Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — February 2007

Going Where The Snow Is

by Gary Thornbloom

“Ski Black Moshannon” should be the slogan for promoting great skiing during minimal snow winters. Elevation, the north slope location of some trails, the lake, and ease of access are reasons why cross country skiers should check out the skiing in and around Black Moshannon State Park. Often State College will be bare of snow, Bald Eagle Valley will have a mere dusting, and the mountain top area including Black Moshannon will have six to eight inches of snow.

Woodland trails usually have many rocks and roots that need a good layer of snow before they are covered. However if you know where to look you can find trails that are relatively rock free, grassy, and have a good surface for skiing with minimal amounts of snow. Good prospects in Black Moshannon State Park include Sleepy Hollow Trail, Seneca Trail, parts of the Indian Trail and the Hay Road Trail. Farmers originally used the Hay Road Trail to haul wagons filled with marsh grass, and today this makes an especially nice trail for skiing. A map available at the park office serves as an excellent guide for combining these trails in various loops and retraces.

Black Moshannon lake occasionally provides a perfect surface for cross country skiing. You will not find a flatter, or more obstacle free area to learn on, or to advance your skiing skills on. Ice is terrible to ski on, but ice covered with snow can be perfect. Just remember to check with the Park Office for the thickness and safety of the ice. Ice fishermen are also usually happy to let you know how thick the ice is.

The network of natural gas pipelines that threads through the area adjacent to the park provides another grassy, level surface for skiing, once it is covered with minimal snow. Maps often show these pipelines. Skiing out and back on the same route, a retrace, offers a basic level of comfort for someone who is not familiar with the area. Snowmobiles run some of these pipelines and their frozen tracks can make for difficult skiing, but if the snow conditions are minimal then there is a good chance that there will not be enough snow for snowmobiling.

Cross county skiing in Black Moshannon State Park

Black Moshannon State Park’s network of trails and pipelines offer miles of cross country skiing opportunities.

My favorite place for jumping on the pipelines for some minimal snow skiing is two miles east of Black Moshannon Park on the left side of SR 504. From here you can ski in three different directions. If you head east you will be paralleling SR 504 on rolling terrain and will never be far from the highway. The center option will take you to a gas well site that is just off the Benner Run Road. Both of these are best done as retraces, although with more snow, judicious use of some named and unnamed trails, state forest roads, and snowmobile trails, you can set up many different loops.

If you take the pipeline to the west, or left as you are looking at it from SR 504, you will be on a mostly flat run, with some steady gradual downhill sections and several very nice, fast downhill sections. Most skiers will be able to ski out this pipeline for more than an hour. Keep in mind that even though the run seems fairly flat, you are heading downhill, and will be heading uphill on the retrace. You should do this as a retrace, stopping before the final descent to Black Moshannon Creek which is steep, rocky, and not recommended for skiing.

Dry Hollow is the first hollow to the left as you ski out the westernmost pipeline. With more snow this can be a nice run down to the old alpine ski runs below Cabin 20 and out as far as Benner Run Road and Black Moshannon Creek. The old beginner’s slope is another wide grassy skiing option.

The width of the right of way that was cleared for the pipelines can make it a good choice for nighttime skiing. Starry nights with the Milky Way jumping out of the sky, free from any nearby city lights, is a memorable experience. Moonlit nights set an altogether different mood. The brilliance of full moon lighting up a snow covered woodland setting will be striking if you have never experienced it before. Moonlit night skiing is safest for your first adventure of night skiing. And skiing in a nighttime whiteout, well, that can also be interesting.

Finding a place to ski when winter snows are minimal can present a challenge, but if there is snow out there a dedicated cross country skier will find it by heading where else but north of course, and from State College that can be as close as Black Moshannon!

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Gary Thornbloom is the Chair of Sierra Club Moshannon Group and often leads outings in the Black Moshannon area (see the Outings Page for details). He can be reached at bearknob@verizon.net.