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Skytop Lodge dining areaIf I say the Poconos, you say… heart-shaped bathtubs? Kitschy, Catskills-style entertainment? Think again. The Skytop Lodge is more like “The Sound of Music” set in northeastern Pennsylvania. Envision a sprawling stone lodge perched atop a pristine 5,500-acre range with breathtaking views that extend over white-capped mountaintops, nearly to New York. Now toss in natural lakes, rivers and robust forests inhabited by hundreds of species of freely roaming wildlife, and you’ve hit upon the paradise known as Skytop. 

One weekend last winter, I arrived with my husband, 12-year-old son and his friend just in time for high tea in Skytop’s pine-paneled Grand Lobby. The last rays of afternoon sun were streaming in through Palladian windows. Kids raced to snatch board games out of the library and a pianist played while guests meandered over to steaming carafes of hot cider, a hodgepodge of teas and scrumptious oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.

Skytop Lodge covered in snowOne of the first things I discovered is that there is no concierge at Skytop—  management assumes that once you arrive, you will have no reason to venture out. Indeed, practically every resort activity is on the premises. In the winter, there is Alpine and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, golf, ice skating, mountain biking, trailblazing with a naturalist, a target shooting range, an indoor pool with a hot tub and fitness center, a full-service spa, epicurean dining and many organized and activities all day long.

I tested this notion by asking a veteran guest about local antique destinations and clearly stumped her. “We’ve never wandered off premise,” she told me. Undeniably, this is what lures generations of families back, year after year.

Skytop was built in 1928 as a private sportsman’s club and its park-like grounds were designed by the Olmsted brothers. These days, the resort, which is a member of the National Trust Historic Hotels of America, is a fusion of Old World and New Millennium. Guests wear formal dinner attire while feasting on progressive New American cuisine. The doorman greets every guest personally and properly, yet chuckles when kids race the luggage carts practically into the lake.

Skytop Lodge ahi tuna dinerUnlike many mountain resorts, when it doesn’t snow at Skytop there is still plenty to do. After breakfast on our first morning, my husband and the boys head up the mountain for a round of skeet shooting, while I join the morning hike. Weaving uphill among the thick bare trees, our naturalist, John Serrao, points out witch hazel shrubs, identifies various animal droppings (along with what they had last consumed), and has us sample red tea berries (used in the flavoring of gum). Reaching the mountain’s pinnacle, we take in vistas that extend nearly 50 miles.

After hiking back down, I meet the boys back at the front door of the lodge around noon. I’m anticipating some R&R with my book, curled in one of the lobby’s cushy chairs with a steaming mug of tea. They, however, are pointing toward a hay wagon bouncing up the driveway toward us. Before I can say, “Tea, please?” I’m herded onboard along with a mass of families. The older children hurl handfuls of hay at each other and their parents as the wagon rolls toward the ski slopes. Soon we stop for our intended destination: a hearty barbecue of grilled cheeseburgers, hot dogs, barbecue chicken, beans and chili. Despite the blustery day, everyone happily chows down at the outdoor picnic tables and then toasts marshmallows for s’mores over the roaring fire pit. 

Skytop Lodge sledingThe boys cast longing glances up the ski hill and sigh. This winter, the warmest on record in almost a century, has left East Coast ski resorts practically dry. It has not snowed since mid-December and by this February weekend, large grassy masses and mud patches have created conditions too treacherous for many resorts to risk opening. Though Skytop has full snowmaking capabilities, the staff is battling daily against the tepid dry conditions. When it is fully operational (November through March), Skytop’s private slope has four uncrowded downhill trails, purposely designed for beginner and intermediate skiers, so that entire families can meet up and ski together. The heartier take on the 30 miles of adjoining backcountry where cross-country skiers blaze their own trails.

Back at the lodge again, the boys dash off to the indoor ice rink.  With the kids occupied, my husband and I sneak away. He’s planning a bike ride through the mountain trail up to Indian Ladder Falls and I have a facial scheduled at the spa. We hop aboard the mini-shuttle, which transports guests between the resort’s properties, and head back to our room to change our clothes.

Every guest room at Skytop has a spectacular view, either across the valley facing the Delaware Water Gap or of Skytop’s grounds with its lake and mountains. Guests can stay in the historic main lodge, the more contemporary inn or in one of the 12 private cottages. Our room in the inn boasts a king-size bed, gas fireplace, a balcony, a separate pullout sleeper sofa, huge closets and roomy bathrooms. 

I fight an incessant yearning to bag the facial for an afternoon nap, and diligently trudge up the path, across the putting green, back to the lodge. An hour later, I emerge, rosy and relaxed and not yet ready to be found.

Reluctantly, I descend the staircase to the lodge’s ground floor and step into a whirlwind of activity. Dripping wet kids are running into the rec room from the indoor swimming pool, and the workout room is full of adults hovering over machines. Teenagers are hanging out in the old-fashioned ice cream shop with blaring music. In the Tap Room, a traditional English pub that boasts a 40-bottle single malt scotch list, a 60-bottle international beer selection and an array of vintage ports and cognacs, an intense poker game has broken out. Somehow I manage to collect everyone and we dress for dinner.

Dinnertime at Skytop is where families reconvene and recount the feats of their day. Because all meals are included, we only need to reserve our dinner time, and choose between the restaurant at the lodge or at the inn. Dinner is a five-course event, complete with finger bowls. Feeling especially carnivorous from their active day, the guys order prime rib with garlicky mashed potatoes and creamy horseradish sauce, while I choose the salmon deliciously encrusted with papaya peppercorns and served on a bed of crisp summer greens.

After dinner, we tarry in the lobby listening to a three-piece band. The staff has rolled up the lobby’s rugs and couples and kids are dancing. The boys take one glance and promptly inform me that they’re escaping for a teen swim in the indoor pool. My son turns back and calls, “Tomorrow we’re trying snow-shoeing and then tobogganing.  Are you and Dad coming?” Maybe. Then again, at Skytop Lodge you can do just about whatever you want.

Skytop Lodge is located just outside of Canadensis, Pa., less than a 3 1/2-hour drive from Baltimore. 800-345-7759, http://www.skytop.com. The Winter Fun Package includes room, three meals and skiing for $399 per person.

Stephanie Citron writes from Ruxton.

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