How NOT to ski - enduring Shawnee Mountain!

This is part of a series of travel stories, based upon the experiences of me and my wife, on our tour across America. Read more at

Shawnee Mountain – East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, PA

The History:

Shawnee Mountain Ski Area is a family orientated ski resort in Eastern Pennsylvania. Located just outside of East Stroudsburg, this is the favourite family ski resort in Poconos and also the closest ski resort to New York and New Jersey. Summiting at 410 meters with 23 slopes, the longest of which is nearly 1.6 km’s, it’s easy to see why this resort is so popular. Added to the mix is snow-tubing, night skiing and 100% snow making, this skiing Mecca provides new meaning to magic carpet riding. A great mountain for beginners, this would be the ideal location for these Afrikaans skiing greenhorns.

The Setting:

Chemistry shows us the importance of mixing precise quantities to elicit the perfect result. The chamber of gods who assembled to plan our weekend must have been in a good mood. Athena, as the Greek goddess of wisdom, planned our travel arrangement to the dot, with Joe arriving from SA on this weekend and Shawnee Mountain being perfectly located between Harrisburg and New York (where he landed). Tyche, as the god of luck, rolled his dice to ensure Chantel’s passing of her final CA(SA) exam, coincided perfectly with the onset of the weekend. Bacchus would not allow himself to be outdone, and went all out with his contribution of the best bootlegging conveyance East of America. Feeling like contraband smugglers Neil, Chantel and Lindy arrived at the Shawnee resort with Mountainous smiles and a boot full of booze. Joe however had a little less luck, as he was denied access to our room, after being in transit for hours, due to ridiculous technicalities (once again proving the intellectual limitations of average America). Nevertheless, with an eclectic mix of kisses from Lindy and beers from Neil, equilibrium was once again reached and the quartet was ready to party!

The Experience:

It was dark when we finally had our keys to our lodging for the evening. We drove up a snowy slope while feeling increasingly suffocated as the forest thickened around us. Scenes from classic horror movies flashed before our eyes, as we approached our cabin in the woods in unsurprising pitch blackness. Murphy had his knife in for us, by catering a starless night with a destitute dash of alternative light. We earnestly hoped this was the only knife-wielding slayer for the impending evening. Fortunately, as we entered our cabin, Tyche kicked that knife from Murphys grip and Bacchus took control again. Lacking any sign of luxury, this cabin had a warm and fuzzy feel to it, even though calling it a cabin is a bit of a stretch. Comprised of an open plan kitchen/lounge/dining room/bedroom, basically everything except bathroom duty occurred in a single room. Lindy and Joe got the bed while Neil and Chantel happily settled for the sleeper couch at their feet.

After settling in we decided that a good game of poker was on the cards. The only problem being our obvious lack of either cards or chips. But, being the devout problem-solvers that they are, Neil and Joe took it upon themselves to eradicate this conundrum by driving to the local supermarket. Meanwhile back at the cabin, Lindy and Chantel were sharing shooters at breakneck speed under the false pretence of cooking supper. Neil and Joe returned and proudly displayed the returns of their bargain hunting expedition. Unfortunately, their “poker pack” had everything except playing cards, making it increasingly more difficult to commence with the gamble. A return trip was in order and we embarked on another rum-run to ensure that we got the order right on a second attempt. All the time the ladies did what they do best – gossip. History learns many lessons but evolution is often slow to adapt to the recommendations. Therefore, it’s no surprise that some people still don’t understand the dangerous weapon of mass destruction we can create by adding women (more than 1), shooters and an opportunity to gossip into one room. This is the recipe for disaster that awaited us upon our return (this time successfully armed with playing cards). Little did we know about the ticking timebombs waiting in the woods?

Unaware of any underlying tension, caused by a complete misunderstanding, the four of us partook in a game of old school Texas Hold-em. As the night progressed and the shooters flowed, we were convincingly destroyed by Lindy in a poker trend that would continue throughout the tour, as she became an unbeatable foe.  Never has lady luck followed a single person so profusely, as she regularly defied all probability theories, by constantly beating pocket Aces with hands containing low single digit numbers. Never before, and never after, will you hear such confident bellows of “All-In” while the person in question has a pocket 2-7. More mind-boggling was the amount of times these hands actually humbled the self-proclaimed “poker-expert” Neil. Rumour has it he has since shifted his focus to less humbling sports – like golf!

But like all bombs detached from precise planning, this one suddenly and without warning decided to explode. The results were catastrophic and the casualties flabbergasted. But first some context – After being overtired and spending months apart, there was some unnecessary and unwarranted tension between Joe and Lindy. Due to a prior misunderstanding, they decided it best to contest each other’s opinions. The only problem being that the shooter infused situation disallowed any sensible conversations and while Joe was debating the need for Star War figurines in the latest Lego movie, Lindy went on about the need for warmer stockings in the American weather. Frustrated by not understanding each other Joe decided he needs to move to greener pastures where his love for Chewbacca is better understood. Lindy let him pack all of his recently unpacked suitcases and showed him the door while she double dressed in winter stockings.  The only problem was in a snow-covered mountain, greener pastures are few and far between. Neil, still had flashbacks of scary movies from his nerve-wrecking drive through this mountainous landscape, and therefore propped Joe with a mobile phone in-case he got lost. Seconds later he realised the error in his judgement due to him equipping Joe with a none-functioning phone. Too terrified to set-foot out of the cabin, he screamed into the pitch-black woods – “Joey, kom huis toe Joey. Ons is almal lief vir jou en Chewie”.  Somewhere in the dark shrubbery, Joey came to his sense and decided he like Jedi’s more anyway and tried to find his way back. Unfortunately, the echoes from the mountains, and monotonous houses made this a time-consuming task. Nevertheless, he found his way back to our cabin and loving embraces and we settled the forever buried the matter of Chewbacca and the winter stockings in the foliage of that secluded cabin.

The next day most of this was quickly forgotten as we made our merry way to our first encounter with skiing. Decision one involved choosing between snowboarding and skiing and we unanimously decided on the latter. We got our gear, which I must mention is robotically uncomfortable and made our why to the training slope. We went through the basics of stopping via “pizza-ing” and many other tips and tricks. Chantel, Joe and Lindy quickly mastered the craft slaloming, whilst Neil was a disaster on blades. Feeling like dancing penguin in Happy Feet, Neil was soon flustered by his inability to maintain any sense of balance or direction. The mumbles and dismayed nods from the instructor further confirmed Neil’s snowbound disability. Thinking he should probably rid planet Earth from this stumbling fool, he allowed all four of us up the magic carpet (which coincidentally is not a prop in Aladdin’s story, but rather a conveyor belt taking one up a ski-slope). The instructor’s genie teased him by nearly granting his wish on the first attempt down the beginner slope when Neil realised he can’t turn or stop. Yet again Neil’s problem solving capabilities was his saviour, as he figured out that a face-first nose-dive breaks the momentum and eventually results in a halt. While the rest of the team slalomed their way down the slope like Olympic medalist, while stopping with figure skating precision, Neil shot down like a straight arrow and braked in his unique fashion. Yip, Happy feet 3 was in the making. Before long Neil’s worst nightmare was realised when the instructor confirmed with a smirk, that he’s taking us to the summit of the training slope. In a feeble attempt to save his life, Neil decided this was an opportune time to launch a photography career, by volunteering to rather unselfishly capture the moment for the rest of the team (rather than joining them). Neil was over the moon when everyone agreed that this would be best, until this devil-of-a man sheepishly saw through the excuse and decided it best for the photo to be taken from the summit. And so the four of us made our way up the slope – 3 gleefully and 1 pray-fully. There have been many bad decisions made in the history of mankind, but few compare to Neil’s decision to that day ride the magic carpet. The rest of the “penguins” hopped merrily to the top and Neil stationed himself in the stable stance to snap a Kodak when things suddenly went haywire. On queue to a sneer from our instructor, Neil’s skis developed a mind of their own and he started his descend down the slope – backwards. In desperation he tried to remember the rules of skiing and remembered that to pizza is to stop. So he pizza’d like his life depended on it. The only problem is when pizza’ing while sloping backwards the converse is achieved and he started picking up speed at a lightning pace. But fortune favours the brave, and luckily he has become an expert nose-diver at this stage and with a 360 degree inverse pivot-fumble, his chin became his brakes as he was flung down a small hill to a complete stop. Panic struck Chantel broke winter Olympic records to come to the rescue of her man and stopped next to him in seconds. Unfortunately, his inability on skis continued as he accidentally flung her down with him. The only positive from this life-threatening experience was the relieved kiss we shared in the snow and the giggles that followed.

But fear knows no master – and the next step in our evolutionary journey would be to actually ascend a genuine slope and leave this toddler-slope for the beginners who deserve it. Neil quickly said his goodbyes to all who would listen – and while riding in the cable car to a certain death, he wished he at least had a last beer before going down. We got of the cable car and without any unnecessary hoo-ha people just get on with it and went down the slope. Like a sausage machine feeding a hungry giant, the riders just descended the slope. We stood there flabbergasted by the idea of just jumping down a slope, before even understanding how the difficulty levels were designated. We quickly realised that Blue meant easy, Green was medium and Black was You-are-gonna-die. Neil was searching for the pink slope, but got outvoted before discovering this immunity idol! We were going to outplay and outlast the Blue variety. Courage is a strange thing and is often catalysed by the most bizarre circumstances. This is how Neil found inspiration to tackle a blue slope through two four year olds fearlessly jumping over the edge. He HAD to follow and so all of them did too. None of us however knew that just past the 45 degree decline, awaited a near 90 degree slant to the right. Biblical miracles hardly compared to the way Neil survived this first drop and turn and he ended up being the sole survivor still standing.  Chantel copied Neil’s previously stereotypical nose-dive stop to end just short of a ravine. Lindy however was less fortunate and nearly broke her leg, while Joe stumbled into a soft spot next to her. The result was a few broken spirits with Lindy so shaken up the walked down the slope and returned to the trainee version. Chantel found bravery from nowhere and slowly slalomed her way down the hill. But Neil was there for redemption, not by choice, but rather by pure terror. Still unable to slalom to maintain speed, or to pizza to brake, he was moving at the speed of sound down this slant. Many people claimed sightings of an unidentified flying object briefly spotted on the Shawnee slopes the following day. Ducking and diving trees and rocks and creating never before seen paths, while rocketing downwards, Neil had a taste of various each slope imaginable. The peak of the experience came right at the end, when his skis took him down the grand-finale black slope (normally reserved for Olympic medalists) into a crowning moment of glory. Going were no sane person would venture, Neil manoeuvred this expert slope with the speed of a cheetah but the grace of a headless chicken and did a miraculous pizza-stop when the window of the bar approached with sacrilegious haste. This once in a lifetime phenomenon caught the attention of the masses and even the smirking instructor gave a slow clap, while claiming bragging rights for training the wunderkind in one morning. Neil had time to enjoy a beer and bask in the standing ovation before noticing the remainder of his friends slowly disembarking the hill. To this day the legendary story of that crazy South African is still part of Shawnee folklore. Nevertheless, the slopes got easier over time and Neil and Chantel only stopped sloping when their bodies physically started to rebel. The evening was topped with a great supper, many laughs and quality beers before we called an early night and returned to Harrisburg the following day. Novel experiences are generally renowned for eliciting grandiose feelings, but the adrenalin rush from a first skiing trip will not be easily beaten. The memoirs of the skiing quartet, is now a story entrenched for life.