Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — December 2013

Cross Country Skiing — Perfectly flat!

by Gary Thornbloom

Black Moshannon Lake in Winter

Try a frozen, snow-covered, such as Black Moshannon Lake, for perfectly flat lake skiing · Photo of Gary Thornbloom

Searching out higher elevations with good trails and snow is one way to maximize cross country skiing opportunities throughout the winter, but sometimes, it takes a lake. Last winter I was skiing regularly on the mountain behind my home, and I knew the conditions were approaching minimal. Since the trailhead is only five minutes away, I packed up my skis and was willing to take a look at the trail. The bare sections of trail meant I would not be skiing there. I decided to drive ten minutes further on PA 504 to Black Moshannon State Park.

Twenty years ago I had skied often on Black Moshannon Lake, but years had passed, and I had not been back to ski. The lake generally has a thick— 10+ inches — coat of ice by mid January. This is easily confirmed by speaking with State Park employees and ice fisherman. Sunshine and warm days give the top inch or so a crusty surface. Add some new, or even windblown, snow and you have a perfectly flat, superb surface for skiing.

Safety on ice is a concern. Confirm the ice thickness. Avoid areas with springs. Avoid areas where the current is constricted and the flow keeps the water open or the ice thin. Other people’s tracks can be a guide. Ski with someone who is familiar with the lake. Ski with a group — but keep spread out! If you are uncomfortable with skiing on a lake, then do not ski there.

Begin at the parking lot at the intersection of Beaver Road and PA 504 and ski south on the lake. You will have two miles of skiing before you encounter beaver dams, and open water. There is also an arm of the lake that goes to the east, and offers another half mile or so of skiing. With retraces, that is five miles of skiing. If you take the time to explore the winter landscape on and around the lake this can easily be an outing several hours in length.

Sounds, while skiing on Black Moshannon Lake, are mostly silence, the wind roaring back in the forest or the wind in the conifers. If there is wind, you will feel it while you are on the open expanse of the lake. With wind and fresh snow you may also see snow devils giving form to the wind as they rise into the sky dancing over the frozen surface, or snow snakes slithering across the frozen surface.

One other sound is the pop of pressure cracks in the ice. The sound, along with feeling the ice drop under you, can put your heart in your mouth. Once you get used to the sound, it is one more experience of how awesome natural processes are. My experience with pressure cracks on small lakes is that they do not pose a problem, but large lakes with open areas of water would be a different situation.

Black Moshannon Lake in Winter

Magical scenery is a highlight of skiing Black Moshannon Lake · Photo of Gary Thornbloom

Here are some images that will keep me coming back to ski on Black Moshannon Lake: the white expanse of the lake; the conifer lined shoreline; the snow mounds that are beaver huts; otter tracks leading to open water; drops of blood in the snow — cut foot? successful hunt?; coyote tracks following otter tracks to open water, frustration?; raccoon tracks along the shoreline; fox tracks in a straight line across the lake; deer tracks; six deer standing mid-lake, barely visible in a snow squall; mouse tracks in and around hundred year old stumps; kick and glide, kick and glide, seemingly without end in a white world untracked snow ahead, and one set of tracks behind.

Skiing on Black Moshannon Lake can be magical and other worldly. More prosaically, skiing on Black Moshannon Lake may add several weeks of skiing and a lot of enjoyment to a cross country skiing season that ends all too quickly. Lake skiing may be an option when snow is sparse on woodland trails — and lake skiing is one more way in which to explore and enjoy winter.

Gary Thornbloom is the Chair of Sierra Club Moshannon Group, and can be reached at bearknob@verizon.net