Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — February 2005

Minimal Snow — Maximum Glide!

by Gary Thornbloom

Minimal snow need not keep you from cross country skiing. The first opportunity for local cross country skiing this winter did not arrive until mid-January, and it was a marginal opportunity. The woodland trails that provide my favorite skiing had numerous exposed rocks and many rocks lightly dusted with snow. With a slight covering of snow the natural gas pipelines that thread through our State Forests provide a skiing surface that lies somewhere between golf course turf and the varied rock, root and branch strewn surface of a hiking trail. Maps often show pipeline right-of-ways. There are numerous pipelines along Route 504 in the Black Moshannon area.

One location with easy access is on the north side of Route 504 two miles east of Black Moshannon Park. From here you can choose between three directions. East the pipeline parallels Route 504 and you are never far from the road. North (or straight ahead) you can ski to a gas well that is just off of the Benner Run Road. On the way out you will pass a woven fence that the Bureau of Forestry has put up to protect the seedlings that will germinate in this clear-cut area from being eaten by deer. This area was recently fenced and within 1–3 years you should be able to see a marked difference between the fenced area that has excluded deer and the adjacent unfenced area. There is a well-marked gate in the fence and you are welcome to enter. Plan on coming back in the spring to see the wild flowers and tree seedlings that should be coming up! Most skiers skiing in average conditions should be able to ski out and back in lass than an hour.

The pipeline to the west is mostly flat, but it does have a couple of downhill sections, the first one beginning within the first hundred yards. At the bottom of this downhill, note how far that you can see through the woods. Foresters and biologists have told me that if you can see 75 yards in the woods there is something out of balance, and what is out of balance here is the deer population. When the plant growth gets denser in this area it is mountain laurel, which deer do not like to eat. In the summer this area will be covered with ferns that deer also do not like to eat. The open park like quality of this hollow can make for some fun off trail skiing. The skiing on this section of pipeline ends as you are about to drop down to Black Moshannon Creek. The drop is steep, and it is very rocky — definitely not recommended for skiing. With a retrace this should provide up to two hours of skiing.

Another location with easy access is the parking area by the Tram Road where the Allegheny Front Trail crosses Route 504. Begin by skiing north on the AFT for a couple hundred yards until you come to the pipeline clearing. To the west the pipeline parallels Route 504. There are a few downhill sections and you are never far from the highway.

To the east the pipeline immediately makes a short climb toward some radio towers, then after a downhill section the pipeline provides flat skiing until it comes to a camp road. Skiing to the left takes you back to where Rock Run Trail crosses the road, however in marginal snow conditions you probably will not want to ski there. The road is rocky, and Rock Run Trail is rocky, requiring at least a foot of snow or a solid base of less snow. Skiing to the right will take you out to the Snow Shoe Road.

The Snow Shoe Road is sometimes worth skiing, as is the Tram Road, but both are State Forest Roads that are driven on. By referring to maps and by taking the snow conditions of the day these roads can be used to extend the skiing opportunities. If the roads do not have acceptable ski conditions then the pipeline should be retraced.

Skiing out and back the same route can also offer a comfort level for someone who is not familiar with the area. Snowmobiles run some of these pipelines and their frozen tracks can make for difficult skiing, but if the snow conditions are minimal then there is a good chance that there will not be enough snow for snowmobiling.

If you ski these pipelines you will get a good look at a multiple use forest that includes clear cut areas, deer fences, motorized use and non-motorized use. The winter landscape offers a stark look at a forest that has been over-browsed by deer. This is not my favorite place to ski, but with too little snow for skiing on the woodland trails I will take whatever the day offers in order to get on the trail!

If You Go: The Public Use Map for Moshannon State Forest is available free from the Bureau of Forestry and provides an overview of the area.

The first place with easy access to the natural gas pipelines is 2.1 miles east of Black Moshannon State Park on the north side of Route 504. A second access point is about 4.5 miles east of Black Moshannon State Park and it is also on the north side of Route 504. A parking area is available at both places and is usually kept plowed by the Bureau of Forestry.


Gary Thornbloom is the Chair of the Moshannon Group of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club and often leads outings. Gary can be reached at bearknob@verizon.net