With 8 lifts, 46 trails, a terrain park, and 30 lanes of snow tubing on 146 acres, Mountain Creek, the closest ski resort to NYC, is a perfect snowy day getaway, and one my family takes advantage of often. OK, we know Vernon, NJ, isn’t Colorado, or Utah, or even Vermont, but having skiing, snowboarding, and tubing, right in northern New Jersey is a pretty great perk of living in the NY Metro area. In less time than it takes to watch a movie, you can get up to Vernon (47 miles from the George Washington Bridge; about an hour from my home in Montclair), and be suited up and on the slopes.
Although the ski area has changed owners (and names) several times, improvements are always being implemented to keep the resort modern. There’s super premium snowmaking equipment and fast gondolas from when Intrawest (who own Stratton, Vermont, and Winter Park, Colorado, resorts among others) was the owner, plus plenty of neighborly deals from the New Jersey-based current owners.
I don’t ski, but my son, Aidan, now 12, learned to swish down the slopes here, as have many of our friends. And before he skied, by entire family used to take advantage of the well groomed snowtubing park – complete with two magic carpets — so you don’t have to drag your tube. It’s a great option with kids of all ages.
Here’s are some of the ups, downs, and insider tips to the ‘Slopes of Joisey’ at Mountain Creek:
Learn to Ski
Among the highlights of Mountain Creek is their affordable ski school. This is where Aidan learned everything from how to get his put on his skis to how to get off the ski lift, and every pie wedge in between. The learn to ski or snowboard package is an especially good deal, and why a lot of families head to Mountain Creek: For $129, you get 3 separate days of lessons, ski rentals, and beginner lift passes. If you haven’t learned to ski after 3 lessons, you can keep taking lessons (without the rentals and lift pass), FOR FREE, until you can make turns down Sugar Hill (aka the “bunny slope”).
4th and 5th Graders Ski FREE
Yes, you heard me right.
This is for beginners, but it’s still great. We took advantage of this offer when Aidan when learning to ski and it was really fantastic.
Here are the details: If your kids received a B or better on their 4th or 5th grade report cards, sign up online here for a “learn to ski” package that includes equipment rental, a 1.5 hour group lesson, and a beginner lift ticket.
Note that you have to reserve in advance on line, and that you’re supposed to bring your child’s report card (but we never had anyone check ours). That’s it!
Once you’ve mastered the basics, there are several good ski deals to keep an eye out for. The Triple Play card offers substantial savings if you’ll be visiting more than once; it’s $99 for kids 7 to 12, and $139 for ages 13 and up, and gives you direct to the lifts access for three separate visits. And get this, kids 6 and under ski FREE with an adult. If you simply need a day ticket, book online before you arrive; prices are significantly reduced when you purchase in advance.
Had to mention this in case you have a multigenerational trip to the mountain planned. To quote the Mountain Creek web site:“Skiers and riders age 72 and up receive a FREE season pass…bless you, we should be so lucky.”
How awesome is that?
Food For Thought
There’s a large cafeteria, “The Market,” with a wide array of choices including gluten and lactose free options (get here before noon if you don’t want to wait on line). Outside there’s a barbecue pit in between Sugar Hill and the main lodge that’s tough to eat at unless the temperature is well above freezing (otherwise the sandwiches get cold in a flash), and a hugely popular Waffle Shack near the base of the gondola that’s always a hit with kids. The Biergarten, also outdoors, has a grill with burgers and bratwurst (there’s heat lamps here and a fireplace, but families tend to stick indoors).
There are two sit down options inside the lodge:
Hawk’s Nest: My favorite spot, by a very long stretch, is this slightly upscale restaurant that takes reservations on OpenTable (save yourself the hassle of trying to find an open spot at the most popular times by simply clicking on a reservation time the night before). The menu features everything from a raw bar to burgers to rotisserie chicken to steaks, and there’s a kids menu with staples such as chicken fingers and grilled cheese. The space has cathedral vaulted ceilings and a massive fireplace that really make you feel like you’re on vacation, in addition to a bar. The outdoor fire pit is also part of the restaurant and you can order drinks and food there as well. Service is professional and the space is super comfortable — prices are a bit high, but you definitely get what you pay for.
Schluss: On the second level, it serves pizza, sandwiches, and snacks. The last time I was here the waitress lost my order, never made eye contact, and an hour later still hadn’t brought what turned out to be incredibly mediocre pizzas. The bar has “shot skiis,” which translates to a pretty rowdy crowd. Avoid the whole place if you can.
Insider Tip: Next door to the ski lodge is the The Appalachian Hotel. There’s a small, very quiet, lobby bar (they’re in the process of building an onsite restaurant), with couches. It’s a perfect spot to meet up and to take a breather from the commotion at the lodge. There’s also a game room and pool table if the kids need a break from the cold.
Not just another gift shop, it has great brands, decent prices, and super helpful owners—Kim and Elissa—who can help you find everything from stylish SmartWool layers to bargain gloves to replace the ones your kids left on the counter.
With beginner skiers, you’ll most likely be sticking to the main lodge where the ski school and beginner slopes are. However, if you continue down “south” there’s a smaller lodge with alternate dining options including a barbecue restaurant.
Insider tip: Just past South is McAfee Ski and Snowboard, an independently owned ski shop that rents equipment for the day, weekend, or season. It’s a quick and cost-effective option for rentals and other equipment.