Downhill Ski Trails in Northwest New Jersey Skylands

By Rich Fisher

Looking for some top-notch skiing without having to drive all the way to New England? Look no further than the northern end of Sussex County, which offers two resorts within 10 miles of each other in Vernon Township.

Mountain Creek Ski Resort is located at the same site on Route 94 that used to be Vernon Valley/Great Gorge. The $20 million resort supplies 47 trails on 168 acres, and features an 8-passenger gondola that is the only one of its kind in North America. There are also two high-speed quad lifts, two fixed quads, one triple chair, one double chair, two beginner conveyors and two beginner rope tows.

Fear not if there is no snow in your backyard, or if your visit to the region does not supply the winter wonderland you hoped for. Both resorts have full snowmaking capabilities. Hidden Valley recently invested a quarter-million dollars to improve its capacity by 25 percent, while Mountain Creek spent $8 million on snowmaking.

Hidden Valley, located on Breakneck Road, features 12 trails overall, including five "main trails" on 36 acres of terrain, serviced by two double chair lifts and one triple lift.

For those planning a trip to either area, here is guide to some of the trails you will encounter.

Mountain Creek

The $20 million resort supplies 47 trails on 168 acres, and features an 8-passenger gondola that is the only one of its kind in North America. There are also two high-speed quad lifts, two fixed quads, one triple chair, one double chair, two beginner conveyors and two beginner rope tows.

SUGAR SLOPE
Located on Vernon Peak, this 2,000-feet beginner's trail offers a gentle slope with total snow making. It's a great place to learn to ski or snowboard. The slope is serviced by the Sugar Quad lift, meaning novices can sidestep the inconvenience of towropes.
UPPER HORIZON-LOWER HORIZON
Adjoining trails on Vernon Peak that provide access for three other trails, the Horizons provide a bending 1 1/2 mile run. It's a nice easy trail.
CANYON-GIANT STEPS
Two intermediate trails that stretch nearly a mile down South Peak, Canyon flows into Giant Steps to provide a winding, scenic terrain with a rock ledge on one side. But don't enjoy the view too long, as the trail has a steeper section that is wide and negotiable, giving you some room to play.
GREAT NORTHERN-KYBER PASS
Two linking intermediate trails that span 1 1/2 miles on Vernon Peak, they provide New England Style scenery while branching off to the north. Take your time and enjoy the run.
BEAR CLAW
A mile-long intermediate run that is brand new, this southern-most trail wraps around the shoulder of Bear Peak and offers another scenic view with a New England feel to it.
EAGLE HUNT-LOWER EAGLE
Connecting fall-line trails, which total 4,000 feet on Vernon Peak, make up this expert slope. It offers a real consistent pitch all the way down.
JUMPIN' JACK
Located on the South Peak, this 3,000 feet expert run will also serve as the terrain park and features numerous bumps and other interesting features for skiers and snowboarders. Try and make sure you're the only one on the trail at the time; there will be a lot of people catching air so you don't want to be on the wrong place at the wrong time."
KAMIKAZEE
The name says it all, as this 4,500-feet expert trail on Bear Peak provides a variety of steep pitches and longer flat areas that drop off. This trail is used for most of the mountain's racing events. Check your speed on this one, especially on the steeper section.
PIPELINE
The undisputed toughest run on the mountain, this expert trail starts gradually, but surprises skiers by dropping off radically. Be an expert on this slope. Don't be a hero.

Hidden Valley

While there are no trails longer than .75 miles, Hidden Valley offers skiers some challenging terrain and, more importantly, the chance to progress with each trail. The steps from slope to slope are almost as if they were designed or calculated to move you up through the various stages. Once you conquer one, you move on to the next, which offers a new challenge. The terrain pitch is consistent from top to bottom, so you can set up a rhythm and hold onto it all the way down.

CHICKEN DELIGHT
The name may imply that only a coward may ski here, but it supplies a quality hill for novices. The slope also has its own chair lift, rather than the tow ropes or T-bars that rookies often find difficult to maneuver. If you're skiing for the first time, even if you can't relax on the way down, you can relax on the way up. It's also nice because you don't have intermediate and experts bombing their way through.
BROWSE ALONG
A long wrap-around trail that winds its way in a semi-circle from the top, this low intermediate slope provides a comfortable cruising terrain that also provides a challenge.
BREAKNECK-HIGHLAND SWING
The two intermediate S-shaped trails run parallel to each other and provide an even slope from top to bottom. It's nice and wide and offers a good teaching terrain.
KURLY-Q
The slope begins as an intermediate, but becomes extremely steep and turns to expert status at the lower level.
HELEN-BACK
A high intermediate-to-low expert trail, this is where Hidden Valley's racing events are held. It's very wide and makes a little swing to give it a little character.
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