Winter can be spotty in NJ. In exceptional winters, I’ve used race skis at High Point until mid March; in dry years, I’m compelled to drive ridiculous distances to get on snow.
In the suburbs, there are many opportunities to be creative with nighttime or time-crunched skiing. Use your imagination and you’ll find a place to ski right in your neighborhood. There’s nothing like skiing down your local streets in the middle of a raging blizzard; just keep your eyes peeled for that one guy who has to go to the store for a gallon of milk. Randolph’s municipal parks are my regular stomping ground in a good winter.
The NJ Division of Parks and Forestry seems to list every NJ park as a place to go skiing. When you go to these places, know that you’ll be setting your own tracks : to my knowledge, none are groomed. Places like Farny Highlands and Norvin Green are better suited for backcountry, metal edge skis; most are probably better suited for snowshoeing. Ken Roberts lists many New York skiing options, primarily in the lower Hudson Valley.
The following are places I like to ski, both in NJ and within a reasonable driving distance. It is by no means exhaustive. The original intent was to list places in New Jersey or within a reasonable driving distance for a day trip. Prospect Mountain is at the outside edge of that range.
- High Point Cross Country Ski Center. Located in High Point State Park. Fifteen km of nicely groomed trails. Great views from the appropriately named Scenic View trail and the Cedar Swamp. High Point offers rentals, lessons and food service. At 1600 feet elevation, they often have snow when most of the Garden State is green. Condition reports at (973)702-1222 and online.
- Jockey Hollow National Park/Lewis Morris County Park Morristown. These two parks adjoin one another, offering opportunities for extended day trips. Lots of rolling trails, and some downhills that will get your attention. A good base of snow is required to cover rocks and roots.
- Freedom Park, Randolph. Located on Millbrook Road. Developed in 2001, this park has a network of paths on either side of Millbrook Road. There are enough trails here to make for a full day’s skiing. The terrain is relatively mild, but one climb along the power line is suitable for intervals. If there’s less than an 8-inch base, expect your ice points to hit pavement, as some sections are inexplicably paved. Situated at a higher elevation than Jockey Hollow, Freedom Park retains more snow.
- I’m pleased to be the guest editor of the New York State Ski Blog’s directory of New York ski areas. This comprehensive listing covers New York from Manhattan to Buffalo. It includes downstate favorites such ad Mohonk and Fahnestock as well as places that I didn’t know existed. If you’re travelling upstate, this is a great resource.
- Mohonk Preserve, New Paltz, NY. Mohonk features about 50 kilometers of trails that are primarily carriage roads. There’s a lot of long, gradual hills, and a few grunts. Some of the trails are better suited to classic skiing than skating. Nice scenery with views to the Catskills and over the Hudson River. Some of the trails are on Mohonk Preserve land, some on Mohonk Mountain House property. There’s no lodge or rentals for day-trippers. Only guests have access to Mohonk Mountain House. A word to the wise: if you plan to ski here regularly, buy a membership to Mohonk Preserve and save some money. Bring your own lunch.
- Prospect Mountain, Woodford, VT. Just east of Bennington on Rt 9. It’s a longish but well worthwhile day trip from northern NJ; there are plenty of lodging options in Bennington if you want to make a weekend of it. Good mix of trails; you can make your day as tough or as easy as you’d like. This corner of Vermont area gets lots of snow. Accurate condition reports online or at (802-442-2575) and a roomy lodge with food service.
- Fahnestock State Park, Cold Spring, NY. Fifteen km of fun rolling trails through mostly hardwood forest. Good grooming. Phone for conditions: 845-225-3998.
- Lake Minnewaska State Park, New Paltz, NY. Adjacent to Mohonk, this place has a checkered history. The Wildmere Hotel, one of the grand 19th-century resort hotels, had been situated on the lake. As with Mohonk, the ski trails were originally carriage roads. When it was privately owned, good friends taught me to ski here. Minnewaska’s been a roller coaster ride since the state of New York took it over for non-payment of property taxes in the mid 1980s. For many years, the grooming was non-existent; then grooming occurred only after a major storm, and then only once. As of this writing, in February 2011, current park management seems dedicated to manicuring the trails. On a clear day, there are stupendous views of New York City from the Castle Point trail. The loop around the eponymous lake has a couple of crankin’ downhills and stiff climbs. There’s no lodge; dress warmly and plan on sitting in your car if you want a break out of the elements. Phone 914-255-0752.
- Lord Stirling Park, Basking Ridge. Ski around the edges of the Great Swamp, on flat, gentle trails meandering through woodland and meadows.
- Notchview Reservation, Windsor MA. About 15 miles east of Pittsfield. 17 km of trails through a beautiful mix of hardwood and pine forest, much of which are designated for classic skiing only. The lodge’s altitude is about 200 feet lower than Prospect, and they don’t get as many snow squalls as Prospect. None the less, this place is worth driving to. Bring your lunch: food service is primarily hot drinks and energy bars.
- Schooley’s Mountain County Park, Long Valley NJ. About 800 acres in western Morris County with a mix of terrain. The rolling meadows near the parking lot are good skiing. Like other NJ county and state parks, it’s do-it-yourself grooming, old school. Avoid the rocky trails circling the reservoir.
- Tobyhanna State Park, Tobyhanna, PA. Located on State Rte 423 just a few minutes off Interstate 380. Main trails are easy terrain; with some narrower, more rolling trails also. The trails aren’t groomed. Relatively high altitude helps them hold snow.