Growing up in southeast Pennsylvania, skiing wasn’t a popular sport. From my experience, most skiers and riders in the greater mid-Atlantic region can be classified as beginners. Enter Bear Creek Mountain Resort.
Bear Creek, located in Lehigh Valley, is really more of a hill rather than a mountain, with a peak elevation of 1,100 ft., 509 ft. vertical drop, 86 acres of skiable terrain, and the longest run stretching 0.9 miles. Originally home to a network of pre-WW1 iron ore mines, ore was originally extracted here and utilized to create cannons and machinery. Eventually, Doe Mountain Ski Area opened to the public in the 1960s, advertising a rope tow, t-bar, and two inbound trails. Ownership transitioned in 1999, and Bear Creek Mountain Resort was born.
Anyone familiar with East Coast skiing south of New England knows that skiing is not dependent on snowfall as much as it is on temperature in order to make snow. I have vivid memories of riding B-lift (base chair) and getting face shots of man-made snow from multiple snow guns on the way up. Snowmaking was crucial to keep the lifts going, the tubing open, and the mountain running and not shutting down early. A few core marketing features were the night skiing (aka post-school laps), a modern hotel and spa, and Black Bear, an advanced terrain park that conveniently ran parallel to the main lift. Big sends and yard sales were always met with cheers and heckling from the lift riders, which of course was awesome.
In hindsight, I had the cool experience of being a junior ski instructor for two seasons but it was honestly not that fun at the time. Being paired with 8 year old’s whose parents forcibly stuck them in lessons while they went to get some turns in or chill at the spa was not how 14-year-old me wanted to be spending his Saturday. However, I’ve come to see that Bear Creek, despite being a hill, is one of the many small ski resort operations that play a significant part in growing and keeping the sport alive. Lehigh Valley, PA, is strategically based between two major East Coast cities: Philadelphia and New York City. Given its up-to-date base operations, spa, and restaurants, Bear Creek serves as an attractive weekend getaway for a large population of folks living in the city as well as families.
Being at the mountain, it was obvious that youth programs and group lessons were a priority for Bear Creek management, and there is good data to support that. The bulk of new skiers and riders are first introduced to the sport at small-area operating mountains, which is a pivotal moment in retaining a lifelong skier. Research from the National Ski Areas Association revealed that “80 to 85 percent of the ‘never-evers’ were leaving the sport after the initial introductory experience” (Chris Diamond, Ski Inc.).
I now live in Denver, CO, and am fortunate enough to enjoy the world-class skiing in my backyard. But, I’m proud that I grew up visiting a mountain that’s helping to further advance the snowsport industry.