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Lisa McElroy

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A Family Ski Weekend, Even Without The Snow

Posted: 03/ 5/2012 8:30 am

The adults -- five of 'em -- were lounging in the hot tub. The kids -- count seven -- were having a "coolest jump" competition in the attached indoor pool. Just out the window? Snowboarders jumped, little kids snowplowed and tubers screamed their way down the hill. A guy in a giant bear costume waved in to us through the floor to ceiling windows, and seven kids squealed with joy. Why a bear? Because we four families were living it up at Bear Creek Resort in Macungie, Pennsylvania, and guys in bear suits were just one of the fun surprises the resort had in store.

The trip was a bit of a last minute plan -- spring had arrived early in the Philadelphia area, and it felt like we all had a bit of spring fever. Our biggest fear? That it would get so warm that we'd never get a chance to hit the slopes; after all, Pennsylvania skiing had been handicapped all season by the lack of snow. Our goal was to find a great spot, close to home (think an hour or less), where all could hang out and ski -- or, at least, hang out even if snowmaking failed. Bear Creek fit the bill.

The recently renovated hotel/ski resort, complete with three restaurants, two pools and hot tubs, 19 trails (including several for the klutzy beginners among us and even more for the kamikaze kids), a massive tubing hill and an arcade fit for the most enthusiastic fifth grader among us, let the adults have real conversations in an environment safe enough for kids to run around, even while swimming. That's because the bar, with top shelf liquor and an acoustic band, looked out over the pool, so that the kids could splash all evening while their parents kicked back and relaxed.

Admittedly, the pool was a big hit in part because it was so warm out. The skiing? Well, it had real potential. Admittedly, conditions were terrible, but that wasn't the resort's fault. The snow was slushy, but it was just too warm to make snow -- a problem that had been causing every resort manager in the mid-Atlantic to lose his hair all winter. Still, the service almost made up for it.

Lift operators smiled and cheered the kids on, the ski rental staff was patient with my middle-schooler (who kept returning her skis instead of putting them in storage) and the instructors took the newbies up the "magic carpet" time after time, cheering at almost-perfect snowplows. And, honestly, the kids were so excited to make it down black diamond slopes that they didn't mind a bit that powder was a distant dream, snowbanks a fantasy.

Even though the skiing was fairly basic, the rest of the resort was going full tilt. The food? Way tastier than expected -- great burgers, yummy stews and even decent salmon and steak, all the better to fill tiny tummies and refuel for more time on the slopes. The bartenders divided checks into fours without complaining about the seven kids who took up their tables and ordered mac and cheese instead of margaritas.

The rooms? Spotless, modern and huge, with lots of pillows and panoramic views of the slopes. And the lobbies? Replete with rocking chairs, gas fireplaces and plush sofas, perfect for napping with a book while the young'uns played Galaga.

Next year? We're hoping for snow -- but then, so is everyone in the Pennsylvania ski industry. But snow or no snow, we've already planned our return trip to Bear Creek. "OMG," my twelve year-old asked on the way home. "How many weeks until next March?"