. Mountain Creek competes in this highly lucrative market mainly against Pennsylvania ski resorts like Camelback, Blue Mountain and Shawnee.
Mountain Creek's modern lift instrastructure is unquestionably the best in the region and the resort needs every bit of it to keep up with the huge crowds that flock to the resort each weekend. In recent years, ownership has invested heavily in updated an updated and modern snowmaking system that ensures reasonably good conditions despite an anemic snowfall of only 65". Additionally, an upscale, new base lodge on the Vernon Peak side of the resort is on par with any of the best day lodges in the Rockies and far surpasses anything in the region.
A Sunny Day at South Peak (Photo Credit: Mountain Creek)
Formerly known as "Vernon Valley, Great Gorge," Mountain Creek began its life as two separate ski areas - Vernon Valley and Great Gorge. The two separate ski hills merged in the 1970's, creating a resort which is the largest in the region. From looker's left to right, the four peaks of the resort are Vernon Peak, Granite Peak, South Peak and Bear Peak. The resort's 1,040' vertical drop is amongst the tallest in the area; only Pennsylvania's Blue Mountain and its 1,082' drop are bigger.
The connection between the two formerly independent resorts is not seamless, however. The trail infrastructure at Vernon Peak and Granite Peak (comprising the former Vernon Valley resort) ties together nicely, as does the network of trails at South Peak and Bear Peak (comprising the former Great Gorge resort). However, navigating between the two sets of twin peaks can be downright annoying. Going from the Vernon Peak side to the South Peak side requires a lengthy, flat traverse which the resort (somewhat hilariously in the author's opinion) labels a blue square. Perhaps it's rated for intermediates because skiers will need to know how to pole and snowboards how to hop or walk. The return trip is little better as it requires use of the brutally slow Southern Sojourn double chair. Most visitors will stick to one side of the resort or the other and utilize the shuttle bus to move between bases.
Despite the difficulty required to move between base areas, the uphill transportation is first rate. Mountain Creek employs an 8-passenger open air gondola (the Cabriolet) together with 2 express quads, 2 fixed grip quads, a triple chair and a handful of surface lifts in the beginner areas.
The terrain on the Vernon Peak is geared towards traditional alpine skiing and snowboarding, while the South Peak side of the resort is home to the majority of the resort's terrain parks and freestyle terrain. In fact, in recent years Mountain Creek has turned the entirety of South Peak into one big terrrain park. The closure of nearby Hidden Valley resort has resulted in Bear Peak becoming home to numerous high school and junior alpine racing programs.
On the whole, Mountain Creek is an excellent day trip choice for those looking for a quick sojourn from New York City. There is more terrain than most skiers can ski in a day and new slopeside accommodation in the form of the upscale Appalachain Hotel has even made Mountain Creek an increasingly popular choice for weekend visitors. However, weekends can be crowded, but the same could be said for practically any other resort in the nearby Poconos.
Photo Credit: Mountain Creek
Mountain Creek's beginner terrain is situated entirely on the Vernon Peak side of the resort. South Peak and Bear Peak are home only to blue square and black diamond trails, though many of those ratings overstate the difficulty of runs in comparison to other resorts in the East. Strong beginners will be able to handle most, if not all, of the intermediate trails on the mountain. Strong beginners will also likely want to challenge themselves to step up in class due to the limited number of green trails offered at Mountain Creek.
The learn to ski area is located at the bottom of the Granite Peak, where the Sugar Quad accesses an eponymous green slope. Two magic carpet lifts surface the children's learn to ski area on the opposite side of the Red Tail Lodge.
Progressing beginners have only two options - one from the top of each of Granite Peak and Vernon Peak. However, one of those green runs (the Osprey-Red Fox combination run on Vernon Peak) is accessible only from lifts that have no green trails to their bases. As a result, the main green run from the top of Vernon Peak (Upper and Lower Horizon) tends to be incredibly crowded. Sheer boredom forces beginners onto blue runs to escape the monotony of Horizon and while most beginners are able to handle the slight increase in difficulty to some of Mountain Creek's easier green runs, some are not, creating a veritable minefield of fallen beginners on many of the blue and black trails.
A view of blue trails from the Cabriolet (Photo Credit: Mountain Creek)
A quick glance at the trail map shows that intermediates can ski from the summits of all four of the resort's peaks. However, much of the expert terrain is severely overrated meaning that intermediate skiers confident on blue trails in Vermont or the Rockies will be able to ski most of the hill.
The highest concentration of blue trails is on South Peak. Unfortunately for traditional skiers and snowboarders, the resort has turned South Peak into a giant terrain park. We recommend that non-park skiers still ski these trails, but simply avoid skiing over the features. It's simply too much terrain to skip entirely, particularly in light of the quick lift that services South Peak. Because so many of the trails intersect one another at various points throughout the desecent, we found it enjoyable to disregard the trail map and simply steer left and right onto whatever run looked least crowded. All the pitches on South Peak are of low intermediate grade and easily within the grasp of any true intemediate.
Directly beside the South Peak Express quad, skiers will find the Bear Peak Express quad, which services the smaller of the two peaks on the former Great Gorge side of the resort. The Bear Claw run is the only marked blue run from the summit of Bear Peak, but the single black diamond runs are of comparable pitch.
On the Vernon Peak side of the resort, skiers will find a pod of blue trails to the skier's right along the boundary line. Great Northern to Khyber Pass is our favorite of the bunch. On Granite Peak, skiers also have one option to reach the base of the Granite Peak Quad. From the top of Granite Peak, the blue Southern Sojourn trail brings skiers over to Bear Peak and South Peak bases. Be forewarned, though. Southern Soujourn is the longest trail and the resort and is incredibly flat. Snowboarders should avoid using the trail and utilize the shuttle bus between bases. It's faster and more convenient than slogging along the trail.
Photo Credit: Mountain Creek
Three of Mountain Creek's four peaks offer black diamond trails. However, true expert skiers will find most of the terrain to be lacking in challenge. While many NYC day resorts overclassify their terrain (perhaps in an effort to boost egos or keep beginners off the resorts steeper runs), Mountain Creek's steeps are perhaps the most egregious example of terrain being marked black when it should be marked blue. We found ourselves quite literally poling down sections of some of the resort's black trails - Jackson Hole it is not. That said, taking the black runs for what they are - middling difficulty blues - they are actually quite enjoyable.
The highest concetration of black diamond runs can be found at the resort's most diminuitive summit - Bear Peak. Serviced by its own express quad, Bear Peak is a great place to take a few laps. Be advised, however, that with the closure of nearby Hidden Valley many of that hill's racing programs have moved to Bear Peak. Trail closures for high school and junior races on Bear Peak are common, particularly in the evenings.
Moving to the Vernon Peak side of the resort, skiers will find a number of black diamond runs. Straightaway is the steepest of the rather unremarkable set of single blacks. The resort's lone double black diamond - Pipeline - is rarely, if ever, open. When it is, it offers a pitch comparable to most Vermont single black diamonds. However, true expert skiers would be better off heading to the Catskills.
Schuss (Photo Credit: Mountain Creek)
It's a rarity for resorts within a short drive of New York City to offer anything besides a lone, usually overpriced and underwhelming cafeteria. However, Mountain Creek defies the stereotype of traditional Pocono cafeteria fare and offers eateries worthy of far larger resorts.
The new Red Tail Lodge on the Vernon Peak side of the resort is amongst the nicest base lodges in the United States. The spacious wood and stone structure has ample seating for most weekends; seats are surprisingly easy to find even at peak periods. Culinary options also abound at the cafeteria (styled as "The Market") on the bottom floor of the lodge.
On the middle floor of the Red Tail Lodge is Schuss, an apres-ski hot spot serving up wood-fired pizza and cold drinks in an American sports bar setting.
On the top floor of the Red Tail Lodge, visitors will find Hawks Nest, a waitress-service restaurant specializing in upscale cuisine. Decorated with high end lodge furniture and featuring a large stone fireplace, private bar, and patio fire pit Hawks Nest is a great place to take in a hot meal with a great view of the slopes.
Outside on the "Sunnyside" Deck next to the lodge is the Biergarten. Authentic Bavarian brews and food await hungry skiers on the large stone patio. The Biergarten is one of the best outside eateries in the Northeast and is not to be missed on sunny days.
If looking for a quick warm-up, try Kickstand Coffee on the bottom level of the lodge, serving Starbucks coffeee.
Over at the South Peak side of the resort there are also several options. South Square on the lower level of the lodge serves good cafeteria fare similar in quality and selection to The Market on the Vernon Peak side. Upstairs, skiers will find Kink, a sit down restaurant specializing in American BBQ.
Mountain Creek's village in the foreground with Vernon Peak behind (Photo Credit: Mountain Creek)
Mountain Creek does not possess a true pedestrian village, particularly when judged by the standards of its former owners (Intrawest), famous for developing some of the sport's best villages at places like Copper Mountain and Tremblant. It has two large main buildings - the Red Tail Lodge and Appalachian Hotel - which comprise most of the pedestrian space around the base of the Vernon Peak side of the resort. The hotel contains some retail space as well as restaurants, an outdoor pool and hot tub overlooking the slopes.
In the mid 2010's, Mountain Creek was sold to the Crystal Springs Golf Resort, uniting the region's summer and winter activities under common ownership. As a result, many Mountain Creek visitors now stay at the Crystal Springs resort in the winter months.
While most visitors journey to Mountain Creek to ski or snowboard, there are a variety of other activities available to keep non-skiers entertained for a day. Snowtubing is the most popular of these choices as it is the only on-snow option. With over 20 lanes dedicated to tubing, lines tend to be short and the sliding time is kept to its maximum.
Many visitors enjoy Mountain Creek's new Alpine Mountain Coaster. The attraction is a hybrid of a traditional alpine slide and a self-controlled rollercoaster. Guests have the option of riding alone or in tandem (with a weight limit of 330 lbs). The coaster zips through the resort's waterpark and guests can regular the speed of the coaster with handbrakes.
Ziplines are also open in winter months. Guests have the option of descending in a traditional zipline harness or in a two person seat called the "Soaring Eagle."
For those looking for a less exciting and more pampered experience, the nearby Crystal Springs resort offers two top notch spas, both of which have been ranked in the top 30 in the USA. The Elements Spa is located at the Minerals Resorts and Spa, while the Reflections Spa is located at the Grand Cascade Lodge.