One of the amazing things about New Jersey is the wide range of outdoor activities available within a reasonably short drive. While many people view going “down the Shore” as the quintessential New Jersey experience, there’s another group that can’t wait for the colder weather and snow that signal ski season.
First, a little background. Not that long ago, there were over a dozen, mostly mom-and-pop ski areas in the Garden State. Whether due to economics, changing demographics or a lack of snowy winters, most of those have closed. Today, there are only a handful left operating in New Jersey.
However, if you expand your search into Pennsylvania and New York, there are a number of options for skiing within about a two-hour drive from north/central New Jersey. Here are a few of our favorites.
Over the last 10 years, Camelback has expanded greatly to become a ski area, water park, and resort. Significant investments in the base lodge, rental equipment, and snowmaking mean that Camelback is almost unrecognizable to skiers who remember it from the 1980s or 1990s. Camelback seems to be able to make and maintain good snow when other local areas struggle, and the result is better conditions than one might associate with the Pocono mountains. The ski school has expanded greatly, offering a good experience for beginners and intermediates looking to build confidence for larger mountains. Expert skiers can find some good but short steeps and terrain to keep their skills sharp.
Pro tip: Get there early on weekends and spend the money on premium parking. It’s worth it. If you can be on the mountain at opening you can get in a couple of hours of good, relatively un-frenzied skiing before the crowds develop.
Long-time New Jersey skiers remember this area as the Vernon Valley and Great Gorge resorts of the 1970s. Many locals grew up skiing the three peaks that make up the combined area known as Mountain Creek since the late 1990s.
Today, Mountain Creek is the nearest “big” (by mid-Atlantic standards) mountain close to the New York metropolitan area. As such, it attracts large crowds on weekends and after school on Friday afternoons. While the main mountain can be quite crowded, there is enough terrain for intermediate skiers to spread out and explore. Some of the trails on South Peak can be considerably less crowded.
Pro tip: Consider Sunday afternoons/evenings if you don’t mind night skiing. Parking at South Peak is typically empty and it’s a short walk to the lodge.
Located north of Scranton in the Endless Mountains, Elk Mountain is just on the outer edge of day trip distance from north and central New Jersey. Thanks to the distance from major metropolitan areas, it tends to be less crowded than closer-in resorts. Also, the location west and north seems to produce more and better natural snow than other nearby spots.
Elk feels like a throwback to an earlier time. The lodge and lifts are more basic than some other areas, and local amenities are fewer. But, the skiing terrain is more extensive and trails offer good variety. All things considered, Elk is a better choice for more advanced skiers looking for terrain and snow over creature comforts.
Pro tip: Lifts serving the top of the mountain mainly provide access to intermediate and advanced terrain. Beginner slopes are mostly concentrated on the lower mountain.
Located in the heart of the Catskill Mountains in New York, Belleayre is one of three mountains (along with Whiteface and Gore) owned by the State of New York. At a shade over two hours driving from northern New Jersey, it’s also at the outer edge of day trip distance.
Significantly further north than the three other resorts in this report, Belleayre tends to start the skiing season earlier and end later. One of the defining features is a steep headwall that provides some fast (but relatively short) expert terrain. Belleayre also has official glades trails, a further attraction for more advanced skiers.
There are multiple lodge options and a good mix of terrain for beginners and experts alike. Belleayre tends to attract a lot of families and provides a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere.
Pro tip: Skiers who bring their own equipment will typically head directly to the Overlook Lodge for parking which gives quicker access to the top of the mountain.