How do you spend a working ski weekend with your 13-year-old? You let her bring along her best friend and take them to Camelback Ski Resort in the Pennsylvania Pocono Mountains!
An easy trip from both Philly (two hours) and NYC (90 minutes) this year-round recreational mountain resort offers 16 lifts and 34 trails to accommodate skiing and snowboarding of all levels, 100% snowmaking, night skiing, the nation’s largest snow tubing park, Pennsylvania’s only mountain coaster, twin 4,000-foot Zip-Flyers, and a summer outdoor waterpark. And opening later this spring is the 453-suite Camelback Lodge and its adjoining massive Aquatopia Indoor Waterpark, making it the largest ski-in/ski-out indoor waterpark resort in the country.
1. Lift tickets and rentals
We arrive bright and early on a Saturday morning and encounter an enthusiastic crowd of skiers and riders lining up to purchase their day passes (full-day weekend ticket: $65 for an adult; $47 for juniors ages 6-18). The lines are short, the process quick. With all 34 trails open with packed powder, the temperature just below freezing with intermittent sun and the occasional dust of flurries, it promises to be a great ski day.
First item of the day is to outfit my daughter’s friend with rental gear, so we stop in the Discovery Center—an area specially designated for skiers and riders who have purchased lessons. There are no lines, and she is greeted by eager and friendly staff who match her up with quality boots, skis, poles, and a helmet (full-day rental is $39 + $12 for helmet).
Because I’m feeling a little dubious about having adjusted my hand-me-down skis myself, I visit the Tune-Up Center for a binding release check. Good thing, because Mike the technician says my bindings are a bit “off.” He makes the adjustments and assures me that I can now safely conquer the slopes. Phew!
2. Terrain Based Learning
The girls are signed up for an instructor-led adult group lesson ($35), which lasts about an hour and a half. Camelback offers what is called Terrain Based Learning—a successful teaching model based on fun without fear of losing control. In the teaching area there are custom-shaped snow obstacles that simulate the different terrain a skier might encounter on the slopes.
Here, students can be taught technique and skills without the anxiety of peering down from the top of the slope (even if it’s only a bunny slope). After the lesson, the girls dutifully report to me, giving me their review. They feel more confident, ready to try their new skills on some intermediate runs. Off we go!
3. On the slopes
We ski non-stop from 10 am until 4 pm with one lunch break at the Camelback Mountain Lodge, located at the top of the mountain. Typical grill fare, wraps and salads are offered for lunch as well as grab-and-go items like pretzels, churros and cookies. The view can’t be beat. We cover most of the beginner and intermediate trails and find them all to be nicely groomed and with no ice and packed powder even to the end of a well-worn day. The lift lines get longer as the day goes on but we’re ushered through pretty quickly and on our way for yet another fabulous run.
4. Post-ski drinks
While the kids chill back at the base lodge, change out of their boots and end the day with hot chocolate I explore more of the lodge and duck into the Thirsty Camel for a beer and a bit of live music. At 4:30 pm, this place is packed and jump’n! Ski weary folks are dining on half-pound burgers, chili in bread bowls and throwing back drafts. It is loud, there is dancing, a serious bar party’s going on. No kids allowed in after 4 pm.
Adjacent to the pub is the Eastside Bistro, a large, rustic, typical ski lodge dining area with a mellow bar. It has a private, almost clubby feel to it. Eastside features carving and salad stations offering up hot roast beef sandwiches and Caesar salads—a great way to end the day.
5. The Chateau Resort & Conference Center
Before heading out to dinner, we check into our suite at The Chateau Resort & Conference Center, a 152-room hotel that looks out onto the ski mountain. It features an indoor pool, a sauna and fitness center, a game room, and a restaurant.
I’ll be honest: It’s not the fanciest place I’ve been to but it meets all the practical needs a family checking in after a long day on the slopes could want. It’s clean, there’s efficient room service and it has one of the friendliest and helpful front desk staffs I’ve ever dealt with. The Chateau’s nicest features are its cozy lobby with large fireplace and the dining room with beautiful views of the mountain. There’s an impressive breakfast buffet and live entertainment every weekend night. Room rates range from $129 to $279, depending on the view and season. Pets are welcome.
6. Locally famous hibachi
After showering and dressing up we head out to the famous Desaki, a 1,200-square-foot hibachi and sushi restaurant about six miles from our hotel. I say famous, because you mention Desaki to anyone familiar with the area and they immediately know where to send you.
Experiencing Desaki is more like attending an event than just simply enjoying a great meal. “It’s all about the kids,” says Vincent Trapasso, owner and operator. He, his wife Charlie and their three grown children make it their passion to create an unforgettable dining experience for the entire family. As they put it: “We celebrate family, food, fire and fun.” There’s an Xbox gaming station, free rides on an authentic rickshaw (summer months), and on weekends, there might be a magician, face-painter or balloon artist.
Hibachi specials include lobster tails, enormous diver sea scallops and filet mignon. The sushi menu includes traditional items as well as unique creations like the Katana Roll, the Pink Pearl and Flaming Fireball Shrimp. There is complimentary shuttle service to and from all major area hotels.
7. The biggest snowtubing park in the US
We wind up our Pocono weekend on Sunday with a three-hour pass at Camelback snowtubing. They boast being the biggest snowtubing park in the US. Not sure if that’s referencing the length or the 42 lanes, but no question, it’s big. We have the option of jumping in a single or a double tube and there’s no need to hike up the slope as there are two magic carpet lifts to take us to the top for as many runs as we can fit into three hours. And after racing each tube more than a half-a-dozen times, we’re ready to call it a day and head back to Jersey, exhausted.
8. Coming soon: Camelback Lodge and Aquatopia Indoor Waterpark
We were hoping to get an exclusive tour and sneak peak of the under construction, near-complete Camelback Lodge and Aquatopia Indoor Waterpark but we couldn’t fit it into our schedule. However, from their website you can get a pretty good idea of exactly how awesome this enormous park is going to be when it opens in April 2015.
Take the virtual tour and you’ll see the lagoons, giant wave pool, surf simulator, winding rivers, skydive slides, and crazy network of tubes and chutes that extend outside, beyond the walls of the building like monster tentacles. Going from skiing down a wintery slope to putting on a bathing suit and romping through an 84-degree amusement park of water rides all in the same day is something I hope to experience next season!
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