At Blue Mountain Resort, the only mountain in Pennsylvania to offer family-sized tubes, I finally find a thrilling activity that my entire family can enjoy. With an eight-year age span among my children, we can’t even watch something on TV together that’s suitable or enjoyable for our respective ages, so this is a big deal.
Whipping down a 1,000-foot snowtubing park lane, my husband seems to have a hand on each of us, making sure no one gets thrown out of the tube. I can see reflected in my children’s eyes what every father wants his family to believe: Dad has superhero powers that can protect us anytime, anywhere. Riley, 2, can’t decide whether to scream or laugh as she curls into a ball around my legs. I manage to cling to the safety line and try not to lose my iPhone while filming all of this. Ethan, 7, attempts to break the laws of gravity, his face screwed tight against the wind. Kyra, 10, lets her limbs flail wildly about to her delight. In slow motion, I see the rush of speed she has always craved take her breath away.
It’s the grand finale to an action-packed day that began with snowboarding at the top of the resort. Because we had enrolled Kyra and Ethan in the resort’s renowned youth competition program, Blue Mountain Racing, we spent about 10 weekends getting to know this family-owned retreat a little more than 200 miles from the District. Located along the Kittatinny Ridge, it features the most varied terrain and the highest vertical drop (1,082 feet) in Pennsylvania.
Another attraction: On Feb. 4, during the Winter Festival, anyone age 10 and older can take a run down a luge track complete with curves and timing equipment. Participants can win prizes and learn the basics of accelerating, steering and stopping. Coaches and former luge Olympians will scout for youth who show potential on a natural luge track open to the public. (Sochi Olympian Summer Britcher was discovered at one of these USA Luge Challenges.)
Because Blue Mountain Resort has facilities located on both the peak and the bottom, we kicked things off that day snowboarding as a family. It was not the first time our 2-year-old had snowboarded but the first time we would take some runs with her.
Riley told her siblings to be quiet. She had no emotion on her chubby face, just a quiet determination to prove she was cool enough to hang with big sister and big brother. Adjusting her helmet, she pointed her 70mm snowboard rental straight down the slope and pumped with her legs. Earlier that morning, in her first-ever private lesson, her instructor asked, “Did you notice that she does that to pick up speed? I did not teach her that.” Neither did we.
Utilizing terrain-based learning, in which shaped snow controls speed, Blue Mountain Resort’s snow features allowed Riley to feel as though she could do tricks just like Kyra and Ethan. By the end of the 1½ -hour lesson, Riley’s instructor had her doing straight glides on a box and heel-side, toe-side turns. Joe Forte, director of Blue Mountain Snowsports and the reason why many parents are so loyal to the resort, trains 350 to 400 instructors per year. On a busy Saturday, Blue Mountain can easily teach more than 1,200 students in more than a dozen languages; many instructors are bilingual.
Forte asks his instructors to find out why people come to the resort; that’s to give them the experience they paid for.
“We want them to leave feeling like they have become a skier or snowboarder regardless of what skills they’ve mastered at the end of a session. We have one opportunity to wow them and get it right. Show them why we love skiing and snowboarding.”
“Let go!” Riley demanded, until Ethan released her riglet reel, a retractable cord attached to her board. As Riley started to pick up speed down the slope, I could feel other parents tense up. They were judging me for shooting photos of my husband and the kids shreddin’ against the bluest sky I had ever seen above the Pocono Mountains.
Kyra landed a 180. Ethan maneuvered around me and popped an ollie. “Mommy, you’re not doing your turns right. Let me show you how.” Clearing my throat, I was just about to remind Ethan that I have been snowboarding for nearly 20 years when my husband whipped by, saying, “Wait until you have to ride a lift with him.” Both kids have matured in riding skills and confidence under the tutelage of coaches such as head snowboard coach Mike Clark, who preaches: “Give some respect to gain some respect.” (Program alumni are often on the podium at USASA Nationals. Coach Ben Clark, Mike’s son, won gold this year in BoarderCross.)
Because she didn’t bother with turns and all she did was pump, Riley gained so much speed that she was cruising ahead of Kyra and Ethan. Fortunately, the terrain at the bottom of School Hill naturally slowed her down. In the meantime, my husband, along with Kyra and Ethan, skirted the courtyard and deck of Summit Lodge, and continued on down several black diamonds. Riley was left behind with me.
She wasn’t happy about it: She ripped off a glove in disgust and slammed it onto the snow. Before I could reach her, a skier from Blue Mountain Racing stopped to check on her. He picked up her glove and took the time to tighten it onto her slippery fingers. The majority of the riders and skiers you encounter on the slopes are in the Blue Mountain Racing program, which trains them to be kind and respectful.
On days when I want to ride with my husband or goof off in the six terrain parks, I don’t feel like a selfish mom because I know Riley is having a ball at Blue Mountain Resort’s Kids Cabin (child care for kids ages 6 weeks and older) while Kyra and Ethan are learning how to be better riders and human beings from their coaches. One time, Kyra forgot to load her brand new Marvel X Burton board into our car and left it in the parking lot. We didn’t realize the board was missing until a month later, when we found it in Blue Mountain Resort’s lost and found.
After my husband and the older kids disappeared from view, Riley and I warmed up inside Summit Lodge. As a band played the kind of music you’d find yourself humming all day, I tried a glass of Bird Dog Bourbon infused with cinnamon, nutmeg and apples, and ordered a Texas Twist Party Pretzel.
At the end of the day, we all met up at Slopeside Pub & Grill to warm our toes at the indoor fireplace and fill our bellies with head chef Ryan Zellner’s concoctions. Our favorite is his bacon aioli fries, which you’ll still be licking off your fingers long after you’ve inhaled them.
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250 Wyandotte St., Bethlehem (For GPS, use 431 West 3rd St., Bethlehem, Pa. 18015)
This boutique bed-and-breakfast is 30 minutes from Blue Mountain Resort. While we stayed in one of three Carriage House suites, there are also 19 mansion rooms. The gourmet breakfast is filling and delicious, and if you’re in a hurry to get to the mountain, they are happy to box it up for you. Rooms start at $139.
1787a Airport Rd.. Allentown
Located about 20 minutes from Blue Mountain Resort, the hotel features a heated outdoor pool and an indoor whirlpool. My husband enjoyed their large working desk with desk-level outlets, adjustable lighting and ergonomic chair, which made it easier on days when he worked while I took the kids to Blue Mountain. Suites start at $95.
Slopeside Pub and Grill
1660 Blue Mountain Dr., Palmerton
Open year-round, enjoy indoor and outdoor lunch, après and dinner at this award-winning American pub-style restaurant. Be sure to look up the happy hour deals, along with the daily specials such as all-you-can-eat pasta Wednesdays and live entertainment Friday and Saturday nights. Entrees start at $11.
1660 Blue Mountain Dr., Palmerton
Located in the courtyard of the resort’s Summit Lodge, Cornerstone offers a quick pit stop for anyone who’s in a hurry and enjoys eating outdoors. Guests can opt to BYOB (build your own burger). Entrees start at $9.50.
Blue Mountain Resort
1660 Blue Mountain Dr., Palmerton
Open Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Saturday, Sunday, and holidays, 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Eight-hour lift tickets cost $55 to $70 for adults and $45 to $55 for children ages 6 to 12. Fourth- and fifth-graders can ski for free in Pennsylvania with a snowpass, which you can apply for online at skipa.com. Night skiing is available from 4 p.m.-10 p.m. for $30 to $40.